Tough love?

December 17,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Earlier this week there was a headline floating around the internet about how the Gosselin children were "ruining" Christmas for their classmates by telling them that Santa isn't real. Apparently the older Gosselin kids no longer believe in Santa and, as kids are apt to do, wanted to share this shaken belief with their siblings and peers. Newsworthy? Hardly. Those poor Gosselin kids just can't catch a break, but I am positive they are not the first disenchanted children to "ruin" Christmas for everyone else. I remember last year L. came home from school with a story about a child in his class who told him that Santa wasn't real, and that his parents had told him that from Day 1. "How sad for M.," L. told me. Of course parents have the right to make their own choices when it comes to how to handle the holidays with their children, but it is upsetting when those choices spill over into your own children's lives, and eat away at the the values and beliefs and traditions you work so hard at instilling in your own children. This is, alas, what happens the minute your child steps foot through school doors. Not long after I read the news (?) story about the Gosselin kids I ran into a parent I once knew. Her oldest daughter is getting ready to head into middle school next year, and the topic of Christmas came up. We stopped to chat a little in the middle of the grocery store, and my acquaintance leaned in close to me, and dropped her voice. We told her about Santa this year, she told me. We couldn't stand the thought of her going into middle school next year believing, and being teased because of it. How utterly sad, I thought to myself when I pushed my shopping cart away and continued shopping. It's one thing to answer direct questions as best you can, and another to approach your child in that way before he or she is ready. It just seems wrong to me to handle it that way, to preemptively take away your child's belief in something because you're worried about what others might think. (Heck, I'm forty and I still believe in Santa.) In the scope of a lifetime, the years that make up a child's pure and magical and extraordinary childhood are just a small handful, really. Life is filled with harsh realities at every turn, and disappointments, and too much growing up way too quickly for many kids. I'm not in a hurry to propel my children forward into that world; it will find them, and they will find it--all too soon, I know. Until then, I'll take all the magic and innocence and wonder I can get, and hold my breath for that slow but relentless growing up that happens to us all.