Like most non-parents, before I had my children, I had some pretty strong opinions about how I was going to parent my future children. I remember sitting in my neighbour’s lounge, 9 months pregnant with my first son, saying to her:
“I will never let him watch In the Night Garden. What a ridiculous programme!”
Well ha bloody ha ha! By the time he was 1 year old, Night Garden had become a part of our bedtime routine. He wouldn’t commence bath and story time until CBeebies had actually told him it was time to go to bed. So much for my pre-parent parenting plans.
Another topic on which my pre-parent self had strong opinions was about telling my children the truth. I told anyone who would listen that I would never lie to my children. And that included “lying” to them about the existence of Father Christmas.
I saw an article on Netmums recently saying that researchers have found that “the lie of Santa can actually be damaging”. Now, pre-parent me would have been nodding vigorously to this. I had long conversations with my mother-in-law about how I wouldn’t be telling “the Santa lie” to my children because it would be a betrayal. She understandably disagreed with my thoughts on this.
I worried that if I lied about this one thing, then once they found out the truth they would never trust anything I had taught them. Especially if it was anything that needed to be taken on pure faith without any proof. However, post-parent me feels a bit different.
The thing is, I never truly believed in Santa Claus as a child, but I still went to his grotto every year. My family never went out of their way to convince me he’s real, but they still sometimes gave me gifts from “Santa”. I enjoyed playing the game. It didn’t matter to me whether he was real; it was just fun to imagine he was. I never told them I didn’t believe because I was afraid that would be the end of the fun stuff. I’m sure they knew that I didn’t believe, but none of us cared.
So as my eldest son grew old enough to understand the concept of Father Christmas, I found I couldn’t resist teaching him about the Christmas customs. Soon, I was shamelessly “telling the lie”. I’ve enjoyed getting family pictures at Santa’s Grotto. I’ve loved teaching my son Christmas carols. One of his faves is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. Last year, on Christmas Eve, we even put out mince pies, brandy and a carrot for the reindeer. The brandy was large and the carrot was very, very small.
This year we’ve kicked it up a notch and he’s written his first letter to Santa, which we actually sent off in the post.
So, as with Night Garden, I’ve done a complete 180 degree parenting turn.
The thing is: I’m not sure if it’s really lying. How is it any different from telling any other imaginative story or playing a game of pretend? And importantly, my son hasn’t questioned it yet. The closest he’s gotten is, when listening to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, he asked how Santa can see him when he’s sleeping. I just said “magic” and he was happy with that.
The real test will be if he starts asking more serious questions about whether Santa actually exists. This is where I will draw the line. I don’t care to go out of my way to propagate the fantasy, but at the same time, I don’t want to outright say Santa doesn’t exist. If I told him this, he might ruin it for his friends, and no one is going to thank me for that.
So my plan is to explain that believing in Father Christmas is a game we all love to play in order to make Christmas more fun. That’s why we do it, right? Because it’s fun?
I’m going to tell him that nobody knows for absolute certain that he doesn’t exist, but that it doesn’t matter. The idea is that it’s fun to believe – just like when we pretend to be cats or Pontipines (oh yes, being a Pontipine is a popular pastime in my house). And I will remind him that it’s important not to tell other people if we don’t believe he’s real, because it will ruin the fun.
There may not be a literal jolly fat bearded man hanging out at the North Pole forcing elves to make toys. But the idea of it is a positive way to fuel our children’s imaginations. Just look at all the fantastic books and films that use this popular myth to create a new and different story. It’s a quintessential part of our culture.
So even if Father Christmas doesn’t exist in the real world, he will always exist in our imaginations. Without him, Christmas wouldn’t be half as much fun. And that’s the absolute truth.