The Parenting Stake through the Heart

By Dolores Rader, Minister to Families

What parent isn't filled with dread and instantly inflicted with sweaty palms at the very thought of the day when the question inevitably comes..."Why did you lie to me?" Oh, Santa why must parenting be so challenging?

Before we talk about how to respond to the gut wrenching question, let's detour for a moment for a bigger picture take on the topic (elevation almost always help when we get that sense of being trapped in our circumstances). Think back to the Christmas and Easter traditions your family shared when you were a child. If your family shared in regular traditions, it is likely that memories start flooding back filled with emotion. Research shows that traditions:
▪ strengthen the family bond
▪ offer comfort and security
▪ teach values
▪ connect generations
▪ create lasting memories

For our family, Santa has always been a part of our Christmas tradition...
▪ Our girls always made a list for Santa.
▪ We would visit Santa at our local credit union where we saw the same "Santa" every year and Steve and I weren't stressed out about crowded malls and capturing the "perfect" (and pricey) picture. They snapped a polaroid and handed the girls a candy cane after sitting on Santa's lap and having a good talk with him. No craziness here!
▪ Our girls set out cookies and milk on Christmas Eve for the jolly old man.
▪ The girls (to this day) all sleep together in the same bedroom on Christmas Eve, and we cover the hallway with a wrapping paper barrier so they can't see or sneak out before we are ready in the morning. In the morning, they barrel through the paper at the agreed to time.
▪ Santa always brings three or four gifts, and Steve and I give one or two gifts (the same number we would give for their birthday) and stockings always have nuts, an orange, some candy and a little package, a tradition from my childhood.
▪ When we could talk our parents into it, they would spend the night on Christmas Eve.

Our traditions did not include...
▪ Threatening that if they were naughty, they would not receive any presents from Santa. Two reasons for this one...saying what you will do and following through on doing that is really big in building children's confidence in you and in the world. We never thought we wouldn't give Santa presents so we didn't threaten with that. Secondly, a value we wanted to teach through the tradition of Santa is generosity and grace (receiving gifts that you did nothing to deserve). Adding a naughty tax was counter to teaching this value.
▪ Talking about Santa watching them be naughty or nice. That seemed a little too much like an omnipotent power that we didn't ascribe to Santa.
The thing is Santa and the Easter Bunny are what YOU make it. What traditions do you want to embrace and bonds, memories, values do you want to instill through these traditions? Most importantly, what do you want your children to learn about Jesus through these traditions?
▪ God is a very abstract concept for children. Jesus' crucifixion and being raised is a very abstract concept as well. Use everything in your wheelhouse to help children understand these concepts. Your traditions should help!
▪ Christmas is a great opportunity to talk about the concept of grace – receiving something we did nothing to deserve.
▪ Build upon their intrinsic excitement reinforcing that Christmas and Easter are very special and should be anticipated and celebrated all year long.
▪ Jesus used parables/stories all the time to teach difficult concepts. We should too!
▪ Christ remains first at Easter and Christmas (and the other 363 days too)
▪ Remembering that imagination and fantasy are part of being a kid and at age appropriate times, differentiating between fact and fiction is important

Of course as in all things parenting, the path is littered with many a pitfall. Here are a few to be especially mindful of when it comes to Santa and the Easter bunny:
▪ Wait until they are ready for the truth...
▪ Be on the look out for clues. Nobody knows your child better than you! You will sense when they are ready.
▪ Once you sense they are ready for the truth, don't prolong the facade for your own benefit. The tradition can carry on but you want your child to not be internally conflicted at the point they really need to/want to know.
▪ If you think they are at an age where they could be embarrassed by or with friends because they are still holding on, you should help them figure out the truth.
▪ When they flat out ask before they are ready...
▪ Detract/redirect. Ahh, a powerful tool in a parent's toolbox!!
▪ Remember, they want to believe and keep the magic! They will hold on for a long time. It's your job to know when the right time is for your child (and you will).

For THE talk...
▪ Be clear...Santa is a myth, fairy tale, made up story, fiction that started out about a real saint.
▪ AND it is a tradition for us that helps us learn about God's love and grace and sharing it with others.
▪ Again be clear in the difference between fact vs. fiction - Jesus is real. The Easter bunny is a tradition.
▪ After the talk, the tradition remains! Children who "know" can carry on the tradition and help play Santa for younger siblings.
▪ Except for going to see Santa at the credit union, our family still practices all of our Santa traditions even though the girls are now 19, 16 and 14. It was a rite of passage to get to be "in" on the traditions and help make them happen year in and year out.

If traditions are about strengthening family bonds, security, teaching values and creating memories, create yours from the beginning with the end in mind. When you have "the talk" with your child, what do you want to tell them about Santa and the Easter bunny? Decide that early on and then make Santa exactly who you want him to be year after year in your home.

And don't forget that it is your actions and words the other 363 days of the year that are really influencing how you child will respond to you when they look you in the face and say, "Why did you lie to me?". God has gifted you with your very special family and has equipped you better than any one in the world to love on and nurture your children. You got this!!

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