Writing this post is really difficult. For a while now, Danny and I have gone back and forth on whether or not we should introduce the idea of Santa to Forrest. Before he was born, we debated about it even more. Now that he’s 2 years old, it’s really hard to not have Santa in our lives. Every TV show, every movie, has Santa; believing in Santa is something children are encouraged to do.
And if you’re on the fence about whether or not Santa is something you want your child to believe in, it can be extremely difficult. Explaining to Forrest at his current age that Santa isn’t real isn’t exactly easy. The difference between “pretend” and “real” is incredibly thin for him; he knows he isn’t really feeding his baby doll with a plastic spoon. But he also doesn’t really get that the movies we watch aren’t real, either. When we took him on Pirates of the Carribbean at Disneyland (this was a mistake, remember?), we realized that, to him, that's all technically real; differentiating between "real" and "fake" at 2 years old is extremely challenging.
Let’s start at the beginning though.
Why Don’t We Believe in Santa?
This is the question I get asked the most. “Why don’t you want Forrest to believe in Santa?”
It’s not that I have anything against Santa. And if other parents choose to do “Santa”, that is fully their right. I still struggle with whether we’re doing the right thing or not.
What I do have an issue with, however, is the idea of making Forrest think that if he is “good,” he gets rewarded.
To me, I want to raise Forrest to be a good person, regardless of whether he gets a reward for it. The reality is that sometimes we have to do the right thing and we never get recognized for it; sometimes being good is just for the sake of being good, not receiving an award. The idea of bribing my child to be good, so that he will be rewarded in the near future, doesn’t sit right with me as a parent. I wouldn't bribe him to do anything else in life, so why would I present Christmas as a bribe to be "good"?
That isn’t to say we won’t talk about Santa.
What We’ll Do Instead
We still want to watch Santa movies, talk about Santa, and read stories about Santa. Santa Claus is a fun story and it is an essential part of Christmas. Just because we won’t encourage Forrest to believe that Santa is real (and judging him for his actions so he can get treats), doesn’t mean I want him to miss out on Santa in general.
We will, however, present Santa as a fun story and game. Instead of, “Santa will only come if you’re good and in bed tonight!” We’ll say something like, “Tonight, we’ll play the Santa game: you go to bed and when you wake up, we’ll have put presents out!” This way, he still gets to have the fun of presents “magically” appearing, but without actually believing in Santa.
Do I worry he’ll ruin it for other kids?
This is another question I get frequently and it makes me very uncomfortable. I know some parents take believing in Santa very seriously; they consider it equivalent to religious beliefs (we can thank the Polar Express for that metaphor), as well as tied to childhood innocence. To not believe in Santa, it seems, is paramount to being forced into adulthood or losing their innocence.
As I said, every parent has the right to approach Santa how they wish. It’s truly no one else’s business. But that being said, I don’t think I should have to worry about my son “ruining” Christmas for another child. Frankly, there are going to be disappointments in life; if my son not believing in Santa disappoints another child, well, that's just kind of part of life. I don't really have control of what he does and doesn't tell kids in the future.
There are always going to be kids who never believe in Santa (I never did; I think I was 4 when I told my mom I knew it was her) and there are going to be kids who believe in Santa for perhaps longer than they should (I’ll never forget breaking the news to my best friend when I was 13). Sometimes, your child will be disappointed; they will be told something (like that Santa isn’t real) you wish they hadn’t been told. That’s just the reality of being a parent! It's up to you to deal with those situations.
To me, it’s equivalent to food choices. Some parents choose to feed their child extremely healthy, like foods with no added sugar. Some parents (like me) walk the line between super healthy and “fun” (like fruit juices and Goldfish crackers). My child eating Goldfish crackers while yours eats kale chips (or yogurt or whatever) doesn’t mean that I shouldn't let my son eat Goldfish crackers; we’ve made different choices and maybe our kids will be disappointed with what other kids have or how their households work. Again, that’s just part of life; learning to deal with it is fundamental and trying to always prevent them from being disappointed or jealous is just going to lead to a needy, spoiled child.
But we should talk to our children about never making other kids feel bad about how their household works or what they have access to; and how while they might feel jealous of other kids, it is not the fault of the other child that they have something or believe something that we don’t.
More than anything, I hope presenting Santa as a game and story (instead of something real) will help us enjoy Christmas even more. We’ll never have a disappointing Christmas where Forrest learns that Santa isn’t real and we’ll never have to struggle with him being good only to receive rewards. To me, as a parent, those are two things I really believe in.