Readers Respond to My Holiday Columns

Dear Readers,

The Mommybites staff informs me that my 11/27/12 column, Grandparents Grapple with Question: Is Santa Claus Real?” generated a lot of interest.

Several readers said that it doesn’t really matter what the grandparents think, should their grandson raise the Santa Claus question because, as expressed by one reader: “The question poses a bigger problem than the issue of whether or not Santa is real. As a grandparent I do not think we have the right to undercut a decision made by a parent unless it endangers the child. I do not think there is any endangerment here. To ask the question is to assume that a grandparent has the right to overrule a parent’s decision. No can do.”

Other readers disagree that the parents’ position should prevail; they feel the emphasis should be on trying to find a balance: “Hopefully those grandparents will take your advice and stay true to themselves (while honoring the mother’s wishes) and they will all be able to enjoy what the holiday is really about…having fun…being kind…spreading joy! I don’t like to rock the boat…I just want everyone to get along. I think you giving them a way to help celebrate the holiday with fun characters is great for everyone! I don’t think it needs to be so deep.”

Another reader finds balance by differentiating between direct and indirect lies: “I am someone who does not like to lie to children. I try to keep things real, even in scary situations – always letting kids know the truth within context. I hate the whole Santa thing. However, I have three little kids and Santa is part of this world that we live in. So I have decided to talk about the ‘magic of Santa’ – a recommendation from my mom. This way I feel like it is not a direct lie, and it somehow goes along with the spirit of the season that the ‘magic of Santa’ allows him to be in many places (all over the world) at once.” Other readers also said they liked the idea of talking about the enchantment and magic of Santa because children can enjoy the stories and myths in their younger years and yet never feel they have been lied to when they get older.

A comment from a young mom succinctly summarizes the issue and its implications:

“…this was a very thought-provoking piece for me that made me consider a whole range of things (including stories about god and religion!). It made me think about what I will say in the next couple of years as my kids get older and are able to question the Santa Claus tale. I don’t want to perpetuate a big deception, but I do love the fun and make-believe.

“This year, with a 2.5 year old and a 10-month-old, we are sticking to the traditional script, but I have to admit that much of it is for my own benefit! I have a lot of fun talking about the magical side of the holidays and I know my daughter enjoys it too. But I don’t think she’d enjoy it less if I tempered the content a little bit more, especially as she gets older. Because she’s only two, she also thinks that Olivia (the pig) is real and is her friend who might come over to play some day. It’s tough to burst bubbles, and I don’t always like to, but I can make sure I’m not deliberately inflating them too…I really appreciate your suggested third approach – it’s nice to know it’s not all or nothing!”

Another reader finds the idea of “putting Santa in a specific context” helpful because “…even though I’m Jewish, I read this one with interest. Your idea of putting ‘hard truths’ in a context that allows for both wonder and reality can apply to other parenting dilemmas, such as telling a child that he or she is adopted, or explaining racism, which we had to do early with our bi-racial daughter.”

And to the reader who wants to know how to handle the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny, I suggest the same three choices to address them as the ones I presented for positioning Santa Claus: (1) They are real; (2) They are not real; (3) They are magical characters and there are lots of fun stories about them. One story that can be a fun experience for the entire family is to watch the animated movie Rise of the Guardians, the story about an evil spirit, Pitch, who tries to take over the world, but must first defeat a combined force comprising, Santa Claus, Jack Frost, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and various other delightful characters. Believers, non-believers and agnostics of all ages can enjoy this movie without challenging and/or spoiling anything for anyone else.

I also received several comments about my 12/11/12 column, Guidelines for Giving and Receiving Gifts.”  One reader writes: “I love your list and would add thinking of giving gifts to causes which add an important dimension to all aspects of giving and receiving gifts.” This is a great suggestion.

Another reader wrote: “Gramma Karen, you should make sure all your readers know about your concept of ‘I’m an only child.’ It’s such a great idea for a gift. We are going to use it with our four grandchildren.” By way of explanation: for grandparents who have more than one grandchild in the same family, the idea of “I’m an only child” is to plan something special to do with each grandchild, without his/her siblings. It can be a day together or a weekend away, just the grandparents and one grandchild. The other siblings stay with their parents or other grandparents. I know of one little boy, when asked where he got a new book, replied, “Oh, I got that book from Grandma when I was an only child.” The kids love it and will even ask when they next get to be “an only child.”

A reader e-mailed to say that she saw a TV clip recommending a gift of empty cardboard boxes of all sizes to play in. The clip showed the kids enjoying the boxes more than their other gifts. To extend the idea, it would be fun to make a project of decorating the boxes.

And finally, the gift of togetherness is suggested by a young mom: “This year, in lieu of doing a grab bag for the 11 cousins, we are going to surprise the kids (ranging in age from six to 19) and have them all open the same thing at the same time – it will be a ticket to a sporting event, concert or show that we are all going to attend together.” The reader later let me know that the event they picked was a Celtics-Nets game. A great time was had by all!

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

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