My seven-year-old daughter, Sienna, questioned me before Easter about the existence of the Easter Bunny. She said, “You put the eggs out, don’t you Mum?” She said it in that know-it-all way that children use when they have been told something by an older child on the school bus. She wanted me to deny it but she didn’t want to be made a fool of either.
It took me a minute to answer her because although we circumvent the truth with our young children on thousands of occasions as they grow up, for some reason the lie got stuck in my throat this time. I ended up saying that like Santa, the Easter Bunny only comes to children who believe and then changed the subject as quickly as I could!
This incident was soon followed by my five-year-old daughter, Matilda, asking me if Santa was real.
These episodes have left me thinking. I thought I would have more time to wallow in the sweet innocence of the children’s childhood. I thought that I was ok with encouraging their imaginations via the magic world of make believe. Only two Christmases ago I sent them a video of Santa speaking to them from the North Pole. I loved seeing the looks on their faces when Santa gazed out from the computer screen and said, “Hello Matilda, I hear you would like a camera for Christmas.” Their eyes nearly burst out of their heads and they watched their personalised videos over and over again. Surely, I thought at the time, this is one of the reasons we have children, to watch them enjoy the magic of life so openly. But is that what we are really doing? Aren’t we actually manipulating their innocence to play the world’s longest practical joke on them?
It’s funny when you think about what we are trying to get our children to believe when we perpetuate these myths. We are asking them to believe that a man (granted, with many helpers around the world) can deliver presents to every child in every part of the world in one night. The Easter Bunny has an equally hectic schedule. And every parent tells the stories differently, depending on the questions they are asked. The children then talk about these things at school, probably even arguing with other children over whose version of the fantasy is the right one. Perhaps the logical part of a child’s brain is switched off in favour of a good yarn, or they have figured it out and think that it’s better to play along, just in case! They don’t seem to notice that the Easter Bunny’s plain flour footprints only appear in certain sections of the house or that there are never any reindeer footprints on the lawn on Christmas morning.
Sienna has lost three teeth so the legend of the tooth fairy has also taken flight! A friend whose daughter is the same age spent some time online to hone her ‘story’ for when the inevitable questions were asked. She told me that she came across a great strategy to use when your child asks why the tooth fairy left more money to one of their friends when his or her tooth fell out. The idea is that you tell them that when they were born you filled in a form that specified the sum of money you wanted the tooth fairy to leave when the time came. Ingenious! So now you can explain away the obvious questions with a very practical answer, “Sorry kids, we signed a contract, $2 per tooth, not negotiable.”
I can’t remember when I figured out that Santa and the Easter Bunny didn’t exist. I remember a time when I wondered why all of the so-called ‘Santa’ presents had tags with Mum’s writing on them. I guess one day you simply let go of the idea that it’s all real but I think we feel sad when that happens and maybe that’s why, as parents, we should still support the fantasy. Is it not more important to feel magic in childhood, to hold on to the possibility of something so illogical and impossible than it is to know the truth? Isn’t our ability to believe in things a gift when we reach adulthood? Does this not help us to believe in our own ability and to believe in others? Does it not help us have faith?
I don’t think we should get too distressed about 'lying' to our children about Santa or the Easter Bunny. Like most parents before us, we should let them experience the magic of childhood. Young children live in a world of fantasy already - it is vital in the development of their imaginations. I didn’t grow up resenting my parents for perpetuating stories for all those years and I don’t think my children will either. Telling them these stories is really no different from taking them to the movies or reading them a work of fiction – we are simply asking them to take a leap into a world we can’t possibly know everything about, to accept that sometimes magical, amazing things happen, to marvel at the universe and have fun.
So next time they ask I will be more prepared. I might say, “What do you think?” and see what they say because I still don’t like the idea of lying to them. I might talk to them about Santa and the Easter Bunny being symbols of goodness, about the spirit of giving. When they are old enough I will tell them the truth and explain why we let them believe.
The most important thing I will do though is spend even more time explaining to them the real meaning of the Christmas and Easter seasons, since they are the stories I truly want them to believe.