Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Tooth Fairy and Other Lies

by Marjorie
My five-year-old lost her first tooth last week. She literally lost it, didn't even know it was gone. She came over to tell me something and I thought she looked funny. She opened wide and the tooth was gone -- I don't think she even knew it. Don't know where it went -- maybe she swallowed it. It was very One Morning in Maine, except we don't live in Maine and it happened inside the house.

I told my friends. One of them asked what the tooth fairy brought. Um, nothing. Suzanne never mentioned the tooth fairy, so I didn't raise the issue.

Here's my problem. Years ago at a playgroup, the butcher's wife mentioned how Santa Claus is the first time many parents purposefully lie to their kids. For some reason, this really struck me. Since then, I haven't played up Santa Claus, she gets enough of it from our culture. We've read books about the historical Santa Claus but I don't really get into the nitty gritty of telling her he's real or unreal, but none of her presents are from Santa -- they come from mom and dad. The same friend who asked about what the tooth fairy brought also asked what Santa brought. She must think I'm a nutcase, maybe thats why she's always so nice to Suzanne.

Anyway, I guess Suzanne hasn't heard much about the tooth fairy -- if she had and had expected a visit, she would have gotten one. But I'm not bringing it up. I'm thinking she's probably headed for therapy and I'm headed for hell.


Blogger dgm said...

my husband posted about this on his blog last december, titling it "why preach santaism?"

we are the odd birds in our crowd because we refuse to perpetuate the santa lie, and yet our daughter still manages to enjoy the holidays like every other kid. as you can see in the comments, the tooth fairy question comes up, too. my daughter knows there is no tooth fairy, but we've still come up with a little ritual that she loves--so much so that whenever a tooth is slightly loose, she will work it until she pulls it out!

6:01 PM  
Blogger Anne Zelenka said...

I tend to think of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny as part of the magic of childhood. It's unfortunate that they are organized around getting stuff (toys, money, candy). We try to keep it pretty casual.

As for lying to your kids, I find there are situations when I don't tell the whole truth to them. It doesn't particularly bother me; a blanket decision to always tell the truth would cause much more difficulty.

Which tooth did Suzanne lose? That's kind of funny that it just disappeared.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Marjorie said...

D -- thank you so much for the link -- I loved that post and will be looking at that blog some more. So you're married to a Tom who's a lawyer, so am I [not the same guy] -- no wonder I like your thinking...

Anne -- check out the economic rationale behind the sex frequency post of her DH's blog partner at

4:50 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

I have never figured out how kids rationalize why the Tooth Fairy gives a certain amount at our house and a different amount at those of their friends. Do they think that she loves different kids more/less? My kids have never asked, so...

7:32 PM  
Blogger dgm said...

diana highlights part of my problem with the "white lie" about the tooth fairy and others. when kids find an inconsistency in the story and ask their parents to explain, the parents make up more lies. that's one of the problems with telling lies generally: there's so much to remember, so many potential inconsistencies that the speaker has to keep making stuff up in order not to be found out. and the kids find out anyway! BTW,diana, i don't mean to be insulting by referring to the tooth fairy story as a lie, but i don't know what else you call it, even if you also call it "spreading the magic"

6:26 AM  
Blogger Marjorie said...

I'm all for the magic of children's fantasy lives -- I just don't want to be an active part of telling the story. If I can just get away with being passive about it all, I'm much happier -- like what happened with this tooth.

This is vastly different from having a 'whole truth' policy with kids. As to answering kids' questions, I try to figure out what my kids can understand and answer accordingly. Its easy to assume the kids are looking for more information than they actually want to know. I find answering truthfully often ends up in puzzled looks because they have no idea what I'm saying anyway.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Anne Zelenka said...

Interesting that Marjorie decided against it when she heard it call "lying" and dgm's argument is all around lying. Is that the only argument against Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy? That it involves lying to your kids? Or is there something beyond that?

What is it about lying that makes it always bad? Are there cases where it's okay?

