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.
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?
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