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White Knuckle Parenting: The Santa Lie

The Santa Claus myth is all kinds of fun when your kids are little, but when are they too old to still believe?

I remember when I first told my oldest son, Sam, about Santa Claus. He was two months old and obviously incredibly invested in the myth. He stared vacantly at me, digesting the importance of my words.

He may not have awoken with wonder and excitement to find his filled stocking that first Christmas morning, but he really liked the toy Santa brought him that flashed lights and sounds when he kicked it.

Naturally, it probably took him a couple more years to really understand who Santa was and why he should care (and then maybe another year before he would agree to sit on his lap at the mall), but once the story took, it took hard. Sam believed in Santa with all of his heart—and once his two brothers came along, they did as well.

I know a lot of people love the magic of the Santa story, but it only took me a few years to start wishing I'd never started telling that stupid lie to begin with.

Each year, I wonder if my sons are getting too old to believe in Santa. I contemplate whether someone at school will ruin the story for them. Even worse, I worry that someone at school will tease them for still believing. Also, knowing me, there is always a pretty good chance that I will screw up and let the cat out of the bag by mistake myself.

So far that hasn't happened, although my oldest did figure out the truth a couple of years ago, when he was nine. Even after all my mental buildup, the reveal was pretty low key. Sam let my husband and I know that he knew we were Santa and he spent that first Christmas quietly watching and observing the whole charade.

The next year, however, he was ON BOARD. He didn't just want to be an elf and help Santa; he practically wanted to be Santa himself. I think that losing Santa might be less rough on older kids because they get to carry on for their younger siblings. 

Sam was cuter than I could have possibly imagined last Christmas. He winked at my husband and I as we put out milk and cookies and he helped my other kids joyfully fling our reindeer dust (oatmeal and sprinkles to feed and attract the reindeer) onto the front yard. Then, he waited patiently until his brothers fell asleep so he could help me fill their stockings.

It was adorable and lovely and almost made all of the worry about Santa Reprisals worthwhile.

Now my attention has focused on my younger kids. Honestly, I don't even know if they understand that there are people who don't believe in Santa. Last weekend, we went to see Rise of the Guardians, which is about believing in Santa, and afterward I asked each of them if they were like one of the lights in the movie that represented kids who believed.

My youngest said no, then followed up with complete certainty that although Santa is real, he would not be a light because then he would be sucked into a black hole and something, something, something, followed by more crazy. Seven-year-olds are wacky. My middle son just gave me a thumbs up.

It's that middle son whom I spend most of my time wondering about. He's 9 and in fourth grade, which is about the time that a lot of kids stop believing. Plus he's autistic, which puts him at risk for teasing anyway. I worry about that combination.

Honestly, I'm not above planting seeds of doubt to let them come to the truth slowly and on their own. I just don't want them to find out the truth in one terrible moment of catching me in the act or getting teased—and I don't want it to happen right before Christmas. 

The problem is that I know a lot of adults who tell me that they felt betrayed when they learned the truth and, even more than I don't want my kid to be teased for believing in Santa, I don't want him to be mad at me for lying to him and breaking his tiny little heart.

Going into this Christmas, I know I'm not going to wreck the magic for my fourth grader. I'm going to let the myth live on. But come March or April, I might start dropping some subtle hints to get him thinking about how Santa manages to get gifts to every kid in the world on the same night but somehow can't afford the $400 LEGO Death Star he so badly wants.

So, what is our conclusion? Am I overthinking this? How old are your kids? Do they believe? What is your policy on telling your kids the truth about Santa?

Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, is a freelance writer who writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and runs an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Stimeyland.

Bec Oakley December 13, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Okay so both of my autistic kids still believe in Santa at 12 and 15. I always thought there'd come a point where they'd go "Hang on a minute...." and we'd have The Talk. Um, nope. And I have NO IDEA HOW TO BRING IT UP. Every year I straddle this line between dropping huge hints (because I want it to be over) and maintaining the elaborate facade (because I want it to be magical and awesome). And I don't know whether they suspect and just don't know how to ask me about it, or are legitimately clueless. So in short, if you figure it out will you let me know?? =)
Jean Winegardner December 13, 2012 at 02:17 PM
I love that they had to let YOU down easy. :) What a happy story!
Jean Winegardner December 13, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Oh, Angela, I LOVED that post. Fantastic! The "your parents have been lying to you since you were born" made me laugh a lot, but the pizza at the end. What a nice kiddo you have.
Jean Winegardner December 13, 2012 at 02:21 PM
EXACTLY.
Jill Berry December 19, 2012 at 04:39 AM
I'm all about keeping the Santa myth alive for as long as possible. My oldest started doubting at 9 or 10. I told her that children who believed in Santa got presents from Santa. That got her thinking. I went on to say that those who didn't believe only got Mommy/Daddy presents on Christmas morning. That did it...Santa presents are SO much better than boring old Mommy/Daddy presents. She was a hard and fast believer until early 6th grade when she told me that she didn't believe any more. She wanted to be in on the magic and has never said anything to her siblings. She readily puts reindeer food out on Christmas Eve or gets excited when we see how far Santa is on his journey through Norad.. My middle is young for her age and played with toys well in to middle school. I never said anything to her, but in 7th grade she told me that she stopped believing in 6th grade. She was content about knowing the truth finally. My 9 year old is a firm believer.

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