It’s not easy to admit you’ve made a mistake. As a parent, it’s even harder. What I did was wrong and I can’t even apologize to my son because I don’t want to remind him that for years, I told him that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny aren’t real. I put my own ideals before the needs of my child. I strongly believe that lying to kids is wrong, but I let that get in the way of being a good mother. My little boy wanted to believe in magic. He wanted to be like the other kids and I didn’t allow that. Instead, I put myself first.
It started before my son was born.
My husband and I were discussing how we wanted to celebrate holidays. We aren’t very religious and we don’t identify as Christians so we were uncomfortable with celebrating Christmas and Easter. Then we remembered all the traditions we had enjoyed when we were children: decorating the tree, having a special meals, dyeing Easter eggs, and of course, the surprise of opening our Christmas stocking and Easter basket.
We weren’t going to lie to our children about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
We weren’t going to perform elaborate charades like thumping on the roof or making tracks in the snow. Would we convince our children that an old man sneaks into the house when they were sleeping? No way! That was just plain creepy! Would we bribe our son to behave by telling him that some mythical figure was watching to see if you’ve been bad or good? Yuck! And who was the Easter bunny supposed to be anyway? A bunny who lays eggs and hops around on only two legs? Puh-leeze!
We were not going buy into any of that ridiculousness. We were going to be better. We would show our children the magic of real life. By showing them the beauty of nature and teaching them about real miracles. We would make life so magical and special that our children wouldn’t even feel like they were missing out on the whole Santa-Claus-Easter-Bunny-scheme. And we weren’t about to let Mr. Claus or a stuffed bunny take credit for the presents that we bought. Everything would still be a surprise but our children would know that it came from us. Yes, you can hate us. I hate us now too.
It was all working perfectly.
Whenever Wolfy mentioned Santa Claus, I told him, “You know Santa Claus is a story. He’s a character, like Thomas the train. He’s not a real person.”
Then we were invited to an event where someone dressed as Santa Claus would appear and Wolfy would get to sit on his lap. We doubted Wolfy would even be interested but we asked him if he wanted to go and we were surprised when he said, “Yes.” We agreed to take him, you know, just for fun. We were so sure that Wolfy understood Santa wasn’t real that seeing someone dressed like Santa wouldn’t confuse him. We were so wrong!
On the night of the event, we went to the middle of town and waited in the cold dark, singing Christmas carols. Then a fire truck came into view and who was riding inside? Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus too! Wolfy was so excited. On the ride home he had many questions.
“Why was Santa riding in the fire truck? Where was his sleigh? Where were his reindeer? Where was he going next?” And on and on and on. Wolfy was trying to fit Santa Claus into his frame of reference about the world. My husband and I looked at each other and shook our heads. We were shocked. Everything we had told Wolfy about Santa Claus had gone right out the window the moment he had seen someone in a white beard riding in a fire truck.
At that moment, I realized that our four-year-old son desperately wanted to believe but I still wasn’t ready to let that happen.
Throughout the next few days, I answered all of Wolfy’s questions and kept answering him by saying, “See there’s no way that makes sense, does it? It’s just a story!” In the moment Wolfy would agree with me, but later he would ask another question that showed he was still trying to figure it all out. I should have just given in and played along. I should have recognized that this was something our son needed. But I was too caught up in thinking about what kind of person I was and not thinking about how I should instead be the parent that my son needed.
As Christmas Eve got closer and closer, we heard Wolfy tell more than one adult, “Santa Claus is going to bring me presents!!!” He was so excited. The Polar Express became his favorite book. And then our friends gave our family tickets to ride on the Polar Express train. As Wolfy eagerly proclaimed, “We’re going to the North Pole!” and then clutched his bell all the way home; I finally realized that continuing to tell Wolfy that there is no Santa Claus would be just plain mean. Our son wanted to believe and I needed to stop trying to stop him.
Now, as Easter approaches, I’ve decided to put my ideals on the back burner and make my son’s a priority.
The first time Wolfy asked, “Is the Easter bunny going to come to our house?” I simply answered, “Yes.” I didn’t try to explain to him that the existence of the Easter Bunny is impossible or that it was really me buying him the candy and toys.
I wish I could apologize to my son for all the times I corrected him and tried to ruin something that he found fun and magical. Instead, I finally gave in.
Now I’m the mother in the grocery store, trying to distract my son as I hide a chocolate bunny under a loaf of bread. And you know what?
It doesn’t feel like lying. It feels like a game. It feels fun. And I wish I’d played along a lot sooner.