Why my kid never believed in Santa Claus

He never believed in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, either.  There are three important reasons why Daniel and I decided, before Nicholas was born, that we were not going to pretend that any of these characters were real.

The first is that we didn’t like the idea of lying to our child.  We felt that claiming these characters were real, when we know they aren’t, would kind of make us feel bad.  Our child should be able to trust us.  Now that we’ve met the individual child we got, we know he’s a very analytical type who easily figures out what’s going on and demands full explanations of processes.  He was hard to confuse with things like Piaget’s famous conservation experiments even when he was a toddler.  The first time he ever saw a stage magician, he immediately started trying to figure out how to do those tricks.  If we’d presented the fables as truth, we’d have been interrogated with years of questions about exactly how those reindeer fly to every house in one night, where the bunny gets the eggs, etc., etc.

The second reason is that we wanted him to appreciate, from the very beginning, that holiday magic is something we all make for one another.  Christmas gifts aren’t brought by a guy in a sleigh to whom money is no object; we spend hours choosing or making gifts for our loved ones, thinking about what each person would like, as a way of expressing our love and respect for each other.  Easter isn’t about a magic bunny who brings us candy for no apparent reason; Easter is about Jesus and the springtime renewal of the world, and Grandma likes to send us some candy.  Losing a tooth is an exciting step toward maturity that is honored with a little treat, and there is a traditional routine for collecting this treat from your parents overnight using a special marsupial (Tooth Beary) crocheted by Grandma.

The third reason is that I wanted to teach my child my religion.  (Daniel does not belong to an organized religion, so the deal was that I could take Nicholas to church and teach him my faith until such time as he might tell me he didn’t believe it and didn’t want to go.  By age 3 he had decided he definitely wanted to be an Episcopalian, and he was baptized.)  If I told him Santa Claus was real, and he then found out otherwise, he would then logically doubt what I’d been telling him about God being real.  After all, the invisibility and super-powers of God are not all that different from what people attribute to Santa.  As I mentioned last week, Nicholas has shown no signs of doubting the existence of God but has remarked on the oddity of people believing in these other entities while not believing in God.

So, without Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, poor Nicholas has had a really dreary, cynical childhood, huh?  Read more…

Answering a child’s questions on human origins

A while back, another mother asked my advice:

Tonight my five year old asked me, “Where did the first people come from?”

“Well,” I replied, “Different people believe different things.  Scientists think that humans evolved from gorillas.”

“What is evolved?”

“That’s when things change from one thing to another, like a caterpillar to a butterfly.  Other people believe in God, that he is up in the sky watching over us all and he created the first people. . . .”

So, what do you say when your child asks you about God for the first time? How do you incorporate scientific evolution?

These big questions are daunting!  Try not to worry about giving the perfect answer the first time; kids come back to these questions again and again.

My son Nicholas asked where people come from soon after he turned 3.  First he was asking how babies are made; I gave a basic explanation that satisfied him for the moment.  Then he asked about death.  A week or so later, he thought of “the chicken or the egg” question and asked how the FIRST baby could ever have been born.  I said something like this:

“Well, we can’t know for sure how that happened because the first people hadn’t invented writing yet, so they didn’t have any way to write down their story. Scientists who have studied the fossils say that all animals are related, and over millions of years, one family of animals kept having babies that were a little more like people than their parents were, and another family of animals kept having babies that were a little more like cats than their parents were, and another family of animals kept having babies that were a little more like turtles than their parents were, and so on until each kind of animal was very different from the others.  There are some things that are still the same among lots of animals, like backbones and fingers.  God is very smart, and maybe God made one main pattern to turn into all the kinds of animals and people.”

That gave Nicholas a lot to think about for a while!

Next time we talked about it, I asked if he would like to hear a story about the first people, and I told him the story of Adam and Eve.  This is consistent with my personal belief that the stories of the Old Testament are traditional legends of our people that contain important truths for us today but are not literally true representations of exactly what really happened.  Nicholas requested “the story of before the beginning” on a regular basis for several years; he enjoyed both my telling the story and my reading it from the Bible.  Not only is it a satisfying story of humans originating from the loving care of God, but it goes on to an important lesson about temptation, obedience, and experiencing the consequences of one’s actions, which led to lots of interesting discussion for us.

