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Skipping Scary Santa

Imagine you heard about a culture where once a year parents forced very young children to do something terrifying and upsetting. Then, imagine that when this experience caused those young children to scream and cry, rather than stop the experience, the parents enjoyed watching their children be scared, so much that they took pictures of their child crying and shared them with friends and relatives, who also enjoyed witnessing their fear. Now, imagine this activity was forcing children to sit on a giant hairy spider.

While considering this culture, would you think that those parents were sick and twisted? Would you wonder what motivated them to do such a thing? Would you be grateful that you don’t live there? Well, dear readers, that culture is ours and that giant spider is Santa Claus.2928400873_b5f909cb05_o

Now, don’t misunderstand, Santa isn’t always scary or bad. You may recall that my kids believe in Santa. And that we celebrate the fun parts of the Santa myth. However, I let my kids drive the Santa sleigh. They get to choose what they believe. And I do not promote scary Santa, who watches you when you are sleeping and knows when you’re awake. (Great, now I am totally going to imagine that while trying to fall asleep tonight). There is no naughty list or creepy as fuck Elf on a Shelf in our house. And I don’t believe in forcing my kids to sit on Santa’s lap if this is not something they want to do, for my pleasure or because it seems like something we should do. Why? Because it’s Christmastime and all of the kids in Christmas movies do it? or because I have pictures of myself as a tiny tot sitting on Santa’s lap and want to create a perfect Christmas memory?

FullSizeRender (5)Now, I am certainly not saying that if my kids want to sit on Santa’s lap, I will say no. I do have to admit that I am suspicious of Santa impersonators and lap sitting, but, if it’s happening at an event we are attending or my child’s school, I am not going to exclude them if they choose to participate. However, I think there’s something extremely wrong with telling our children that they have to sit on a stranger’s lap, whisper in his ear and pose for photographs with him. Because I, a trusted adult, told them they have to. Because it’s fun and if you aren’t having fun, there’s something wrong with you. And if you get scared or cry? I will laugh and make you do it anyway. Think about the message that sends to our kids – a message that doing what we want them to do is more important than their comfort, that their bodies are not theirs to control. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

When we teach our children that they have to do what adults say, even when it makes them scared or uncomfortable, we send the wrong message. One that can put them at risk if someone wants to harm them. We need to teach our children that they can stop when they want. That they are in control of what happens to them. That we will support them, even if they don’t want to do something that we want them to do.

While I personally don’t find my children’s tantrums to be funny, I am not suggesting that it is always wrong for other parents to capture their child’s tantrums on film and share them with others. But, to deliberately place your child in a situation that you know scares them? And then laugh when they get scared? That is not right. And for those of you who think that your kids were put on the earth to amuse you, I just shake my head. Parenting is the ultimate responsibility. You are raising a human, not directing a sit com.

If your kids are scared of Santa Claus or don’t want to sit on his lap, try to imagine life from their tiny adorable perspectives. Imagine that tomorrow at work your boss will force you to sit on a giant hairy spider or snuggle up with a demon clown or free fall out of a building (or all of the above) for his amusement and that you have to do this to meet with his approval. Think about how that would make you feel. You would likely be horrified, refuse or even report him to HR. Let’s not make the tiny humans in our care do something that we ourselves would not do. Let’s be empathetic and skip scary Santa this year.

Featured Image Credit: Rachel Gardner

Giant Spider Image Credit: Matt Trostle

Beautiful Kid Image Credit: Steph, all rights reserved

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Steph recently traded single parenthood to two awesome kids (3 and 7) for marriage to a great guy with two awesome kids (5 and 10). Their adventures in parenting are set in a tiny town in the middle of a corn field. Their newest edition is due in February 2017. In late 2015 she left her stressful, more than full-time job with a victim services agency to pursue writing and activism. When she's not busy writing, chasing kids around, cleaning up messes and engaging in social justice warfare, Steph enjoys snuggling, making pies, engaging in debates on the internet, yoga, and fitness. A recovered natural parent, Steph now considers herself a semi-crunchy peaceful parent and trusts science, evidence and common sense to lead the way. She has been actively involved in the reproductive and women's rights movements for more than 20 years and is a passionate pro-choice feminist.


  1. December 23, 2014 at 8:21 am —

    What if it was a giant spider? That is Halloween! Get your holidays straight. Hahahahahaha

    • December 23, 2014 at 10:24 am —

      J.G. – that’s called a metaphor. 😉

      • December 23, 2014 at 12:57 pm —

        Well, OK, as long as no one is taking away my Halloween pleasures…

      • December 23, 2014 at 1:01 pm —

        Now I just need to figure out how to force a kid to sit on a gigantic hairy spider to get their candy…

  2. December 23, 2014 at 11:13 am —

    I agree with this 100%! We have the exact same approach with our son. No threats of no gifts if he is “naughty”, no comments that Santa is always watching. We have a couple of years with no photos of him with Santa because the idea really scared him. One year he wanted to do it, but have his parents close by, so we are all in the photo. This year he wanted to do it by himself, so we have a picture of him on Santa’s lap (with us just out of frame, we did not just send him up all alone!).
    As parents, we are his safe place, as we have promised to protect him and keep him safe. We comfort him if he has a nightmare and do not find amusement in is terror. There is no way I would get pleasant holiday memories looking at a photo of him screaming and crying on a stranger’s lap. I simply do not understand that mentality.

