Honoring Belief and Authenticity during the Holidays

December 9th, 2011 by Dionna | 8 Comments
Posted in Consensual Living, Guest Posts, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous

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I’ve written before about how we’re not going to do Santa with Kieran. It’s a year later, and we’re still not doing the traditional Santa route, even though Kieran is more aware of him now. Last year I read the following post by my friend Mandy of Living Peacefully with Children, and it really resonated with me. Read more about Mandy at the end of this post!

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Before my husband and I had children, we discussed how we planned to handle various aspects of holidays. We aren’t Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas, so it only seemed natural to me that we wouldn’t bring the commercial aspect of Santa Claus into our home for the Solstice.

It wasn’t something I would miss. Not only was there the overly commercial aspect and the blatant lying, but I didn’t have fond memories of the jolly old man. I have the obligatory pictures of me sitting on Santa’s lap, tears streaming down my face at having been forced to sit on a strange man’s lap. At the age of four, I informed my mother that I didn’t believe in Santa Claus. I knew she left the gifts, and I wanted to appreciate her effort and thought rather than some mythical stranger.

However, my husband did have fond memories. He enjoyed the magical aspect as a kid and actually pretended to believe in Santa Claus long past when he actually quit believing in order to receive an extra gift. There were discussions. In the end, we compromised. We would discuss the spirit of giving with our future children and Father Time, a representation of that spirit, would leave gifts. I was a bit unsettled by this but recognized the need to honor my husband’s wishes, too. And then we had children…

Gazing into that tiny face, so trusting of us, we knew we couldn’t lie to him. We had no desire to break the special trust held between parent and child. So, life went on. We celebrated our solstice traditions and thought nothing more of Santa Claus or Father Time for five happy years.

The year our oldest turned five years old, he brought up the topic. We had read books about what other people believed and what other holidays people celebrated. We were surrounded by the commercialism of Santa Claus every time we went out.

One fateful day the question came. “Mommy, does Santa Claus exist?” There was an internal cringe, I’m sure. I explained that some people believed he did. Others didn’t. Some people believed in other forms of a spirit of giving. And then I asked him what he believed. He told me that he thought Father Time would leave presents for him and his siblings.

The morning after the longest night of the year, as we got up to open gifts, there were three unwrapped presents sitting on the sofa. My husband and I said nothing about them. We neither claimed to have given them nor that they were from Father Time. While we wouldn’t lie to our children, we also didn’t wish to squash any magic from what they wanted to believe.

The next year, at the age of six, he asked if Father Time was really real? I told him that I could answer his question and that the answer would be one of two – either yes or no. If it was yes, life would go on as it had and he would still believe. However, if it was no, would he be happy no longer believing? I asked him a hard question. Which was more important to him: knowing for certain what the answer was or believing regardless? He chose to continue believing, knowing that at any time he could ask me and I would answer truthfully, whatever that may be. His four year old sister piped up that she didn’t believe and that she thought that when I filled everyone’s stockings, I also left the gifts on the couch. I replied that different people believe different things.

Starting that second year, my husband and I, not feeling caught spur of the moment, came up with a tradition that we could live with honestly. The unwrapped gifts we leave out are now always some type of media for our family library, whether movies or music. It’s a tradition that we will continue regardless of what our children believe and one which we can feel honest about.

We now have four children, ages 9, 7, 4, and 1 1/2. Listening to their conversations about the subject is interesting. I still continue with my need to be authentic and refuse to lie. I also will not force my beliefs on someone else and tell them they are wrong. Honoring honesty and authenticity doesn’t have to conflict with honoring the magic of childhood.

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Mandy is married to her best friend and is a stay-at-home-mom to their four wonderful children. She holds multiple degrees in the sciences and music and is a self-proclaimed research fanatic. Her love of learning plays a large role in her unschooling journey with her family and her volunteer involvement with various homeschooling and parenting groups. You can find her at Living Peacefully with Children, where this post was originally published.

Stop by and check out some of my favorite posts from Mandy: When Children Don’t Listen, I’m Not Raising Corporate America, and Mothering Peter Pan.

8 Responses to:
"Honoring Belief and Authenticity during the Holidays"

  1. Meghan

    Do you correct you’re children when they believe misinformation? How far does the “I won’t tell people what they believe is wrong” philosophy go? With Santa/Father Time it’s pretty innocent, but there are many beliefs that could be harmful, such as bigotry, pseudo science, the just world fallacy, etc. Would you let serious issues slide too?

    • That’s a good question. There are many beliefs out there about every topic imagineable. Since we can’t control another person, we really have no control over what another person’s beliefs are, including the beliefs of our children. That being said, as parents, we are in the wonderful position to be able to discuss things with our children!

      My husband and I discuss every topic with our children as it comes up. We discuss some of the different beliefs people have concerning different topics, we discuss scientific evidence, and we answer questions. However, we don’t try to sway our children to believe one thing or another. They are wonderful people and are quite capable of making their own decisions of what to think about whatever the topic may be.