Humor me, I've always bordered on amoral.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this from Anne's DH, or perhaps just "H"...
My upbringing earned me a PhD in lying, white lies, and spin. Maybe that's why I've transformed myself from techno NASA geek into corporate marketing/bd puke. My Mommy provided me a clear sense that white lies are quite fine and vastly useful, from returning an item well past its "return within" time by claiming the receipt was lost, to refilling extra soda at self-serve soda dispenser's at fast-foods joints. I slowly getting better, but am confident my upbringing has dragged down my DW. Oh well, guess that just proves that opposites attract, and Anne's better for the experience (white lie)...

9:06 PM  
Blogger dgm said...

hi anne,
i don't know whether i'd say "lying" is the only reason the santa myth is bad, but it's certainly a good enough one, in and of itself, to keep us from perpetuating it with our kids. on top of that, we decided that we can still achieve the fun or "magic" of those things without lying.

what is so bad about lying? well, lots of things, but in this instance we know our kids watch what we do probably more than what we say. they aren't capable of distinguishing "innocent white lies" from more nefarious stuff. for similar reasons, i don't take any pills in front of my younger kid because he can't distinguish something more innocuous like vitamins from something more potentially dangerous to him like prescription medicine (i don't have any of the latter around, but if someone in the house ever does, i don't want him to have the idea he can just swallow it down like grownups do).

ultimately, kids will find out there is no santa or tooth fairy or whatever. some will be devastated, some won't be. i know plenty of adults who vividly recall when they learned it was all a lie. it didn't necessarily scar them forever, but it made enough of a negative impression that they remember it after all these years. why do that to a kid? for my husband and me, rather than asking why we don't do it we wonder why so many others do.

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Kristen said...

Our five year old has all her teeth intact, so we haven't even really thought about the tooth fairy yet.

But we have a zillion other fairies in our life. We have the dandelion fairies. They pop up yellow dandelions in our yard.

We also have the fern fairies - they make the ferns rustle in the wind. And there are the lilac fairies. Our neighborhood is full of lilac bushes and the lilac fairies make it smell so yummy.

I could go on and on. (Yes, there's even more.)

My daughter makes up most of them. But I make up some. I think on some level, we both know they aren't "real"...but it is fun and we often huddle under the covers at night making up wonderful stories about all the fairies in our yard.

Sometimes the dandelion fairy leaves me a bunch of dandelions on the front porch. Honestly, I'm delighted. I know it was my daughter and not really a fairy. But I'm still delighted.

So, I imagine that in our house, the tooth fairy will magically whisk a tooth away and leave something in its place. I doubt we'll do money. Maybe something more related to teeth and/or fairies.

Is she lying to me with the dandelions? Will I be lying to her with the tooth fairy? Technically, I suppose we are.

But, oh, how absolutely boring and bland it would be to live in a life without fairies....

12:26 PM  
Blogger dgm said...

i think there's a difference between the make-believe fantasy lives children craft for themselves, and those that adults create for them. the dandelion fairy and santa claus are distinguishable. but i also have to say that no one would accuse my kids of lacking rich, imaginative lives--and they hardly watch any tv at all, for what that's worth.

i don't have a problem with my kids making up imaginary friends and scenarios. i think on some level all kids go through that stage developmentally. but as marjorie said, i'm not gonna make that stuff up for them. in fact, my daughter seems to take great joy in knowing the truth while her friends are still duped about santa and the easter bunny. at least we've instructed her not to burst their bubbles--we figure it's up to the kids' parents to account for their untruths.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Anne Zelenka said...

Kudos to you, dgm, for taking a countercultural approach to raising your children. It is never easy to do so, and you obviously have strong feelings about the issue of Santa Claus.

Many people can see the distinction between supporting the cultural myth of Santa Claus and lying for bad aims. You believe your children are not capable of doing so and thus you have made a good decision for your family. You would like your children to develop their own imaginary worlds without interference--that sounds good too. For your family.

You say you wonder why people would promote Santa Claus to their children. It provides a chance for family bonding. It's fun. It provides a yearly tradition. It makes memories. It's a way of celebrating during the dark days of winter. You could achieve all these things in other ways, certainly, but we've found Santa's a good way of doing it.

