Now that the holidays are neatly tucked away behind us it may be safe for me to bring up a touchy subject: the way grown ups lie to children about Santa Claus.
Before you have a meltdown at the mere thought of reflecting on the lies we tell children, take a breath. You may need some extra oxygen as you take this in.
Adults can be such hypocrites! We tell kids that lying isn’t acceptable. We demand that they fess up and tell us the truth yet we spin a tale that takes us into such a deep hole, we don’t know when or how to break it to them that Santa is a hoax.
We insist it is part of the ‘magic’ of the holiday season, omitting that we use Santa to threaten that unless kids are ‘good’ he won’t fulfill their requests. Many parents resort to year long discipline based on his checklist, creating a false belief that the only way to get stuff is by pleasing people. This is not magic. It is manipulation.
OK. Let me assure you the issue is not just with Santa. We lie about the tooth fairy too. After all, it is for the kid’s own good. They need to believe in something, don’t they?
So once we have justified the reason for making this stuff up does it make any sense that we tell children there is NEVER an excuse for lying? No wonder so many teens grow up thinking their parents are hypocrites.
There is more at stake here than appearing to be a hypocrite.
We are teaching our children not to trust us.
If we lie about Santa, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy, at some point they wonder what else might justify a grown up lie.
And they are right! This lying stuff works so well we are tempted to whip up more half-truths whenever it suits us:
We tell them we’ll be right off the phone or computer when we darn well know that it may be another half hour.
We can’t bear to hear them cry on the way to the doctor’s office so we tell them they won’t be getting any shots and then pretend that the needle in their arm is a surprise to us.
We want to avoid a tantrum at the playground so we tell them the park is closing.
We become so good at our own lies some of us can’t function without them.
The truth is we do not have to lie to our kids- about anything. Life can be magical and manageable and honest at the same time. We do have to be willing to make some small but powerful shifts.
It takes the desire and willingness to learn how to respond to our kids with age appropriate honesty.
In the same way that we can enjoy the magic of Disneyworld or a movie about Cinderella, we can be authentic when our little ones ask, “Is Cinderella real?” All you have to say is, “What do you think?” If your child says, “Yes.” then you smile and say, “It feels good for you to believe that she is real…and so for you she is real.” Real is what we sense in our heart. It will be up to her to decide if and when her reality changes.
It’s that easy. And it can work that way for Santa and the tooth fairy too.
It works like that for angels and fairy godmothers and even for God. It works like that for doctor visits and leaving the playground. You honestly tell your child what works for you. And you give your children the support they need to figure out what works for them. That is how they learn that we each get to create our own reality.
No need to lie…ever.