Friday, December 23, 2011

The Great Santa Debate Revisited

Dear Delilah,

Last year around this time, I wrote to you about one of the few parenting choices your father and I can't seem to agree on: The Great Santa Debate. Well, here we are again, with Christmas celebrations knocking at our door, and we still don't quite agree. I guess this is where I express gratitude that you remain completely oblivious to Santa Claus, giving us yet another year to work it out.

This year, our discussions about Santa have grown a bit more complex. We've moved beyond debating whether or not it's technically a "lie" to discussing how encouraging or discouraging belief in Santa might bleed into other aspects of faith. Namely, religion. What's interesting is that I tend to want to handle Santa the way your father wants to handle religion, and vice versa.

See, your father and I are not religious. We have similar beliefs in terms of what sort of higher power may exist, but we approach those beliefs a little differently. My desire is to encourage you to explore what others believe and draw your own conclusions. While your father and I both agree that we want to prevent religion from being forced on you, I also want to be careful that we don't force a lack of religion on you.

A friend recently pointed me towards this blog post by Parenting Beyond Belief, which sums up this issue much more eloquently than I could ever hope to. In a very small nutshell, the point is that parents are in a position to support both imagination and critical thinking skills when it comes to talking about both Santa and God. (But please, don't just accept my nutshell. Go read the post. It's worth your time, I promise.) This seems to me to be the ultimate compromise in handling both topics.

What I have come to grasp is that there is a middle ground between "lying" and saying that Santa (or God) is real and outright denying their existence. Given the society we live in, you will be exposed to these concepts on a regular basis whether your father and I bring them up or not. As you grow older, you will begin to ask questions. The most important revelation I've had is that I don't have to have the answers. I can explain to you that some people believe X and some people Y, and ask what you think. By doing so, I allow for your imagination to run wild while also encouraging you to use your own critical thinking skills to find your truth.

The time will come when you want to know what I believe, and what your father believes. Hopefully when that time arrives, we will have provided you a foundation for understanding that you are not required to share our beliefs. Hopefully you will have a clear understanding that we support you in coming to your own conclusions and believing what feels right for you.

I still won't lie to you. Your concrete questions will receive concrete answers. In the end, it's not so much Santa (or religion) that I'm opposed to. It's the way people use these concepts to manipulate the behaviors of others, or as an excuse to judge others. As your parent, it is my responsibility to guide you in ways that are consistent with my values, while allowing you the freedom to reach your own conclusions and develop your own values. Equally important, as your parent, it is my privilege to observe as you learn and grow and decide for yourself both whether or not Santa is real, and whether or not religion has a place in your life.

This year, there will be no Santa at our house. What there will be is plenty of love, joy, family, giving, and gratitude for all that we've been blessed with. That's the holiday spirit. That's our reason for the season. Will there be Santa next year? We'll just have to follow your lead and see where it takes us!



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