Threats and bribes: a lesson in festive season parenting

Dear Mary and Noel, with other young friends insisting that ‘Santa isn’t real’, when do I stop lying to my kids about the jolly fat man in the red suit?

Love Sarah


Dear Sarah

Firstly, don’t write to us both. Pick a side and declare your allegiance. I’ve assumed you want good advice, so I’ve decided to take this on myself.

Secondly, congratulations on your parental diligence. Clearly you talk to your children often enough to know what their peers are saying to them in the playground.

In my mind, that qualifies you to start a lucrative parenting advice website.

But the rest of your question puzzles me. You appear to be of the view that working out when to stop lying to your children about Santa Claus is about them and what is best for them.

It isn’t.

It is about you and what is best for you.

The Santa Claus myth joins the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Menstruation Troll as junior Faustian pacts.

(To be clear, the kids are a bunch of little Fausts and you are the Devil).

For several years, the children blindly believe these stories and the rules that go with them.

Consider, “if you’re awake, Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy/Menstruation Troll, won’t show”.

Ipso facto, children in bed.

Or, the classic “if you don’t believe, you won’t get the X-Box etc etc” (religions have been using this method successfully for millennia – switch the X-Box for a pass through the Pearly Gates and you see what I mean).

At this time, when they actually believe, is the time you’ll be getting the most questions like those you are dealing with now – not because what their classmate says bothers them particularly, but because children are annoying and constantly demand parental attention.

But at some stage – it varies from child to child – the light goes on.

They find that the Tooth Fairy failed to show at the exact same time they see empty wine bottles on your kitchen bench. That their Easter Eggs look suspiciously like the ones they saw yesterday in the petrol station. That gifts from Santa Claus are conveniently able to be returned to the nearest K-Mart instead of the North Pole.

The kids know. They work it out.

But once they’ve worked it out, that’s when they stop asking the questions and begin to uphold their end of the deal.

This is what we call the “Golden Period” of parenting.

In the GP, you have 3 months of each year where you can make your child eat and do whatever you desire simply by threatening them with a no-show from Santa.

In the GP, they will choke down the tofu and the leeks, they will tidy their bedrooms and they will clear the table because they know that they must in order to get the Santa gift.

And they know that as soon as they point out that the Emperor has no clothes, the Emperor stops giving them the extra present.

They know what they’re doing and will do it for as long as it suits them.

You do not need to make this decision, they’ll tell you. On that day, your chances of them eating the brussels sprouts plummets, but Christmas costs that little bit less too so congratulate yourself on cruciferous vegetables past and move on.

In short Sarah, relax. This is one job where Mother might know best but the kids will call the shots.

Love, Mary



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