Dear Dr. Gramma Karen,
Hello from the grandparents who contacted you nine years ago about how to answer the question, Is Santa Claus real? Danny is now 15 and Jessie is 12. We continue to be close to them and to spend lots of time with them.
We saw that you reposted that column and we thought you might like an update.
One day, nine years ago, after we had received your advice, we were babysitting Danny, who was then five. He came home from kindergarten all upset. He said some kids at school had told him there was no such thing as Santa Claus. He wanted to know what we thought.
Thinking about your advice to put Santa in a context that would work for us, we asked him if he wanted Santa to be real in his “magic place” — that imaginary place where you close your eyes and you can have make believe friends and adventures. We often talked about his magic place, so he was familiar with it. He said, yes, he wanted Santa in his magic place. And that was that.
We told his parents about this interaction, and they were fine with it. Bethany got to do her Santa thing for a few more years, and we never had to lie to the grandkids. So, we thank you for the advice you gave us back then.
Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response:
Thank you for your update. I am glad things worked out satisfactorily in your family.
After that column first posted, I received many comments from readers, some of which I share here.
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.”
Try to Find a Balance
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!”
What About the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny?
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.
On a personal note, some holiday fun can persist even when previous characters and events are no longer “believed in.” For example, my two grandsons are now both teenagers, but their parents continue to do the Elf on the Shelf. (The story goes that Santa’s Scout Elves fly to the North Pole each night of December to report to Santa if the children have been behaving or misbehaving. The elves then fly back and hide in a new spot for the children to find him the next morning.)
We never know where and how the Elf will show up, but hilarity is guaranteed!
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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