The secret came out. It happened during a summer evening, in the quiet before bedtime. My daughter was six years old and full of thoughts and questions.
“Is the tooth fairy real?” She asked in a low whisper, almost afraid some unseen character might hear her.
I replied with a question of my own. “What do you think?”
As our conversation went on, she asked another question. “Then where does my tooth go and how does money get under my pillow?”
While embarrassed, I admitted that her dad and I tossed her fallen teeth into the trash (except the first one—I’m no monster). She was fine with this information, and processed another question.
“Then… the Easter Bunny is not real either, right?”
This time, I couldn’t hold in a chuckle. “Really, an overgrown bunny? No, he’s not real.”
Satisfied—for the moment—she went to sleep. A week later, another question was asked. She hesitated, but I knew it had been swirling through her mind since our first conversation. “Hey mom and dad. Tell me, what about Santa?”
Again, my response was a question. “What do you think?”
With all the eloquence her six-year-old self could muster, she shared her latest revelation. “I don’t think he’s real because he can’t get down a chimney, and we wouldn’t just let someone in our house in the middle of the night. Besides, how could a person get around the whole world in one night? Only God can do that. And if Santa were real, he still has to answer to God.”
I smiled, nodded, and agreed with her every word. With this discovery, her mind raced to the next revelation. “So… you and Dad get me the presents supposedly from Santa! Hey… why didn’t I get everything on my list?”
This time, her father laughed. We explained her gifts were purchased before her list was finished. She assured us she would have her list ready before any shopping ventures this year.
Then, she floored us with her next question. “So, parents just lie to their children? Lying is not right, but parents just lie to their children about Santa?”
I stuttered three feeble words. “It is tradition.”
At age six, she was relatively young to be aware of these truths. We asked her to talk about it only with us, her grandparents, or her older cousins. Friends at school were off limits for this discussion. But I could not be more pleased she came to the truth on her own. Why? Believing God is real is more important. I don’t want Him likened to Santa or any other mythical characters. I want her faith and trust to be in the One who created the heavens and the earth.
Don’t worry, her childhood has not been ruined. We explained who Saint Nicholas was, and the beauty of giving. As we told her how Santa came to be a tradition, she made yet another profound statement.
“One man made sure orphans had toys that would make them smile and feel special? That is a really good thing. I bet God liked that.”
Yes, I believe He does.
Whether your family welcomes Santa or not, I hope this little “lie” can be redeemed to express the beauty of giving to others. There is something to be said for giving—and expecting nothing in return. As parents, we should not have to fear our children’s questions.
Here are 3 ways to respond:
(1) Respond with a question. One of the best ways to handle tough (and shocking) questions is to respond with a question. And when I’m not sure exactly what information my daughter is inquiring about, a question is the best response. Your children have incredible insights, give them the freedom to share those with you.
(2) Do not freak out. I repeat, do not freak out. I know, we want them to be children forever, but that is impossible. Their maturity will not destroy the wonder and beauty of the seasons. I pinkie promise. Loosen up on those parental reigns and welcome your child’s growth.
(3) Create new traditions. As a family, find a ministry to support, a place to serve, or an activity to do as a family. Growing up, my mother and I chose an angel off an angel tree in the mall, and had fun shopping for the child. Every year, I looked forward to this shared tradition. Not only did we spend valuable time together, but my mother instilled a spirit of giving in me.
We can begin to shift their focus from receiving to giving as our children realize the truth.