The magical time of childhood, at some point, eventually comes to an end. Many parents question whether or not to allow our children to believe in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny. I don’t know all the mythological figures that may be a part of customs of other cultures and religions, but I do know that the belief to disbelief phase is an important part of our children’s development.
Children will often create their own myths and magical worlds when young, whether introduced to these magical figures or not. My son had his own sweet magical world in which his big stuffed dog Buck was real and given attributes of a real dog for many years, fitting with my boy’s yearning for a pet, and maybe even a sibling.
He is now ten years old and just last spring stopped believing in Santa et al. Surprised he still believe in Santa at nine I went all in leaving a “dropped” gift on the fire escape. Hook line and sinker, I could see he was still in. Hook line and sinker, I could see he was still in. The year before he was awake the whole night of Christmas eve, and walked in on my wrapping gifts! I thought, that’s it, we’re done. He shared his suspicion, but suspension of disbelief still had a hold on him.
How did it happen? How did reality sink in? This spring my son wanted tickets to a Marvel movie that I thought was too aggressive. He said, “I know what I’ll do then, I’ll just add it to my list for Santa! He always gets me what I ask for.” My boy kept a running Santa list on a large post-it note pinned to the wall.
He felt triumphant in figuring out a way around his predicament, until the next day when he came home from school and said, “Mama, is Santa real or not?”
I took that deep breath, a little grief mixed with relief and said, “Do you want the truth?” He replied hesitantly, “No, yes, wait, no, okay… yes.” He had likely bragged to his friends at school that day that Santa would score him some tickets since his mom didn’t approve. I know the kids were all talking about movie because it just came out. He likely got schooled by the kids at school.
I told him the truth. His first reaction was the reaction that many parents fear, “Wait, that means you lied to me all of these years!”
He then said, “So how about the Easter Bunny? The Tooth Fairy?” “Not real,” I replied slightly wincing.
After processing this all for a bit, I told him that if he wanted to continue to pretend for a while that he could. He told me it was okay that I had lied for all those years because it was fun for him. And then the sweetest moment of all happened. He looked at me in awe, and gave me an enormous tight hug and said, “Now all the love I’ve stored for Santa goes to you.” For a few days after he would still look at me now and then and shake his head and say, “I live with Santa.”
Later he shared with me that all his skeptical moments of doubt in the years past all added up now.
He is now proud to hold the “secret” for his little cousins. Gearing up for the season, he even gave his Santa and reindeer set to one cousin who will almost be three years old by Christmas.
Whatever your belief about telling kids the truth, or creating magical worlds for them to enjoy, it’s important to know that they won’t be hurt by either, and are making their own sense of the world in their own time.
And by the way… Santa still might be visiting our house this year. My son’s latest thing is that he still wants the “Santa” presents separate from the “Mama” presents. I call that a clever reworking of a fairytale, and at least I get the credit.
Image Credit: Andrea Giammattai