I fully trust in my children's ability to make distinctions among this and lying that is bad. I can see a big difference. For me, a rule "lying is always bad" shortcircuits moral reasoning. You disagree, but you shouldn't assume that parents who push Santa Claus think that they're lying in the most simplistic sense of the word and just do it anyway. We can see a difference between mythical cultural traditions (call them lies if you want) and not telling the truth when it's called for. If you can't--go your own way, but don't teach your kids that other kids are "duped" and that's a reason to be joyful. It's offensive and ungenerous to parents who are trying just as hard as you are to do a good job.

2:26 PM  
Blogger dgm said...

whoa, didn't mean to offend. i apologize if you and other readers took my words as a personal attack. i like to explore ideas and traditions, especially those that don't make sense to me. you are right to point out that this topic is important to me and how i raise my kids; i see that it's just as important to others. i should have been more sensitive to that.

i'm not advocating a general "lying is always bad" rule; obviously there are some situations that call for it. but i don't see those situations at play here. my concern about these cultural myths is that although adults think it is fun and magical for the child, what do you do when the child finds out? from the child's perspective, where is the fun and magic in that? it's only much later that they realize the parents were just engaging in cultural tradition. but for many kids, it is traumatic, and they feel their parents have betrayed them. i know lots of people who can still remember when they learned there was no santa. it didn't screw them up for life, but it was traumatic enough that they can still remember the feeling, which lingered until they were old enough to realize what was going on. i'm concerned about what that does to a parent-child relationship.

as for "teaching my daughter that other kids are duped", we don't teach her that at all. in fact, what we tell her about all these things is that they are age-old customs and myths, that many people believe them (which she knows through social studies) and that that is okay. we adamantly tell her it is not her place to interfere with those teachings.but at at almost 7, yes, she is happy to think she knows more than her peers (as many girls that age are) but we don't "teach" her that that is something to rejoice in. in fact, we try to downplay it because we understand others have their own way of doing things. ultimately can't control what she feels and thinks. we can only serve as guides.

7:23 AM  
Blogger Anne Zelenka said...

I found this news story from last week about an anti-Santa Scottish artist:

Kind of interesting and timely for us!

I don't know anyone who felt devastated on learning about Santa Claus. I'm sure they must exist, but my husband and I have only good memories of Santa. And we've built some great memories in our own family too. My eldest is nine, so we've had a few years of it. Now we get to see him introducing Santa to his sisters. It's fun. Maybe it sounds just awful to you. But we really like it, and I have very good feelings surrounding the Santa myth.

I don't have much to say one way or the other about the Tooth Fairy. She's kind of a hassle, actually, but my son and I once had a really funny discussion about what she might do with all those teeth.

Anyway, I figure my kids will be in a therapist's chair at some point complaining about me. If it's about the lie of Santa, so be it. Gotta' give them some material. Meanwhile, like I said, it's fun and it's giving us some good family memories.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Marjorie said...

I'm waaaay behind here. I wanted to answer Anne's earlier questions about lying. As I think she knows but our other readers may not, I have the biggest problem with Santa and the Easter Bunny because of the tie-in to Christian holidays. I won't tire our readers here with my spiritual/religious ramblings, but I'll probably post on this topic on my other blog, unclimber.

As to lying generally -- I was brought up in a zero tolerance household and was also in an abusive relationship with a compulsive liar, so my views reflect those experiences. Perhaps if my parents had lied to me, I would have recognized my ex's lying earlier.

I also wanted to mention Kristen's comment. I've been reading a lot about Waldorf education and that includes lots of fairy fantasy play. I don't think I have the creativity to come up with the stories, though I don't pass judgment on those who do. I was recently telling Suzanne that the dogwoods were barking, she thought it was really funny -- it telling tales of fairies brings that kind of joy, I can see why people do it.

Jury is still out on the tooth fairy but I think its going to be a non-issue in our house -- Suzanne has had no exposure to it. Santa and the Easter bunny? Well, I'd rather spend my time teaching her Christianity.

5:18 AM  

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