The cashier at the grocery store leans down to J and asks him if he was a good boy this year. The bank lady asks him what Santa is bringing him for Christmas. Thankfully, my son is shy and doesn’t usually answer. But to our family friends and familiar acquaintances, J proudly states, “Oh, Santa is a legend. That Santa at the breakfast was just a man in a costume.”
I am that awkward parent.
Before I go into our reasons for not doing Santa with my kids, you should know that I don’t think Santa is all bad. I think the image of Santa can in some ways encourage a giving spirit, sharing with those who are less fortunate, and general joviality and jolly-making. However, I respectfully disagree with the practice of encouraging “belief” in Santa, when- frankly- he just isn’t real.
What can I say? I don’t like making my son believe in something that isn’t true. I don’t want to perpetuate a story only to find him one day embarrassed and upset that I had been lying to him for years about an imaginary fat old man with flying reindeer. I want to respect his intelligence, young though he may be.
In addition, I just can’t get on board with the practice of using Santa as a threat/reward system. “You had better be good, or Santa won’t bring you any presents!” I don’t want my son to expect presents for his good behavior. I want him to be well behaved simply because it is the right thing to do. When I rely on Santa as a disciplinary checkpoint, I end up usurping my own authority as a parent.
And what about all of those gifts? Who gets the thank you card if Santa brought them? Does this mean I need to address a card to the North Pole after Christmas is over? And what about all of those people who actually brought my kids the gifts- do they receive any thanks, or do they all have to play along too?
My biggest beef with Santa is that he tends to hog the entire Christmas scene. While the right jolly elf may have originally been a symbol of giving and protection for the needy, he has turned into a wish-granting genie upon whom children everywhere have strung their hopes for the newest gadgets and toys. We forget the historic Saint Nicholas and the formation of the legend of Santa Claus. But far more importantly, we forget the Christ child, how the church began celebrating His birth, and the reasons for His coming.
So here’s the deal. I just expressed a lot of anti-Santa sentiments. But that’s not really the full picture, so let me clarify.
I don’t poo poo Santa entirely. I don’t shun him and push him away. I enjoy the history and legend of Santa, just as much as I enjoy any other history or legend. But I treat him as what he is- a legend based off of a historical figure. And I don’t pay him any particular attention.
Case in point- my hubby and I just played music for a local “Breakfast with Santa” in our area. We go to our local Christmas celebrations in town, complete with Santa and Mrs. Claus strolling the street and greeting children. I don’t think it’s evil to enjoy the characters for who they are, so long as they stay in their proper place.
So, from the start, we have told J about Santa. We have told him who he is, how he reminds of the story of St. Nicholas, and how he is symbolic of giving to others. But we have also told him that he is just for pretend, and that there is no real Santa squeezing down our chimney in the night on Christmas eve.
We’ve read books like Santa Who? by Gail Gibbons, which explore the origins of and various traditions celebrating Santa through history. We’ve used websites like Saint Nicholas Center to inform our discussions and answers to Santa questions at home. This Pictorial History of Santa Claus is a fascinating exploration of Santa’s evolution over the years. In fact, there’s so much to learn about this cultural icon that it almost seems a shame to ignore the opportunity to talk about it honestly with our kids! After all, there are so very few folk traditions that remain quite as lively as this one.
So we enjoy Santa in our own way. But he doesn’t steal the show at Christmas for us. What is our focus for the month of December?
We celebrate with Advent readings from our children’s Bible, hang characters on a nativity scene, and talk about the colors and symbols on display at our church. We read the Christmas narrative together and sing carols on Christmas morning. We talk about how this little baby was God in flesh, Savior of the world. And for some reason, Santa just doesn’t have a big part in that.
Am I robbing J of a happy childhood or of some part of the magic of Christmas?
It could just be my opinion, but he seems perfectly content without the concerns of being good enough to please the spying old man who will maybe give him all the Things and Stuff that will feed his inner greed on Christmas morning.
No, he doesn’t seem to mind.
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It was one of those mornings. Except I didn’t realize it yet.
We made the half hour trip to Wegmans to stock up on some bulk items, get some organic produce for reasonable prices, and buy some rose water to make Turkish Delight for my husband’s students who are reading The Chronicles of Narnia. It was a bit of a wild goose chase, but we found the stuff and we were about to check out and go have a date at the cafe.
My stuff was halfway scanned and bagged, when, to my horror, I realized that I had left my wallet in the purse I took to rehearsal a couple of nights before. With my credit card, cash, and ID. At home. The uncomfortable reality of the situation settled in. I can’t pay for this food. And I’m 30 minutes from home. And I just spent over an hour here. With my two hungry kids. And we can’t have our date now.
The cashier was very kind. She rang me out, suspended my order, and took it to customer service to hold until I could return. The woman behind me was also very kind. She looked at me empathetically and told me she had done it before too. But when I told my son this meant we couldn’t have our date, he burst into howling tears at full volume in the front of the store.
As we walked out into the cold stinging rain of the parking lot, I tried to tell J calmly that I couldn’t do anything to change things, and I was sorry, and we were just going to have to drive home, get my wallet, and come back. He despaired. My frustrations heightened.
“Please, stop crying. I’m trying as hard as I can to make this right. I’m just as sad about it as you are!” I pleaded.
