Last week, the Palm Beach Post wrote about a potentially distressing study by a psychology professor in the United Kingdom who suggests that encouraging kids to believe in Santa Claus could make them damaged, distrustful little wretches who will forever consider their parents big, fat liars.
After all, the study said, “If adults have been lying about Santa … what else is a lie?”
I am not a scientist, but I am a parent, as well as a former kid whose parents told her about Santa, and who is now, more or less, a well-adjusted adult with no significant trust issues and a possibly closer-than-normal relationship with my mama. So in my humble, nonclinical opinion: Lighten up, man.
From the second you tell people you’re going to have kids, those same people start telling you, in most cases passionately and with just a smidgen of judgment, how to raise those kids. They come armed with studies, parenting guides and anecdotal evidence that all seem to prove one thing — whatever you’re about to do is super-duper wrong (that’s a scientific term).
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If you don’t closely consider, to the point of forensic investigation, each and every choice you make, from diapers to day care to Disney, your kid is doomed to be a toothless hobo, and it’s all your fault. Enjoy visiting Junior in his boxcar!
One of those big choices is whether to tell your kids about Santa, a kindly, jolly elf who delivers presents to the good children of the world in a reindeer-drawn sleigh that defies both the laws of gravity and time.
Santa, of course, is based on the historical and famously charitable St. Nicholas, and maybe there is a nice man hanging out making toys in the North Pole, but I know he doesn’t provide toys to the Streeter-Zervitz household because I’ve got the Target receipts.
So technically, you are lying if you tell your kids that the Santa story is true, that the guy in the red suit they just met in the mall is coming down the chimney on Dec. 24 if they eat their veggies and stop slapping their sister.
Lying is bad.
The alternative is telling your kids from the get-go that there is no Santa, and become the parents of that kid who can’t wait to ruin it for all of his little friends, also known as that kill-joy kid nobody likes. And you might as well keep them inside and away from television, the internet, the radio and any sort of retail outlets, because St. Nick is everywhere.
But if you do decide to go with the Santa story, I again humbly suggest that there are some positive and possibly character-building reasons to do so. Anything that encourages kids to be nice to each other is a good thing, so although I tend to downplay the creepy “sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when you’re awake” surveillance part with my son Brooks, it’s not a bad thing to teach consequences.
Also, focusing on the kind, charitable nature of Santa Claus might be a great way to counteract the mercenary nature of the modern American Christmas.
There will be a time when Brooks figures out that Santa is not actually coming down the chimney, because he’s not real, and because we don’t have a chimney. And at that time, he might give me the side-eye and ask how I could have lied to him. That won’t be fun.
But I hope that when he’s done believing in Santa, he’s never done believing in generosity, in selflessness and in love. And I hope he’s inspired to want to be Santa, in some ways, in his own life.