Honoring Belief and Authenticity during the Holidays

Photo by Scott Vuocolo

Before my husband and I had children, we discussed how we planned to handle various aspects of holidays. We aren’t Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas, so it only seemed natural to me that we wouldn’t bring the commercial aspect of Santa Claus into our home for the Solstice.

It wasn’t something I would miss. Not only was there the overly commercial aspect and the blatant lying, but I didn’t have fond memories of the jolly old man. I have the obligatory pictures of me sitting on Santa’s lap, tears streaming down my face at having been forced to sit on a strange man’s lap. At the age of four, I informed my mother that I didn’t believe in Santa Claus. I knew she left the gifts, and I wanted to appreciate her effort and thought rather than some mythical stranger.

However, my husband did have fond memories. He enjoyed the magical aspect as a kid and actually pretended to believe in  Santa Claus long past when he actually quit believing in order to receive an extra gift.

There were discussions. In the end, we compromised. We would discuss the spirit of giving with our future children and Father Time, a representation of that spirit, would leave gifts. I was a bit unsettled by this but recognized the need to honor my husband’s wishes, too. And then we had children…

Gazing into that tiny face, so trusting of us, we knew we couldn’t lie to him. We had no desire to break the special trust held between parent and child. So, life went on. We celebrated our solstice traditions and thought nothing more of Santa Claus or Father Time for five happy years.

The year our oldest turned five years old, he brought up the topic. We had read books about what other people believed and what other holidays people celebrated. We were surrounded by the commercialism of Santa Claus every time we went out.

One fateful day the question came. “Mommy, does Santa Claus exist?” There was an internal cringe, I’m sure. I explained that some people believed he did. Others didn’t. Some people believed in other forms of a spirit of giving. And then I asked him what he believed. He told me that he thought Father Time would leave presents for him and his siblings.

The morning after the longest night of the year, as we got up to open gifts, there were three unwrapped presents sitting on the sofa. My husband and I said nothing about them. We neither claimed to have given them nor that they were from Father Time. While we wouldn’t lie to our children, we also didn’t wish to squash any magic from what they wanted to believe.

The next year, at the age of six, he asked is Father Time was really real? I told him that I could answer his question and that the answer would be one of two – either yes or no. If it was yes, life would go on as it had and he would still believe. However, if it was no, would he be happy no longer believing? I asked him a hard question. Which was more important to him: knowing for certain what the answer was or believing regardless? He chose to continue believing, knowing that at any time he could ask me and I would answer truthfully, whatever that may be. His four year old sister piped up that she didn’t believe and that she thought that when I filled everyone’s stockings, I also left the gifts on the couch. I replied that different people believe different things.

We now have four children, ages 8, 6, 3, and 7 months. Listening to their conversations about the subject is interesting. I still stick to my need to be authentic and refuse to lie. I also will not force my beliefs on someone else and tell them they are wrong. Honoring honesty and authenticity doesn’t have to conflict with honoring the magic of childhood.

Edited to add: After that first year, the gifts have all been digital media for our library – either movies or music cds. Its a tradition we plan to continue, regardless of what our children believe and one which we can feel honest about.

trick or treat…

Photo by Liz West

Halloween is almost here, and the hot discussion among parents is how to deal with the anticipated candy from Halloween night. Is it better to let their kids pick out a few pieces and make the rest magically disappear, either by buying it from them or having a mythical Halloween goblin? Would it be better to get it over with all at once with a one night sugar rush? What should parents do with their children’s Halloween cache? I’ll leave the irony of that question where it is.

This wasn’t on our minds, as parents, until a couple of years ago. It wasn’t until then that we had kids old enough who really cared if there was candy in the house. However, that year, our oldest was almost six years old and candy had some appeal that it previously hadn’t.

Having embraced the fact that children are actually quite capable of regulating their own food  and our semi-radical unschooling beliefs, I decided to sit back and let my children prove my theory correct. We wouldn’t do anything about our children’s consumption of their own candy.

Day 1 of the candy came and went with sugar-laden laughter. Day 2 followed, and I have to admit that on day 3, I was beginning to waiver – just a bit, but I kept my mouth shut, accepting the offers of candy that they freely shared with us. Day 4 came and the kids each had one piece of candy. They were back to themselves, regulating their own food consumption.

That first year was the only year of true mass candy consumption. Last year came and went with just slightly increased consumption the days following Halloween. I need to remind my daughter that she may want to toss her remaining stash before we head out trick-or-treating this weekend (sometimes she really is like me).

