On the Tooth Fairy and other Cultural Myths

Note: I drafted this six months ago, but had forgotten about it and never published it. Now that we are into the holiday season once again, the topic has renewed relevance.

I was in a situation a while back with my daughter--who had a loose tooth at the time--where she was around other children who informed her that she needed to put the tooth under her pillow for the tooth fairy and she would get money from it. My daughter immediately informed her friends that the tooth fairy isn't real. They protested: "Yes she is!" and a few moments later my daughter came up to me saying "Daddy, they think the tooth fairy is real."

For many parents who have chosen not to participate in this cultural game, this can be an awkward moment. You've chosen to be honest with your kids and not pretend that Santa, the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, etc. are real. How do you instruct them to engage with other children who think these things are real?

To be fully honest, I wasn't prepared for this. Though this is something nearly every parent faces at some point, it wasn't really on my radar in June. Though we had chosen what we would teach our children about Santa, we had failed to instruct them on how to engage with those who differ.  After some consideration and discussion, here is where my wife and I landed on how we've decided to approach this:

We Speak Truth to Our Children

I hope it's obvious why we don't play these games with our children. Our children need to know that they can trust us and that we speak the truth. There is a day for every child who has been taught that Santa is real when they will learn or realize he isn't. When that day comes, how will they handle the revelation of that deception? What lessons will they internalize? That their parents cannot be trusted? That it's okay to tell "small" lies as long as it's fun? We seek to establish a culture of truth in our home. We're not going to compromise that for a few years of "fun" and "magic". 

(As an aside, our kids do put their teeth under their pillow, and we still go in and exchange it for a few coins, but they also know it's us doing so and not the tooth fairy. We do this because it's fun for them and us, and we have not found that to be diminished by being honest with our children).

We Encourage Our Children to Speak Truth

Some parents instruct their children that if they encounter someone who still believes in Santa, etc., they shouldn't burst their bubble or try to convince them that such things aren't real. This might be motivated by various things. Perhaps they don't want to deal with the wrath of the other children's parents. Perhaps they don't want to have to deal with the awkwardness of the situation between the children, etc. We've also decided not to play that game.

We've decided not to discourage our children from speaking truth, but rather to encourage it. If other children bring these things up, our children should not be shy about expressing their own conviction that such things aren't real. We are instructing them to have those conversations politely, and not to be mean or condescending with those conversations, but we are not teaching them to indulge the fantasy of other people just because it might make things awkward for their parents. We're not instructing them to be anti-tooth fairy evangelists; only that they should never be shy about speaking truth in love. This is a foundational principle.

Handling the Angry Parent

"Kenn, don't you know that you are only setting yourself up for angry confrontations from other children's parents? What will you say when they accuse you of "ruining the magic of Christmas" or something to that effect?"

I've decided that I will not feel bad about this. It's only awkward for the other parent because they have chosen to lie to their children. I didn't make that choice. As long as my children were polite and respectful in the exchange, I will not apologize. Rather, I would ask a series of questions:

  1. Did you have a plan for how you were going to inform your kids that these things aren't real? 
    1. Yes? When? And what would that look like? (I've never met a parent who had a plan for this).
    2. No? Then it seems to me that you weren't going to and you were counting on the fact that they would either figure it out or other children would tell them for you eventually. Why can't that be my children?
  2. Is it true that they were going to learn the truth eventually? Why is it a problem if that moment is now?
  3. Have you considered that there could be negative consequences of essentially lying to your children for some of their most formative years?

"You don't have the right to tell me how to parent" 
  1. I'm not. I'm asking questions. 
  2. By that same token, you can't tell me how to parent, and this is how I'm choosing to raise my children.
At the end of the day, I can't control how other parents will respond. My goal isn't to be antagonistic, smug, or haughty. I aim to be gracious, and yet firm in my convictions and how I've chosen to instruct my children. I hope to have the opportunity to explain to them why I've taken the approach I have:

"Look, we all have to make choices about how we parent our children. Let me explain a little bit about how we're choosing to raise ours. I want my children to grow up to be truthful, yet respectful members of society. I want them to have the ability to explain why they believe what they do but to do so with a gracious spirit. We have no malicious intent toward you or your children, but I cannot compromise the goal of who I want my children to grow up to be over this matter." 

Is This Really Worth It?

"Is this really worth it? It's not that big of a deal. Just let it go. Let them enjoy their fantasy"

We are living in a world that is increasingly forsaking objective truth for the sake of fantasies. We have boys winning girls' track meets, men winning women's beauty pageants, people making up fake pronouns, etc. Are we to indulge in those? 

Some have chosen to go along to get along. They will call a man "she" to avoid the ruckus. 
Some believe they are doing so to love their neighbor in hopes of preserving the relationship so that they may share Christ with them at a later point. 

Though some of these approaches may have noble intentions, I think they are misguided. Using fake/false pronouns concedes something that is objectively false. A man pretending to be a woman is not a "she". To say "she" when referring to him is to take part in the deception/fantasy/delusion. I have no desire to do that.

However, I do desire to be polite and respectful in every exchange. Scriptures command that we engage with unbelievers with "gentleness and respect" and for us to be "speaking the truth in love." This doesn't mean I will use fake pronouns, but it does mean I won't go out of my way to be spiteful, condescending, or rude about it.

And this is where the rubber meets the road with the tooth fairy. Just as I won't lie to my children about the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, or whatever else, so too I will not lie to them about gender and sexuality. Just as I am instructing them to speak truth in love now, I'm preparing them to engage with a world where there is so much falsehood, yet with gentleness, respect, and love. We never compromise on truth. We never compromise on love. 

I really do believe how we instruct our children on this really matters. Living with a biblical worldview will create friction with an unbelieving world. How we teach our children to deal with that friction over smaller matters prepares them for how they will engage with others on weightier matters down the road. 

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below.

P.S. Thanks for reading to the end. I tried to figure out how to work a "truth fairy" pun into the article, but I never felt like it fit. But I also didn't want that pun to never see the light of day, so I put it in the postscript. You're welcome.