As for “when your child asks you about God for the first time” . . . all his life I have spoken of God as if we both know God and God’s existence is simply an underlying fact of reality.  We’ve discussed specifics of belief and practice as they come up, but Nicholas has never asked who/what/where is God.  He did not seem aware that there are people who believe God doesn’t exist until he was in kindergarten, when he commented to me that it’s funny how some people believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy but don’t believe in God–gee, that’s wacky, huh?  (We never spoke to him of Santa or the Tooth Fairy as anything other than fun traditions of pretending.)

I know that many people struggle with the idea that evolution and God-creation are two separate viewpoints.  To me, it’s easy to believe in both: Evolution is God’s Plan.  I love to read the creation story from Genesis because, although I don’t believe it all happened in six days as we understand days, I believe that it unfolded in that general order (there was light, and then there was matter, then water separate from solid land, then plants, then animals, all before people came to be) and that every moment of it was planned, presided over, directed, loved, and approved by God.  All the science is true.  But there’s More.  

(By the way–evolution is not like the transition from caterpillar to butterfly.  That’s one individual changing from one form to another the same way her ancestors did it and her children will do it.  Evolution is a species changing in a way that makes future generations different from the previous ones.)

Telling my child that we are both evolved from animals and created by God worked for me!

Gradually Expanding Range for a Child Walking Alone

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting:
Staying Safe

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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“It’s a different world than when we were kids.” I often hear parents say this when they are talking about how they don’t allow their children–or even teenagers–to go anywhere alone, to walk anywhere, even to play in their own front yard.

Yes, this is a different world, the America of 2013 compared with the America of 1981, when I was 8 years old like my son is now–AMERICA IS A SAFER PLACE THAN IT WAS WHEN I WAS A CHILD. Every type of violent crime is significantly less common now than it was then. The thing many parents are most afraid will happen to a child let out of their sight is kidnapping, although abductions of children by strangers are extremely rare.

I’ve been working in crime research for 15 years, and that’s really given me some perspective on risk: The vast majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, not by a stranger who abruptly captures the victim in a public place–and this is especially true of child molestation. Yes, terrible things can happen to innocent people, and it is horrible when they do, but it is important not to get too freaked out about “risk”.  (I want you to see this cartoon that clearly illustrates the issue, but I can’t get it to display on my page!)

Of course, we do feel some concern about the safety of our beloved only child. Realistically, the highest risk he faces in walking around the neighborhood is being hit by a car. I’ve written before about how we taught him traffic safety skills and decided when he was ready to walk around the block alone. In second grade, he began walking home from school alone some days, and now in third grade he is doing it 4 days a week. This is a journey of 5 blocks, with a crossing guard posted at the only busy intersection. Nicholas always gets home safely and has had no problems.

This summer, he grew bored with his walks around the block and asked to walk farther, alone. We have not been letting him walk to his school alone when the crossing guard is not on duty, because of that busy street. But we thought we might allow him to walk as far as the nearest busy street in each direction from our house.  Read more…

No-Bake Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie for Summer

This is not so much a recipe as an example of how to work with the food, and the weather, that you happen to have.  Last weekend was very hot and humid, and we had some ingredients that needed to be used, including just two potatoes from our farm share–not enough to make a baked potato for each member of our 3-person family.  When I mused to Daniel about what to do with the potatoes, he suggested shepherd’s pie, which has mashed potato as the bottom layer.

The trouble was that shepherd’s pie is baked.  There was no way I was going to turn on the oven in this weather!  We don’t have air conditioning, but even in an air-conditioned house, it’s silly to use the oven in hot weather because it will make the AC work harder and waste energy.  I wondered if I could just make the mashed potatoes (only a small amount, so not too steamy) and briefly cook some other food and put it all together in a casserole dish.

It worked!  My casserole did not hold together particularly well when served, but a baked shepherd’s pie usually doesn’t, either.  All of us liked this main dish, served with a side of grapes.

Our eight-year-old Nicholas took this picture of the starting ingredients:
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Read more…