When things are rare or forbidden, it tends to make them more appealing. Even by just saying that candy is bad for you gives an impression that we disapprove if our children make the choice to eat their Halloween candy, while we may be secretly scarfing down Twix’s and Kit-Kats from their stash when they aren’t looking. It would be more accurate that candy isn’t as nutritious for our bodies as other types of foods. The same can be said about other things, such as that wonderful homemade panini I would love to eat but choose not to because it has items that make me feel worse. It’s all a spectrum. Our view of it, and how we convey those beliefs,  greatly affects our reactions to it.

be the parent you want to be…

Photo by Lori Grieg

I often come across the question from others about what to do when you haven’t parented according to your ideals. When posted on a parenting forum, there seems to be an overwhelming urge for others to tell the original poster that, “It’s okay.” They regal everyone with posts about their less than stellar moments and state that everyone messes up sometimes.

It’s true that no one is perfect. We are human and come into each of our relationships with baggage from our pasts. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t treat our own mistakes the way we would like our children to view mistakes – as learning opportunities. When parents make posts sharing such concerns, I believe it would be much more beneficial to help the person be the parent they want to be rather than swapping bad parenting moments.

Christine at Living the Unschooling Life recently wrote a post about labels. The particular post was about radical unschooling (RU), but the part that stood out to me that could relate to any parent rather than those practicing RU was this:

So, when I see that I’m not living up to my radical unschooling principles what do I do?  I learn from it – I think carefully about what got in the way & I resolve to handle things better.  I don’t act like a radical unschooler, I am a radical unschooler & the only way for that to be true is if I keep pushing myself to live a life that follows these principles.  After all, I want to be the parent my children need so that they will be the parent their children will need.
Replace the parts about radical schooling with any aspect you are currently struggling with. For instance, gentle parenting:
So, when I see that I’m not living up to my gentle parenting principles what do I do?  I learn from it – I think carefully about what got in the way & I resolve to handle things better.  I don’t act like a gentle parent, I amgentle parent & the only way for that to be true is if I keep pushing myself to live a life that follows these principles.  After all, I want to be the parent my children need so that they will be the parent their children will need.
Rather than telling yourself that it doesn’t matter that you screwed up, strive to learn from your mistake(s) and be the parent you want to be.

monster bed…

 When asked one time about sleeping arrangements with subsequent children, I shared with a group about our sleeping arrangements. We have a family bed, which at this time, includes two adults and four children. A young mother exclaimed how she would never have that many children in her bed. That is her perogative. It works for us.

Six people in a family bed together does sound like a lot. Squished onto a king size bed, I doubt we would be comfortable. However, rather than arbitrarily try to fit our family and its needs to commercially and socially expected bed sizes, we have fit our bed size to our family’s needs. We had a king size bed before having a child. When our first was born, it was only natural that he sleep with us. Before our second child was born, we decided to add on to the bed so that everyone would have plenty of room. We found a great deal on a queen size bed, and the next thing we knew, we had a king/queen combination. This lasted us for quite a while, including a third child.

When our oldest turned seven, and I was pregnant with our fourth baby, we found a need to add on again. Our seven year old was kicking in his sleep, and no one enjoyed sleeping next to him. Many families would have decided it was time to make him sleep on his own. However, we had decided that our children would decide on their own when they were ready to move out of the family bed. We know that they will eventually; they won’t still sleep with us by the time they are ready for college.

Faced with our son’s desire to continue with the family bed and a number of individuals who preferred not to sleep next to him, I asked him if he would like a space of his own. We had a twin mattress in our storage room. He was delighted with the idea, and we added the twin bed next to our king/queen combo. We didn’t have a boxspring for the twin, as it was designed for a bunkbed, so his bed is at a lower level than the rest. It allows him to remain in the family bedroom while giving him a little space of his own in a way that any kicking won’t bother anyone else.

Our king/queen/twin combo may seem like a monster bed, but it works for us.

bedtime is relative…

We don’t have a bedtime at our house. For us, bedtime is literally just the time someone goes to bed. There is no arbitrary time for us. We’ve encouraged our children to listen to their bodies and point out cues that we notice in order to help them recognize those signs that their bodies are tired.

Our second child was born not too long after we moved here. A coworker of my husband’s asked him what time our kids went to bed. At the time, they were generally going to bed around midnight. She exclaimed how horrible we were to keep our newborn and two year old up so late. She couldn’t understand that bedtimes are relative. Our children didn’t have to be up early to go to daycare. They were expressing their own rhythms, which just so happened to allow them more time with their father after work.

Over the years, we’ve noticed that our children seem to have patterns. We will fall into a pattern for a while, going to bed around the same time for a few weeks. Then something will change and the pattern will shift. We’ve gone to bed as early as 9 PM for a few weeks and as late as 1 AM regularly. Neither extreme generally lasts for long, and they find themselves reverting back to going to bed sometime between 10 PM and 11 PM.

I’m certain there will be wider shifts as they get older. I’m glad that we have the flexibility to accomodate their needs and to encourage them to listen to their bodies.

conflict…

Though conflict, we learn to establish healthy boundaries between ourselves and other people. Conflict provides an opportunity for growth and learning. This is true not only for children, but also for ourselves.