Santa is a touchy subject for many families, so you can imagine that it becomes all the more difficult when you have foster children in the home who may have been raised with different values, traditions, and beliefs. Around this time of year, the question of Santa comes up. How should we approach the topic with our foster children? Below are questions I’ve heard asked and my personal take on them.
What do I do if I’ve chosen not to do Santa with my biological children but my fosters believe in him?
Way back in high school, I decided that if I ever had kids, I would skip the whole Santa, tooth fairy, and Easter bunny thing. At the time, my reasoning for it was probably that, by golly, I wasn’t going to lie to my kids! Later in life, it became more about keeping Christmas and Easter focused on their true meaning and my family’s thoughts centered around Jesus. Since our son was born, we haven’t put Santa in the limelight in our Christmas festivities. That being said, we also haven’t framed Santa as an evil impostor that we have to avoid at all costs. My son still takes a photo with Santa every year at the hospital where my mom works, and we watch movies and read books that have a Santa character. The only difference is that’s where it ends. We don’t write wish lists, set out cookies, use Santa as a bargaining chip for good behavior, or indicate that he’s real in any way. If my son were to ask, I would tell him that Santa is a fun tradition.
Now that we’ve established my personal take on the matter, how would I handle this with foster children who do believe in a Santa? The short answer is I’d play along. The long answer is that it’s not my place to destroy the magic of Christmas for someone else’s child. In my years of being a teacher (and I taught at a Christian school where Jesus, not Santa, is recognized as the reason for the season), it would be monstrous of me to stand up in front of a classroom and announce that Santa isn’t real. Everyone knows a teacher shouldn’t do that. Likewise, it doesn’t sit well to let the cat out of the bag to a child who’s in my care temporarily.
We have to pick our battles and consider the child’s past experience. The holidays might dredge up complex emotions for a child away from his or her family. And I have to ask myself, “Is this battle worth it?” or can I give them Santa, even though it’s not what my family does, in order to make the holidays easier on them? I like to think about how it will affect the child in the long run. Years from now if they look back on a Christmas spent with our family, will they be appreciative of how I stuck to my no Santa convictions? Probably not, it’s very likely that will be lost on them. In contrast, they might be able to think back fondly on the effort we took to make them feel loved that year.
“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” — Mother Teresa.
Does this mean I have to completely discard all my family’s traditions and replace them with Santa?
No! This isn’t an either/or; it’s a both/and. Most families have those unique things they do, whether it’s something they grew up with and became grandfathered in or started anew. My husband and I spent our first Christmas roasting marshmallows in Peru. As a reminder of where we started in our marriage, we try to carry on that tradition year to year. We also reserve stockings exclusively for fruits and healthy snacks we don’t normally buy (i.e. I go to the health food store and seek out the rare and imported). Anyone joining us for the holidays is welcome to participate in our quirky family traditions. We’ll share ours and add yours too.
If a child asks me point blank if Santa is real, do I have to lie?
This boils down to the ethical question: is it okay to lie? Children in the system may have been lied to numerous times, and when they walk in the door, your policy might be honesty first or an assurance that you will never lie to them. Personally, I avoid making those types of assurances because as soon as the words, “I will never lie to you” leave your lips, you have set a standard of perfection for yourself in that area. In that case, you have actually built up a false dilemma: your commitment to speak absolute truth has created an either/or situation, and now you’re stuck. I adhere to the American Tail philosophy of “never say never.”
“Values are the definition of our actions in life” ― Armin Houman
If you’re conflicted about lying to a child about Santa, well… don’t bring it up for starters. It’s only an issue if they ask you point blank (in other words, don’t go out of your way to make it an issue). At that point, you could have them answer their own question, “What do you think?” You could sidestep the question with something like, “If you believe in Santa, he’s real to you.” And your best bet, you could have them bank it to ask their parents.
There was a case this year in Canada where a couple lost their license because they refused to tell their foster children that the Easter bunny was real. This was absolutely an extreme case, but it does lay out a caution to the reader: if you’re very anti-Santa, let your caseworker know your views ahead of time.
How do I keep my biological kids from ruining it?
For most ages, you can pull them aside and give them the special job of being Santa with you. Kids like helping, and they like special tasks (which is why the simple privilege of line leader still works magic in the classroom). Let them in on their secret mission to make Christmas special for their foster siblings. The result will likely be quite heartwarming.
Probably the most important thing I’ve learned as a parent is to hold on loosely to all those parenting ideals I had before having children. This weekend, we had a surprisingly warm winter day. My dad was over helping work on the house and took a break to cook hot dogs over a bonfire. As we were sitting there with my son scarfing down a hot dog smothered in ketchup, my dad reminded me of how careful I was during my pregnancy to avoid all processed meats and now I was fine with letting that same child consume those very foods. Yup… that’s about right.
Things change; we change. And that’s usually a good thing. We learn, we assess the situation and realize it requires a different approach than what we imagined, or we come face to face with how different our children are. And we adapt and change. The important thing is that we can be flexible enough to recognize the unique needs of each child and respond accordingly.
Happy holidays, everyone!