“I can’t, mama!” J replied. “I could cry all the way home!.”
“Me too,” I answered. “I know exactly how you feel.”
I called my husband to see if he had enough cash with him at work so I could stop by there. He didn’t. I called my mother to see if she was out running errands already. She wasn’t. I was about to crack when she asked what was wrong. I told her, and bless her heart, she said she would drive out to meet me (she lives closer to the store than I do). She volunteered to pay for my groceries so I could write her the check that the store wouldn’t accept without my ID.
I hope you won’t think too badly of me if I tell you that when I got off the phone with her, I lost it. I sobbed in that rainy parking lot with V sitting on my lap and playing with the windshield wipers. I was wailing right along with my son, lost in a flood of annoyance and distress that I had wasted so much time and gas by committing that one little error- not grabbing my wallet. And I was embarrassed- almost 30, and I still have to call my mom to come help me out of a bind?!? And maybe I was hormonal too. Let’s blame it on that, shall we?
And then J, compassionate boy that he is, asked if could sit with me. He said he could give me some of his cars to cheer me up.
And I couldn’t help but laugh. I was crying like I lost a pet or a family heirloom, but the only thing that had actually went wrong was wallet misplacement. In fact, we had been having a perfectly pleasant morning beforehand!
Suddenly, a realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m acting out in frustration just like my four year old would. I’m throwing my own fit. I’m acting like a child. Yet I expect him to stop his moaning so quickly?
Maybe, sweet J, it’s really been me who has given you your tendencies to act out. Maybe it’s been me who has discouraged you from using calm words. Maybe we’re more alike than we think, and maybe we actually understand each other better than we realize most of the time.
We both get upset quickly. We both talk incessantly. We both dance a lot. We both laugh at the same things. We both get mixed up sometimes. We both make goofy faces. We’re both forgetful and disorganized. We both like free hugs and kisses. We both have days that we act like bears, and we both can make up and forgive quickly.
I think- even though we don’t always remember it- that we’re two of a kind. Thank you for teaching me this today. I hope I can remember it more frequently, and I hope I can be a little more patient as a result.
And I love you always.
I often struggle with how to teach my children responsibility around the house. It seems like I’m always working the fine line between helping them to be cheerful workers and fighting battles over the tasks I ask them to complete. (It’s surprising the amount of fireworks that go off upon requesting to fold a few towels!) I want to give them jobs to do, but I also want to allow them to be kids and play. I think a reasonable balance is possible- I’m just not sure that I’ve found it yet. 😉
For me, a chore has to be three things: One, not miserable. I want to teach my kids to fulfill their responsibilities without it turning into a blowout for either of us. I know there will always be times that they complain, but if I can exchange a doable chore for one that is constantly frustrating, then why wouldn’t I? (For me, this means having my son look for matching socks in the laundry instead of having him fold flats. For some reason, the folding always becomes a war zone, but the socks are fun for him. I don’t mind making a change as long as he is still helping me.)
Second, I want to teach my kids to value hard work. I’m okay with taking time to teach them things that may require some practice to get it right. There is a time when children are very young that it’s just good to teach them to value helping, even if they aren’t really being helpful yet. To this day, my son always wants to help me knead bread. This usually means him poking it and making knuckle holes in the lump of dough. So what? I let him take a turn, then I take a turn and actually knead it. Your kids may “wash dishes” but still leave tons of soap on them. That’s okay. It’s good practice and it instills in them the idea that helping Mom and Dad is both expected and appreciated.
Third, I like it to be a legitimate help when possible. While it is definitely good to practice new skills (even when the child cannot properly execute them yet), I do like to pick at least some chores that will actually benefit me and save me time. If you have older kids, this is more feasible. But even very young children can help in a real sense! My 15 month old throws out her own wet diapers (wrapped neatly), and my almost-four-year-old can crack eggs for me without spilling (usually).
While we have some regular chores that I have my kiddos do, every family is going to be a little bit different. Since I’m always looking for ways to develop my kids’ work ethic without creating contention, I polled my personal Facebook page for more ideas to compile. I decided that these ideas should be shared so that we can bounce ideas off each other and see what works best for our families. Here’s 25 ideas so far!
- Holding the dust pan while mom sweeps.
- Folding wash cloths and other small flats.
- Sorting laundry.
- Wiping spills.
- Putting toys in bins.
- Peeling blanched tomatoes.
- Mixing ingredients for baked goods.
- Cracking eggs.
- Vacuuming with a mini vacuum (like this one that we have).
- Put in/take out clothes from dryer.
- Throw out their own diapers (wet ones only, of course!).
- Washing plastic dishes.
- Empty non-breakables from a dishwasher.
- Put recyclables in the bin.
- Wipe down cabinets/walls.
- Feed a pet.
- Help wash the floor.
- Make their beds.
- Empty little trash cans into big trash cans.
- Set the table.
- Clear their dinner dishes.
- Putting away what they take out as soon as they are done.
- Roll out dough.
- Strap Swiffer dusters on their feet. (Kind of kidding. Only kind of. This idea is courtesy of my sister.)
You can also check out this fun little chore chart for more ideas:
What’s your favorite task for your little ones? Add a comment and I’ll add it to my list. The more, the merrier. Hey, we can all learn from each other!
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