Ask a Dad” is a regular parenting column by author, speaker and dad Doyin Richards in which he tackles some of the toughest questions today’s parents face. Have a topic you’d like him to take on? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It might be time for a dose of reality. And that’s OK. Holiday spirit doesn’t have to break the bank.”
I read your column about a dad who bought his child expensive gifts and hope you can help me. Our twin boys are 9 years old, and they still believe in the big guy. The problem is, my husband and I totally screwed up in the Santa department. The boys’ smaller Christmas presents always come from us, and the expensive ones come from Santa. The boys have been on their best behavior this year, and they’re expecting a gift from Santa that we can’t afford ― my husband got laid off last month. Unless we magically come up with the money, how do we break the bad news to our kids in a way that won’t completely damage them?
― Laura in Detroit
I know you’re feeling a lot of pressure right now, Laura, but I think you know as well as I do that “magically coming up with the money” to buy your kids an expensive Christmas gift isn’t the answer, right? That’s like trying to stop the Titanic from sinking by rearranging its deck chairs. Sure, the ship may look nicer for the time being, but that sucker is still going under.
And while we’re at it, I have a public service announcement for all parents who play the Santa game: Don’t buy expensive gifts and then give the guy in the red suit all the credit for them. It’s a bad idea for so many reasons. One? It puts the idea in less-fortunate kids’ heads that there’s something wrong with them when they don’t receive what they asked for. Two? You worked your ass off to come up with the money to buy these gifts, and your kids should know that their parents are the ones responsible ― not some dude at the North Pole. Don’t get it twisted; I love the Santa Claus thing. I just think it needs to be executed in a way in which all parties are satisfied.
Of course, this advice isn’t helpful for your situation right now. So what would I prescribe for you? A big, tall glass of reality. Your boys are going to find out the truth about Santa eventually, and it’s better that it comes from their loving mom and dad instead of an angry librarian with a vendetta (keep reading; you’ll see what I mean). And I promise they won’t be “completely damaged” by the news. Disappointed? Yes. They’re kids, and that’s to be expected.
Your boys won’t receive the big gift they wanted, but as parents, you can find other creative ways to bring out their holiday spirit without spending a ton of money. Invite their friends over for a sleepover and let them stay up as late as they want watching holiday movies. Prepare your boys’ favorite foods and focus on how damn fortunate you are to have what you have right now. We’re so often plagued by the disease of “more” that we fail to see the great things already around us.
Your kids will be fine, and they’ll get over the fact that they didn’t get that fancy gift by the end of Christmas Day. Best of all? Future Christmases will be much less stressful for everyone involved.
Don’t let your kids miss out on Christmas magic. They have plenty of time to learn about the harsh realities of the world. My husband wants to introduce our 3-year-old daughter to the whole Santa Claus thing this year. We both grew up believing in Santa, but I feel uneasy about the concept now that I’m an adult. I don’t think it’s a good idea to set the precedent that lying to our daughter is OK, and I refuse to get on board with telling her some random guy drops presents from the sky every year. My husband says I’m denying her a fun part of her childhood. What do you think?― Dawn in Phoenix
Sorry, Dawn, but I’m 100 percent on your husband’s side. I know you’re trying to be noble by not introducing your kid to a culture of dishonesty, but news flash: All parents lie to their kids. Not just some parents or a few parents ― literally all of them. The good news? All lies aren’t created equal. There’s the “Santa Claus” lie, and then there’s the “of course I don’t run an international crack cocaine ring” lie. As long as you keep veering toward the former, you’re doing just fine.
Part of being a parent is fostering our kids’ imagination. When your daughter pretends to slay fire-breathing dragons with her friends, are you that mom who says, “Sorry honey, but dragons don’t exist”? Believing in dragons, the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and superheroes are what makes being a kid so damn fun.
I hold zero resentment toward my parents for being “dishonest” about Santa Claus. And that’s saying something considering how I found out the truth. My twin brother and I were 7 years old and talking at school about what Santa was going to bring us that year. The school librarian ― yes, really ― interrupted us with, “Santa Claus doesn’t exist! Your parents are the ones who buy you the presents! Enough already!”
(I’ve never seen my mom angrier than when she found out what happened. She peeled out of our driveway like she was making a cameo in “The Fast and The Furious.” The next day, the principal and librarian offered us a gushing apology.)
You may be thinking, “Well, if your parents hadn’t introduced you to Santa in the first place, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt.” But that’s like saying, “Well, if you didn’t date, then you wouldn’t have gotten your heart broken.” Only cowards live that way. I’d rather have believed in Santa for those few years than never have believed in him at all. As I matured, I learned more about the true meaning of Christmas. Now I see how my kids’ eyes light up at the thought of Santa and his reindeer rolling through these city streets. It makes me feel like I’m 7 years’ old all over again.
Don’t let your daughter miss out on that awesomeness. Let your kid be a kid. She has plenty of time to learn about the harsh realities of the world, and it shouldn’t be at 3 years old.
Doyin is a best-selling children’s author, keynote speaker and dad dedicated to making the world a better place for parents and their kids. Learn more about him on doyinrichards.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook @daddydoinwork.