    • December 23, 2014 at 11:16 am —

      Exactly. I want my kids to trust me and to know that I am here to comfort them when they are scared or sad. I don’t want to send them mixed messages.

  3. December 23, 2014 at 11:43 am —

    Unfortunately, this clip misses a couple of the earlier kids in line (and the enormous wait), but you get the idea. Most of the kids are terrified. Ralphie is too, but he eventually overcomes his fear to fulfill his plan. Which doesn’t work. Traumatizing children is amusing, but that doesn’t make it good.

  4. December 23, 2014 at 1:37 pm —

    I agree with this post 100%. Santa visits our house but there is no sense that he’s watching our son or that he’ll only bring presents if E.’s “been a good boy”. And we have one year where I’m in the photo because E. was afraid. This year I was fully prepared to wait in line and then have E. decide not to want to engage with Santa, and I was absolutely fine with that. Turns out he was the happiest he’s ever been visiting Santa and it was a great experience.

  5. December 23, 2014 at 3:49 pm —

    This kind of makes me want to be a Santa, but to tell kids they don’t have to sit on me if they don’t want to, and that if they are being pressured to do something they don’t feel comfortable by their parents they have the right to refuse…

    I wonder if I’d last more than 5 kids before getting a super angry parent.

  6. December 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm —

    I will admit that as a non-Murican I never understood this “wait in line to sit on Santa’s lap” thingy anyway, but yes, it strikes me as fundamentally wrong to force a kid to do so when they don’t want to.
    Here, around the 6th St. Nick will hand out treats and often the kids are scared, too. I always told them that if they want the treats I will come with them, but they must ask themselves. I will not ask for their treats, but it’s their choice.

  7. December 28, 2014 at 12:07 pm —

    Great article! Up until recently, I had laughed at pictures of children scared to be on Santa’s lap, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how messed up that was. And being skeptic/feminist to me is all about the ability to step back and think critically about a situation and the ability to admit you’re wrong and move forward.

  8. December 30, 2014 at 5:51 pm —

    Why stop at Santa? Kids get an awful lot of “I’m scared” or “I don’t want to” … “DO IT. I AM PARENT. DO IT NOW”.

    But then… where do you draw the line? Consent-based parenting is harder than consent-based intimate relationships, because (especially young) kids are sociopaths, and often don’t reason very well. So “reasonable discussion” is out as a persuader, and bribery only gets you so far. I’m not a parent, so I’m going to leave it there.

    • December 30, 2014 at 6:53 pm —

      Where do I draw the line? Heath, hygiene and scheduling that can’t be adjusted (school, work). To force my kids to do other things that cause them fear? Why would I do that? Because I can? Because that is a really horrible way to approach raising a young human.

    • December 31, 2014 at 6:39 am —

      What’s the benefit of “posing with Santa”, as opposed to getting a vaccine shot or going to school?
      I don’t think that drawing the line is that hard.

      • January 5, 2015 at 6:17 pm —

        To me, questions like these are hard: do you have to hug the weird dude mummy just brought into the house? Is it ok to run away screaming and demand he be kicked out? What if weird dude is mummy’s brother who’s come halfway round the world to stay for a week? How do you as a parent resolve the conflict in “my kid really doesn’t like my brother”? Someone is going to be told “STFU, this is how it is”. I’m betting it’s the 2 year old. You?

        And that’s just the very first thing that happens… there’s a whole lot of microagressions to deal with, every day. Kids need to be taught, and when they can’t be taught (usually because they’re too young), they have to be stopped. Which is a consent violation. Like “apologise to X for doing that” “don’t wanna” and stuff like “please don’t tear my Lego model apart while I’m playing with it” “hahaha {grab}” which leads very easily to “I AM PARENT. YOU WILL OBEY”. Just dealing with the disagreement between the five year old who can play with Lego quite cooperatively and the two year old who doesn’t like being excluded is tricky. For the parents, I find it easy enough… I let them do it 🙂

        There’s a whole lot of balancing to be done, I think, between over-permissive “do what you will” parenting and over-rigid “obey, always” parenting. But hey, if you find that easy, good for you.

        • January 5, 2015 at 11:13 pm —

          I don’t really think those questions are hard. It is ok for my son to not hug anyone he chooses. It is ok for him to scream and run away. It is fine for him to demand someone leave. On the other hand, that person isn’t leaving.
          Kids should be allowed reactions, and definitely have the right to refuse touching which is not health related (and even then I’d try to work with the kid). They don’t get to dictate who stays with us without a good reason.

        • January 6, 2015 at 3:38 am —

          Nobody has to hug weird dude mummies 😉
          I agree with Hanoumatoi, kids get to have reactions, too.
          The older they get the more they have to learn about socially acceptable reactions. Running and screaming is OK for a 2 yo, I expect a bit more restraint from a 10 yo (they still can leave, they don’t have to give hugs, they don’t get to kick the person out)
          How do you deal with the kid who can’t play cooperatively? Remove them. If they’re simply too small to play with the other kids, get some space and play with the younger kid. If they can theoretically play cooperatively tell them to sort it out themselves because if I have to do so then the toy is mine.
          I think we’re pretty OK with accepting that consent is an ongoing thing and that in society we don’t treat it as an absolute. You don’t get to consent to traffic rules.

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