When Your Child Discovers The Big Lie

Standing in the toy aisle in Kohl’s and concentrating on which item to buy for a friend’s son’s birthday, I hesitated before asking my son to repeat what he had just said.

“Can you repeat what you just said, but can you whisper it to me?” If it was what I thought it was, I didn’t want his 5 year old brother to overhear.

“I know that Santa’s not real, Mom.”

The color likely drained from my face as it was probably the last thing I was expecting him to say at that moment, but it was, in fact, what I thought he had just said.

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“Ok, if you want to have this discussion, it has to be in private, with both me and your father. It needs to be away from your brother.”

“Oh! So you’re saying he isn’t then? I knew it!” His voice getting more shrill with each word.

“I said let’s talk about this later. Now is not the time.”

Thankfully, he forgot about it.

Two weeks later, after walking in the door from school, he reminded me that he wanted to have that talk. He said he knew about Santa and the Tooth Fairy because he had set up his iPad to video us sneaking around.

“That’s bologna.” I said. He smiled and admitted to fibbing.

“Well, I know they’re not real because you say you will tell Santa if we are misbehaving. That made me realize you’re lying. How could you tell Santa? It’s not like you have his phone number. What you think you can fool me by saying you’ll just dial him up? Or email him! It’s lies!”

“We’ll talk about it at bedtime.” I silenced him for the moment.

At bedtime, his father and I sat down and told him in so many words that he was right. Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny were pretend magical stories to make the holidays and losing teeth more fun and special for children. It was a lie coming from a good place (uh, confusing), and he would understand one day and do the same for his children.

Anger was the emotion that seemed to settle right in when we confirmed the bad news. He got emotional and went on to say he was hurt and surprised we had lied to him for 8 years. Then my husband corrected him and said, “Well, actually 9. We lied for 9.” Thank you, husband.

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He pushed us away when we tried to hug him. We didn’t “deserve” hugs. We were horrible parents. He was sulking like an irritated teenager. Then he asked about Elf on the Shelf which we only started doing these last two Christmases. He seemed more upset about the Elf for some reason. We gave him the ol’ “you can help keep the magic going and be part of it for your brother now…” spiel and it simply ignited more upsetment.

“How can you ask me to LIE to my own BROTHER? What kind of parents ARE you?” The drama was over the top. I wanted to laugh, but then I couldn’t, because he was so genuinely upset, the humorous vibe evaporated. We explained that he better not tell his brother or his friends.

The saga continued as he ran into our bedroom and grabbed his framed baby picture off of my nightstand and stared at it. I felt like we were in REM’s “Everybody Hurts” music video except it was, “J’s found out there’s no Santa.” This was like a made for TV moment.

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For the first time, we didn’t get a warm goodnight (he’s a lovey dovey kid), and we were sad about this phase being over. We shuffled back to the living room feeling a sort of grief only parents that have just gone through this experience can understand. It was the end of an era, which is sad for parents too. As your children go through different phases, some good and some bad, when the phases come to an end, there is a small sense of mourning. Not really for the bad phases though… adios to those!

We thought about any possible way to lift his spirits. Since our son had stayed home sick that day, we didn’t know if he had made drama club.The school had a lottery system in which they select children who are interested at random and there are a limited number of spots. My husband posted on the school’s parent group on Facebook to see if there was a way to find out and wa-la (thank you Facebook and the parent who got right back to us) we found out he had made it!

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We agreed to tell our son right away in hopes to cheer him up, but he was pretty stoic after we shared the good news. He wanted to crash in our bed for the night which he hasn’t done for years. He kept saying he didn’t know how he would fall asleep because this was the worst day of his life.

The next morning he was still thinking about it and said to his dad, ” So what’s up with the Santa tracker then?” It was obviously still on his mind. So much for hoping it would pass!

I guess with parenting, one never knows how much something will impact their child until it actually happens. My son clearly believed HARD in the magical things we told him about. For that I’m glad because those years were SO MUCH FUN. This was definitely a learning experience. The anger carried on the entire next day, but slowly it dissipated and we got him to agree not to tell his friends or his brother. I do believe we just witnessed his first major disappointment in life. Sure he’s had other let downs, but nothing to this degree. Of course there will be many more to come. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s so interesting what we learn from parenting. It’s a front row seat to the growing changing of the human being you’ve created-physically, mentally, and emotionally. You can’t help but be riveted, worried, and grateful simultaneously during the whole experience. Hopefully, we can still get a few more years of Santa, the bunny, and the Tooth Fairy with our youngest!

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