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Ask Dr. Mike: Christmas Version

The doctor answers questions that often come up at the holidays.

Debating the Santa ‘Lie’

Dr. Mike,
My husband feels that we should not lie to our 3-year-old child about Santa Claus. He is concerned that our child will resent us for it later and that it will compromise her trust in us as parents. He says he “wants to prepare her for life” as soon as possible. I, however, can’t stand the idea of raising our child in a Santa free environment. He and I grew up with childhoods that included Santa at Christmas, so his over the top pragmatism just doesn’t make any sense to me. I also have such fond memories of Christmas and want the same for our children. Thoughts?

S in Loudoun County

S,
I do not think your husband is seeing the forest for the trees, as the old saying goes. I suppose Santa is “a lie,” and for that matter, so is the Easter Bunny, fairies and the Tooth Fairy, if you choose to think in such a literal way. But Santa, and these other characters and what they represent, are fantasies that actually help children develop creativity, language and cognitive skills. Children learn in part through imagination, pretend and fantasies via characters and stories – that’s why Aesop’s Fables are timeless and Pixar and Disney are so popular with children. There is a message in Santa for our children – the Christmas Spirit, good will, being rewarded for good behavior, etc. Santa’s origins as St. Nicholas and Father Christmas harken even more meaningful messages of charity and care to those in need. I would start by talking to your husband about his Christmas experiences as a child. Perhaps this will help you begin to understand why is it so important for your him to exercise logic and reason over emotion “to prepare [his daughter] for life” at age 3? I would also ask your husband to think about the message and tradition of Santa in your families and the goodness in that message and tradition for his own children. I would also validate your husband’s position that lying to kids is not good practice but that Santa, and what he represents, can also be good for young children. By discussing your husband’s childhood experience and thoughts on the topic, as well as your own, I am hopeful that the two of you can come to some sort of compromise or resolution that is right for you and your family.

When Parenting Philosophies Collide

Dr. Mike,
My entire family from out of state will be joining us for Christmas this year, which I am mostly happy about. My sister is super liberal as a parent though. For example, she let’s her 19-year-old daughter drink a glass of wine at festivities, and she let’s her daughter’s boyfriend spend the night at their house. I just learned from my sister that her daughter’s boyfriend will be staying with us for the holidays as well and let’s just say that I am not pleased. I have two preteen boys in the house and DO NOT want them exposed to their cousin drinking or to her possibly having sexual relations in our home. I want to say no to the boyfriend altogether but know that it will create drama in my larger family if I do. I also don’t want my niece to despise me for years for ruining her holidays in college. Any ideas?

Y in Loudoun County

Y,
I do not see why your situation needs to be dramatic or why it has to have an all-or-nothing outcome. I would reach out to your sister to tell her of your concerns, all of which seem reasonable to me – you do not want your underage niece drinking alcohol or sharing a room with her boyfriend in your home. Fair enough. Instead of taking the moral high ground though, why not mention your very real concerns regarding your preteen boys. To avoid running the risk of upsetting your sister, it might be better to get her to understand your own needs as a parent rather than being too direct with what you think she is doing wrong. You may think she is an overly liberal parent, but she may think she is a great parent. When speaking to your sister, you could also suggest some outings for your niece and her boyfriend when they are with you. If there is time, perhaps they could have a date day in DC where the two of them could explore the city as a couple. This way they can have their alone and away time together without any lines being crossed in your home. You could even be that super cool Aunt that organizes a folder of possible activities and things to see for them in DC or more locally. 

The Cost of Christmas

Dr. Mike,
I am afraid my husband and I have raised three very spoiled and entitled children. This year our 12-year-old daughter has requested an iPhone 5, and her older sister would like two (not one) Tory Burch handbags. Our eldest is in college and would like a pair of $250 tennis shoes. My husband and I don’t even buy dress shoes that cost that much for ourselves! My husband and I feel that it seems to be getting harder and harder to teach our kids the value of a dollar, especially when so many of their friends have the latest of everything. Thoughts on helping us with a reality check for our kids without coming off like Scrooge or the Grinch?

M in Loudoun County

M,
Whether you want to blame it on the Internet and the globalization of the world (and products), the superficiality of Hollywood and the media, or something else, it is true that our children have become increasingly expensive to gift for. Rather than focusing on teaching the value of the dollar, however, why not proactively focus more on the value of time and charity in your home this holiday season. In my opinion, time is the most valuable commodity that we can give our children as parents. You could come up with some new holiday traditions where you can all enjoy meaningful time together. For example, you could go skiing or snowboarding at one of the nearby resorts. You could cut down your own tree together. You could visit DC and the museums for the day or take a long day trip someplace more rural. Charity, or the active of giving, might also be something for you and your family to consider this year in addition to gifts. Volunteer Loudoun and Volunteer Fairfax are two great organizations with volunteer opportunities for children, teens and families. Their information is available on-line. And remember, modeling is one of the best parenting tools for eliciting change. By modeling balanced spending and saving for yourselves as adults, not just over the holiday season but over the year, you can hopefully begin to challenge your children’s view of material possessions. Instituting an allowance can also be a good way of teaching children how to be productive, responsible and resourceful. Instead of simply purchasing things for your kids, they can instead work and save for the items. The sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from earning your own money and making your own purchases can be wonderful for a child’s self-esteem and independence. With a few tactful adjustments this year as parents, there is no need to come off as Scrooge or the Grinch!

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