Monday, December 13, 2010

When Jack Planned To Trick Santa Claus

There's an Australian author/academic that's in the news today.   Joanne Faulkner is telling parents they shouldn't lie to their kids about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, tooth fairy, etc.    She talks about this in her book, The Importance of Being Innocent.    From what I can see, it looks at the way our society idealizes childhood.

It might be an interesting book.    I'm guessing I'd agree with at least some of Faulker's opinions and observations.  

I've heard of the Santa Claus theory before, mostly from religious Christian families.   From what I understand, they don't want to share the Santa Claus myth with their kids because when the truth comes out about that, what if the children suspect them of lying about Jesus as well?    Okay, so there's no Santa.   Does that mean there's no Jesus, Heaven, Satan, and Hell?  

I'm guessing that atheist parents might avoid the stories as well.    They probably don't want their children believing in anything that can't be proven in a scientific laboratory.   One minute they're believing an Easter Bunny is the one hiding their chocolate eggs, and the next minute they're believing in UFO's, reincarnation, and vaccines causing autism.   

You know, I don't think there IS one right answer for this....just like with  many parenting issues.    And with this, I don't think it's about only parenting styles.   Religious and philosophical beliefs play a role as well.

For me, I'm open-minded.    I think it's highly doubtful that there's a Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, or Tooth Fairy.   I'm also doubtful that my exact date and time of birth determines my personality.    I'm doubtful that there's a God, and that he had a son named Jesus.   I'm doubtful that there was a guy named Noah who built an ark.     I'm doubtful that there are fairies in our backyard.  

But I can accept that these things MIGHT exist.   Yeah, there may be thousands of fake mall Santa Clauses.  Yes, parents buy their kids Christmas presents and put them under the tree.  Yes, parents wake up and eat the cookies that kids left for Santa.   But how does that prove there is no Santa?   All that proves is that other people do Santa's work for him.  

I like to believe that there's a Santa SPIRIT.   He makes us want to give and receive crap that we don't truly need.   I guess he'd be like the sacred saint of retailers.     But I also think he does some good stuff....like inspire us to give to those in need.

Jack believed in Santa Claus for awhile.   I don't think we spent a long time on the story, but he heard it from us or others, and believed it.     I had told him though that Santa Claus was part of Christianity.   He doesn't bring gifts to Jewish children.   Jewish parents went shopping and bought the gifts for their kids.   I didn't really ever see this as discrimination.   It was more like....he belongs to THEM.    I'm not mad when my friend gets a package from her grandma.   I don't sit there and wonder...hey, why didn't she give me a gift?!   

Jack saw it differently.   To him, it was discrimination, and he didn't like it.    He decided Santa deserved to be fooled.  He started coming up with plans to trick Santa into believing he was Christian.   He was so zealous about the whole thing.   And he seemed a bit angry.   I decided it was time to come clean.   I told him the truth about Santa.    Parents buy stuff for their kids.    In a way, that's a nicer tale.   Because if you believe in Santa, there's not just the question of why he skips over the houses of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, etc...  But why does he bring lots of expensive stuff for wealthy kids, and hardly anything for kids who have so little?  

I think I have less problems with letting kids believe in myths, and more problems with the particular messages BEHIND the myths.  

As for lying to kids, I am a big believer in honesty.    But I do think it's fine to lie.   I think it can be fun to believe in what's not real....or what's probably not real.    Some people think fantasy is harmful.   I don't.

My rule though is that when someone starts doubting and asking questions....then you tell them the truth.

When Jack was six, we went on a Disney cruise.   On the bus to the ship, I joined a game of calling the kids on the phone and pretending to be Disney characters.   Jack was so delighted by his call from Alice from Alice in Wonderland.    I loved seeing him excited and happy.   On the other hand, I felt a bit conflicted.    As a teenager, I was tricked into believing something was real.   I was the victim of an elaborate hoax.   It wasn't a very fun experience, and caused me a lot of long-lasting psychological turmoil.  I worried about doing the same to Jack.    But I also remember having fun as a child with fantasy.   I think there's something magical about believing.   I didn't want to be an anal parent who denies their child all of that.  

In the end, Jack started asking me questions about how the calls from Alice were happening.  He started getting suspicious, so I told him the truth.   I think he wanted me to tell him that it was all real...rationalize it.   But that I couldn't do.   He did look sad, and I felt bad for him.   But moments later he was happy again.   He asked me to make more phone calls as Alice.   I do think it was more fun for him when he believed it was real, but he realized he could still have fun when we shared the truth together.

After that I decided my plan would be to lie to Jack until he starts getting suspicious.   When he wants to know if something is real or not, I will tell him what I know to be the truth.

I don't really know the psychology behind all this.    Are many kids shattered when they find out there's no tooth fairy, Santa Claus, or Easter Bunny?   I'm guessing that some are.    I think others slowly stop believing, but keep up the game for awhile.    I think many kids probably don't really care WHO brings the gifts.   They just want the damn toys, money, chocolate, etc.

I think the emotional reaction probably depends a lot on the intensity of the belief, and the dependence on the belief for happiness.   If a lonely child sees the tooth fairy as their one true friend in a hostile world; and imagines one day they will escape to tooth fairy land....the truth will be likely devastating.    If a child sees the tooth fairy as simply one who brings them money, they'll probably be fine with the idea that there parents sneak money under their pillow...as long as the parents promise to continue to do so.       
 It probably depends on how the children's questions were answered previously.   If a child doubts Santa, asks frequent questions, and the parents keep INSISTING it's all real....the child is going to likely feel betrayed in the end.   Who would believe such a parent after that?   

What's that saying....Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies.  

Once the questions are asked, the truth probably needs to be told.