      For Father Time, we’ve discussed different traditions around the world (and there are traditions from all over and from differing religious beliefs). We discuss the spirit of giving. We are truthful when asked questions. So, we aren’t really letting something slide – the discussions are still there just as with any other topic, some of our children are just choosing to believe in the magic for now, regardless. I refuse to lie, but it really isn’t my right to tell them they are wrong for believing something, anymore than I should tell someone that their religious beliefs are wrong because those beliefs differ from mine.

      We handle serious issues the same way. Civil rights are very important to me. I often write about topics such as gender, age, religious, or other forms of discrimination. However, my children are quite capable of making their own decisions regarding even the most serious of topics.

      When topics such as discrimination have come up, I explain that the people making those comments think that they are somehow better than another person because of whatever factor. My children, because they have been raised in a consensual living family which values everyone as equal participants in life, are quick to realize how hurtful such beliefs and actions can be. It always leads to further discussions of history, philosophy, and psychology. When asked about science, we talk about what we know of scientific facts, theories, etc.

      While I personally won’t tell my children lies, I also won’t tell them what to believe. It’s my role as a parent to help them grow into their own rather than dictating who they will become. I trust their inherent goodness and thirst for knowledge, supporting both in my role as a parent, and I am constantly in awe at the truly amazing people they are.

  2. Jenn @ Monkey Butt Junction   MBJunction

    We’re struggling with this right now.

    My husband’s family never celebrated Christmas, and growing up he wondered why other families would deceive their children about Santa. In my family, Christmas was big, and although I don’t remember buying into the Santa myth myself, I enjoyed pictures with Santa, etc., knowing it was a fun fiction.

    And now we have a child who will be two on Christmas Eve. Not old enough to understand, this year, but next year? Perhaps. What to do, what to do? I appreciate posts like this as we journey through these questions.

  3. teresa   momgrooves

    Wow, Mandy, I really appreciate this post. We have a 4 1/2 year old and didn’t realize until we had her how hard it would be to “lie” to her. And that this is a kind of lie. My husband really struggled with it.
    My good friend who raised her daughter before I had mine found a good balance i think and we will start to incorporate more of the idea of the “Spirit” of giving as a concept.
    So much to think about….
    Your children are so lucky to have you and your husband as parents and to have each other.

  4. Valerie @ Momma in Progress   mommainprogress

    We talk about the real Saint Nicholas (we’ve been to the basilica in Bari, Italy) and have fun with the current image of Santa Claus as a character (the Christmas specials/movies, coloring pictures, etc), but don’t do presents from SC or any kind of build up (making lists, he’s watching, sitting with him for a photo, etc.) My oldest is five and last year asked (in reference to Santa leaving gifts, probably on a cartoon special), “that doesn’t happen, right?” Even if I *wanted* to play up the SC gift aspect of the holidays, I couldn’t lie to her . . . she’d see right through me, LOL.

  5. Janine @ Alternative Housewife   thejaninefowler

    Ugh, I hate this conflict. I was really sure that we were NOT going to do Santa. But then this year we decided that we should. My son is only 14 months so we still have a year to really decide. My instinct is sort of not to lie, but I also do remember the excitement and I didn’t ever resent my parents. Even at a young age, I could appreciate the magic they had given me for a couple of years. I dunno, it’s a really tough one. Ultimately I think we’ll do the Santa thing but not sell it TOO hard. And like for your son, mine will be able to ask me if he’s real if he really wants to know and I’ll answer honestly. (Thanks a lot for that, by the way, as it is a genius, child-honoring solution.)

  6. We didn’t want to and don’t tell our children Santa is real either, yet they love to play about Santa, read about him, and have a great time pretending. I don’t feel right about telling my kids things that I don’t personally believe in. So, I really liked Mandy’s approach with her kids. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I so agree with this approach. I have never lied to my now-6-years-old daughter and I also don’t impose my ideas or beliefs on her. We do however, have a *lot* of discussions.

    She too decided to believe in Santa – although I wonder whether she ‘really’ believes it now or if it’s just a form of role playing activity.

    I say that because when she lost a tooth recently she insisted we put it beside the bed for the ‘tooth fairy’ and made it clear that the tooth fairy was expected to leave her a coin for her tooth. I obliged, exchanged the tooth for a coin and she excitedly showed me the coin the next day, “Look mommy, look what the tooth fairy left!” I said, “Hmm, did she? Is that who left it?” and she gave a fervent “Yes!”

    The next day we were playing together, she had cast us both in the role of children having a playdate, and she ran up to me and whispered, “I’ve got something to tell you. I lost a tooth and put it under my pillow for the tooth fairy. Then, when I was asleep, my mum pretended to be the tooth fairy and left me a coin… that’s because the tooth fairy doesn’t really exist… but don’t tell my mum I know that.” and on she went playing in role whilst I was wondering what had happened!

    Hmm, curiouser and curiouser :-)

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