Each person who purposefully embarks on the journey of parenthood has a basic understanding of what will be expected once the new life they’ve spawned enters the world. That is they will be responsible for the necessities of life; food, clothing, shelter and protection. In addition they have the obligation to care for the emotional and mental well being of the child.
Naturally young children look to their parents to provide these fundamentals. They look to their parents as they form the foundation of morals and principles that they’ll carry with them throughout their lives.
As parents we want our children to be healthy and happy; we want them to understand basic principles of right and wrong. We use stories and fables to illustrate the importance of honesty like “The boy who cried wolf” and “Pinocchio”. No child wants to be eaten by a wolf or sport an unusually long nose while their bloomers are a blazing. Why is it then that we parents have given old Jiminy Cricket a collective flip from off our shoulders?
I’m not a psychologist but my understanding of cognitive dissonance is basically when our idea of who were are, or who we are supposed to be, doesn’t match up with our actions. If I may get biblical it’s like trying to serve two masters. There are immediate and acute feelings that accompany this gap between what we say and what we do. When faced with this chasm we can either change our attitudes, beliefs or actions; or take the much easier road of justifying, blaming or denying.
Its Christmas time, as the song says ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. This is the season where Christians celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ whose life exemplified the manner in which we should live ours. However, our modern celebration of this event is built on the biggest worldwide conspiracy to deceive and bamboozle the most innocent amongst us.
***SPOILER ALERT*** For those of you reading this who truly believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, leprechauns, and all other magical beings please stop reading now. It’s about to get real, kids.
Now I know there are those of you out there saying ho-ho-hold on a minute you’re not going to tell us that you have told your children the truth about Santa and the tooth fairy? No, of course not, I too am complicit in this monumental betrayal of trust. I too live by ingesting a healthy dose of justification and denial (note: a spoon full of sugar really helps it go down). My purpose is simply to point out inconsistent behavior in others and pretend that I am, in every way, above it all.
So why do we do it? Sure, our parents did it to us. Sure, everybody’s doing it. Sure, we’re not hurting anybody. But aren’t those just the excuses that we would never accept from our children? What could possibly compel us to halt the practicing of what we are preaching?
Let's examine the word "Santa", shall we? S-A-N-T-A, Santa. Let's see, what have we got here? We've got an S and an A, an N, a T, and another A. Hmm… Who would help grown men and women peel the focus from the baby Jesus on his birthday? Who could it be, I just don't know. Could it be… Satan!!
Seriously though, the origins of these traditions and stories came about far before our arrival here on earth. They’ve changed and grown throughout time. They are harmless enough. Most are used to provide gifts and a sense of wonder and magic in the world. Each of us have our own cherished memories and feelings as it relates to these mythical creatures and want the same for our children.
Imagine with me, if you will, the alternative.
A young impressionable child approaches you and looks up with those big innocent eyes and asks, “Is there really a Santa Claus?”
You bend down, place your hand gently on his shoulder and say, “Listen Bobby,”
“My name is Billy.”
“It doesn’t matter what your name is. The only thing that matters is that you know the truth. You’ve been duped. The media and the entire adult community have conspired against you and those naïve little toddlers you run around with. Your parents buy toys weeks in advance and hide them in the closet, in the garage, at a neighbor’s house, it’s all right under your nose. They wait until you are asleep and then sneak around like cat burglars assembling and wrapping presents only to later tell you that they were built and delivered by magical elves that choose to live in a frozen wasteland that you can never find. To top it off they commit a Class A misdemeanor by forging the name of the head magic elf on your packages. Oh and the tooth fairy is your mother, your dad hides all those eggs and the leprechaun thing, well, I’m still not sure how you bought that one. I’m not going to lie to you kid. I wouldn’t do that to you. This is honesty. You’re welcome. Now clean up this mess; just use those tears to wipe up your hopes and dreams off the floor.”
Nobody wants that. So we lie. We tell ourselves that it’s a good thing we are doing and then we lie. Oh and for those of you saying to yourself ‘I don’t lie to my children, I just let them believe’. You are the worst kind. You feel more deeply than most that something in your behavior is amiss and you can’t even bring yourself to say it out loud. You say things like “Well what do you believe?” or “It’s real if you believe it is.” Remember honesty is not only truth telling but truth living. So don’t think you can separate yourself from the rest of us just because you don’t tell your children stories of a jolly fat man who can fit down a chimney barely big enough for a squirrel, or spin wild tales of a giant storm in fairyland that delayed the tooth fairy when you forgot to replace that tooth with a quarter the previous night. You’re no better than we.
That brings me to the final tangle in this web we weave. Eventually they get wise to this game. They grow older and smarter. We too get old and sloppy. Gifts are found prematurely. Inconsistencies develop in our stories. The questions become more penetrating and poignant. So what do we do? We ramp up the lies of course.
We tell ourselves we’re doing it for them. They are too young to let go of the magic. It’s too soon for them to handle it. The truth is though that we are terrified at how they’ll handle our betrayal and will do whatever it takes to cover it up for as long as we can.
So pull it together. Get your stories straight. If you have to invent new magical creatures to cover for the old ones who’ve failed or slide down that chimney yourself; you do it. Use props, costumes, elaborate stories, skits, magic tricks, whatever it takes. You lie until you’ve painted yourself so tight in the corner that only your little piggy is touching. You keep up the deception until they are old enough to learn the truth from their friends, older siblings or strangers on the street because that kind of thing should never come from their parents whom they trust. Remember it’s all for the children.