Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The great lie of Santa Claus

My daughter is in first grade now and this is the first year that an older kid has told her (with plenty of dripping pity for her) that there is no Santa Claus. That it's just your parents putting the presents under the tree, just like there is no tooth fairy and it's just your parents putting the money under your pillow. Since I happened to be there when said older kid was whispering this to her, I thought it was interesting to see her reaction. She stood there a moment looking perplexed and then said, "Oh. I see," then she scrunched up her face a little in thought, then she gave the older kid a look of her own utmost pity and said, "I think that's only what happens at your house."

Later she told me what the older kid had whispered to her and asked if it's me who plays Santa and the tooth fairy. I said that she was old enough now that she could choose what she wanted me to answer. Did she want me to tell her the truth or did she want me to tell her the fun version of the story and say it's not me. She said she wanted me to tell her it's not me, so I didn't say it's not me, but I said it was fine for her to continue believing in Santa and the tooth fairy if she wants. Then she said it was sad that the tooth fairy and Santa weren't allowed to exist at the older kid's house. I found the psychology of that whole interchange fascinating.

I am by far not an expert in psychology (having never gone to college except for a few classes ... the only three I ever actually attended and paid attention in being psychology, genetics and drama) but all the studies I've read on child psychology have said that play and imagination and fantasy are extremely important to developing brains. They help children learn cognitive skill needed for problem solving later in life.

The older child who is not allowed to believe in any of that stuff is our neighbor (same one who's mother thinks I'm stupid for believing in God, even though I'm more educated than she is) and from the get go her mother will not lie to her children about fantasy creatures. It did cross my mind when my daughter was a baby that saying that there is a Santa is essentially lying unless you really think about it. In our house it's all pretend play between the whole family. Said older child doesn't believe in Santa, God, or the tooth fairy but she does adamantly believe in fairy sprites - but I'm not supposed to tell her mom that. So, she is fulfilling that childhood need to fantasize behind her mother's back. And that to me is very sad. But there are a lot of parents now days who view fun stuff in childhood like Santa as a big lie and they will never lie to their children.

When did parenting become so weird? When did people start believing their children were so delicate that engaging in pretend play with them over long standing traditional icons would traumatize them? It seems to fall into the same category as saying no to their children will traumatize them and the idea that their children should never be unhappy so the parent must cater to them to the ends of the earth so they are never disappointed, bored or sad.

Maybe it's always been like this and I just never noticed because I was either a kid or a grown-up without kids. Maybe even in the days of settlers in the Wild West there were people who believed that telling their child about Santa would traumatize them by the big lie of it all ... or maybe because there were actual dangers back then like disease and starvation from crops failing and nature in general that folks realized their kids weren't these delicate little flowers that would wilt when you sneeze.

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