The Parenting Chronicles: Up on the Rooftop

I’ve never been the type to cave to peer or societal pressure, yet if you ask me why I kept telling the Santa lie long after I wanted to boot him out on his jolly ass, that’s the reason I’ll most likely give.

There can be intense pressure from family, not to mention everyone else who thinks it’s cool to poke into your business. There seems to be just as much (if not more) outrage over trying to take Santa Claus out of the Christmas picture as there is trying to take out Jesus. It comes at you from everywhere, and if your own experience was relatively benign, it’s sometimes easier to just go with the flow.

By the time I figured out I really couldn’t do it any longer, I was just about through with it anyway, so I sucked it up and rode it out. They came through unscathed. I can’t say I did. I hated it and hated that I gave into it. I was so glad to be done with it.

Except I wasn’t, of course. But what started as a simple case of lying is bad, mmmkay? is now so much more. It’s not just that it’s a lie, it’s the type of lie – one you know they have to find out about, and when they do they will know you consciously chose to lie to them.

“It’s just a harmless fairy tale.” Of all the reasons brought up to defend perpetuation, that one baffles me most. If believing in fairy tales is so important to you, why are you offering your kids a good reason to never believe in them again? Why are you giving them magic only to snatch it out of their hand?

And there it is, the reason/defense/excuse that enables everyone to keep the ball rolling. People still believe. They grow up to believe in Gods or magic or fairy tales. But I wonder: How much harder is it to accept or embrace any kind of faith with Santa facts in the background?

What really brought this home to me was a link I came across in Kym G’s piece on Santa. It’s an article pointing out how Santa can teach kids to use critical thinking skills to debunk religion – if one’s a lie, might is also stand to reason the rest are as well?

The only way I’ve ever tried to steer my kids on spiritual matters is hearty encouragement to find what – if anything at all – makes sense to them. I share what I think but in the end I simply give them as many sides of the subject as possible and let them figure it out for themselves. It’s worked okay so far; neither of my big kids seem to have any spiritual issues. One is a laid back pagan, the other (last I checked in on the subject) is a laid back “who knows, who cares?” Come to think of it, that pretty much mirrors the beliefs my husband and I hold.

The Santa thing doesn’t seem to have affected the big kids’ ability to believe, nor has it helped them along the way to atheism. But there’s that wondering thing – what difference might there be had I not bought into it? Things turned out okay with it, but might they have been better without it? There’s no way to know, of course, and while that’s not a tail worth chasing, I can’t help thinking about it.

I’ve racked my brain trying to think of a single person I know who grew up without the Santa myth, and I can’t. A Google search gives articles on all sides, but what I’ve found only talks about the impact on a child, not any possible impact on the adult that child will become.

Writing about it has forced me to really think about my decision – not just the decision itself but also the reasons behind it – and how those reasons changed while I wasn’t paying attention to the subject. It’s no longer just about not lying. If telling the myth can stack the deck in favor of critical thinking and eventual atheism, can not telling it help stack the deck toward an easier acceptance of the possibilities of faith?

In the end it’s still the same action: not lying. And certainly not lying to help perpetuate something devoured by consumerism and greed. But this time around, I’d like to try not lying as a way to lay the groundwork for something he can keep believing in.

By Brenda

40-something-something stay home mom, floating somewhere between traditional and strange. I’m addicted to music, making things and my computer.

11 replies on “The Parenting Chronicles: Up on the Rooftop”

My sister has been pretty firm about there being no santa (though other relatives haven’t followed her lead, particularly the paternal side.) and I’ve backed her. I made a video of her talking about how santa, the tooth fairy, and the easter bunny aren’t real, and I have only dislikes on that video and one comment reading “what the hell”.

(Corrected fair to fairy, as there probably *is* a tooth fair some place out there.)

One thing that’s making this so much easier is Jonathan doesn’t go to school, so we’re not dealing with the other kids right now (or, haven’t yet, I’m sure we will before all is said and done).

I love the video (and her name!), and have to say I’m surprised you haven’t gotten more vitriol for it, considering it’s You Tube :-D

Hmm ..I can’t remember my parents ever really telling me that Sinterklaas was a guy with a beard and not the saint that hung out in Spain for 360 days a year and knew what kind of presents you wanted.
Neither can I remember how I felt about it. Maybe I just grew out of it. I think it’s not something to blow up but just consider/work around it like a temporary thing in a child’s life.

That was pretty much my reasoning with the first two, but it started wearing on me pretty hard, enough that I swore to myself I’d never do it again. And now that I’m having to contemplate it again the idea of such an elaborate lie (the cookies, the boot prints inside the door, the weather man showing Santa on the radar) just wears on me. The more I think about what it might be like to raise this one without it, the more I’m curious to the outcome.

Just yesterday I was thinking about how I hoped you would do this post soon!

Of all the reasons brought up to defend perpetuation, that one baffles me most. If believing in fairy tales is so important to you, why are you offering your kids a good reason to never believe in them again?

This thought hadn’t occurred to me, but I think it is spot-on. I’ve thought a lot about the educational power of stories. The power of any story is not that it has to be literally true, but rather the metaphor and the relation to our lives that it carries.

It is in the metaphor and meaning that I, as an atheist, find real significance in religions. Sure, I’ll never be convinced that Jesus actually rose from the grave, but I do see real meaning in why religious texts are written, and why religious practices are followed. To me, it’s not about “does X actually exist” or “did Y really happen,” but rather, how to help us find significance in our lives.

Could not Santa Claus, as the metaphor, do this just as well for children? It might be able to do it even better, because it teaches that we don’t have to take every story literally in order for it to give us something.

I had a fit of a time trying to get this one written, no shit (this is the third attempt). I thought it was pretty cut and dried but it isn’t at all. During the years this was a moot subject I went from uneasy agnostic to person of faith, and that has really changed my perspective on things.

I absolutely agree about the powers and possibilities of stories, but as I see it, it isn’t presented as a story. It isn’t just a metaphor. We weave the narrative into their whole life, going out of our way to make them believe it’s a very real thing. In a sense we gaslight them about it – we actively work to give them a reality we know beyond a shadow of doubt is not true, on a level that isn’t repeated even in the most fundamentalist of religions.

And now, because of the faith/spirituality thing I have going on, I’m looking at the idea of replacing Santa with something else, something that can’t easily be proven one way or another. I’m still not easy with the idea of trying to steer a child’s spirituality, but … if I’m going to give him a fable, a myth (the part of Santa that’s really good) I want it to be a really fantastic one, one good enough to maybe be true. I’m really looking at this as a way to instill a faith in possibilities.

Well, with Jonathan it’s different, of course, but as someone who was partially raised by you, I can tell you that it didn’t have much, if any, effect on me. It’s like learning that the Belle I met at Disney was someone in a costume: it’s “Aww, man!” at first, but it’s easily gotten over. It also hasn’t stopped me from reveling in imagination and fairy tales, and in in some ways respecting all faiths, not just one. Does that help in your questioning? :)

At this point the questioning is really more a curiosity to see what the outcome will be without Santa.

I’m assuming you mean it’s different because he’s autistic, and I have to say I don’t know if that would impact the outcome one way or another. Or, it might, but I have no way of knowing which way it would impact, so trying to plan accordingly could easily blow up in my face. None of the decision or thought processes were based on him being autistic.

Leave a Reply