There is a really worrying double standard in how many people treat children.  On one hand they tell children that lying is wrong and bad and punish children who are caught lying.  On the other they tell their children about Santa and the Easter Bunny with a straight face, and in some cases punish the children when the children figure out the truth.

I am of a very firm belief that this really has to end.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a storyteller at heart, and I love those stories, but one does not have to believe that stories are true in order to enjoy them.  I’m really not saying that we should strip our homes of porcelain Santas and Easter Bunny nests, but that we should stop treating these fictional beings as if they were real when around children.

I actually believed in Santa up until I was fifteen or sixteen years old.  Of course I knew from when I was five or six that my father always went away, and then he came back dressed very funnily and tried to sound like someone else, and when we finally pointed this out to him, he told us that we were wrong.  And one year he stayed at home.  Santa time was approaching and he just sat there, and we wondered how this would work up until our neighbour came in dressed up as Santa.  It must be added that our neighbour was a woman in her fifties or something, whom we knew very well, and of course we immediately recognised her…

After all this, I still believed in Santa.  Our family is just not a very good one, I thought.  My father and mother were often fighting, my brother and I were certainly fighting a lot, bad things were generally happening all around and Santa just hated us.  My father had to dress up like him to hide this fact from us, because there could be no other reason for all the adults to behave like this.  I knew lying was wrong, and I saw no reason why they would lie to me about something like Santa.

I finally figured out that the whole Santa thing itself was a lie, and it felt like a great relief.  I finally understood that through all these years, I had not just been shunned and hated by some unknown, mysterious man dressed funnily in red; I had just been misled by people I thought I should have been able to trust.  (But by then a lot of things had happened, so this was not very traumatic.  Back then I was not on very good terms with my family either, nor did I trust them very much.)

This could be a short, tragic entry about one particular thing or I could go on.  I think I will go on, because I still have tea left in my mug and the tea is still warm.  So, I will talk to you about the troll who we sometimes saw when out with our daycare carers…

When I was still at daycare, sometimes the carers took us children out into the forest, and there was this troll living in the forest.  We would play around for a while.  The troll had this tiny tent-like home made out of branches.  All was fun and games until someone made the “mistake” of seeing through the elaborate lie and said out loud that the troll was obviously Caretaker*, who for some reason never came with us to the forest, but always had to stay in the daycare facility.

After that, there were no more visits to see the troll.  We were still taken to the forest now and then, of course, but we never saw the troll again.  Not only did we lose a playmate, but it was as if the story itself was not worth telling any more now that we knew it was no longer real.  As if deceiving us had been the point – the sole point of it all – not for us to have fun.

Sometimes I would walk by on the way home from school years later, or when I was out on my own adventures; the crude, branch-made tent-thing still stood there, and I couldn’t help but feeling sad and ashamed when I saw it.  As if it was somehow my fault that Caretaker* no longer wanted to dress up as a troll and play with us.

Seeing through the lie in this case got us punished by taking something which had been very fun away from us.

It can be worse than that, though.

I have heard about a boy** who didn’t believe in the Easter Bunny and told adults about it.  He had figured out that there was actually no Easter Bunny but got told by the adults that if he didn’t believe in the Easter Bunny this omnipresent rodent would somehow know about him not believing in it, and he would be left without candy.  The boy knew that the Easter Bunny was no real and that by extension unable to give anything to anyone, and that the candy must come from somewhere else.
Everyone got their candy but him, and when he asked about it he was told that he didn’t believe in the Easter Bunny, so there was no candy for him.

Eventually he burst out; “I believe, I believe in the Easter Bunny!” and he got his candy.  I’m quite sure he still didn’t believe in the Easter Bunny and that it was an act of desperation to get the adults to carry on with their mass psychosis in which there are somehow omnipresent magical rodents and all-seeing old men dressed in red who somehow know which children are “good” or “naughty”.  I’m sure he just didn’t want to be punished for not being in on it.

And so we raise children who become adults which punish children for lying, and also punish children for telling the truth, all while constantly lying to them about a whole myriad of things which are quite obviously untrue instead of telling them about how the world actually works which is our duty as adults.  We are supposed to be trustworthy, to guide them, and yet we take their candy or playmates away when they aren’t in on the mass psychosis or at least pretend to be even if they know that it’s not true.

I think this really has to change.  Adults can pretend and play roles without having to justify it with elaborate lies which they then punish the children for seeing through.  Children play and pretend to be things all of the time; they can understand that a caretaker could pretend to be a troll and enjoy playing with the troll without believing it was a Real Troll.  They pretend to be doctors and astronauts and firemen and dragons when they play, and they know they are not really doctors or dragons.  They can understand things like that and enjoy them without having to believe that they are Real.  Can’t adults too just try to enjoy it for the stories and the games they are without having to convince children that those stories are real?

Children are better and smarter than we let them be.  The world would be a much better place if we did.

We don’t have to stop telling stories to stop lying; we just have to stop telling children that the stories we tell are true.

/pao – 20 apr 2013 – 17.17

* and ** : For privacy concerns I am not writing names or too much personally identifiable information about people here, and in the case of ** I’d rather err on the side of caution.

  1. Hej. Har just läst din blogg. Förlåt att jag har ljugit för dig om tomten och påskharen m.m. Ibland gör vuxna det mot sina barn på “skoj”. Mot bättre vetande. För det är ju som du säger att man lär barnen att inte ljuga och gör det sen själv. En förklaring till detta kan ju vara att man kanske tappat bort sig själv på vägen till att bli vuxen. Trots att man lovade sig själv att aldrig glömma hur det var att vara barn så gör man ändå samma sak. Man förstår inte vilja konsekvenser det får. Tack kära dotter för att jag får vara en del av ditt liv. Jag älskar dig. Kram

    [Pao’s edit note: I have translated this comment in Swedish into English and put it here below the original comment.]

    Hello. I have just read your blog. Sorry that I have lied to you about Santa and the Easter Bunny and other things. Sometimes adults do that to their children just for “fun”. Against better knowledge. Because it is like you say that one teaches children not to lie and then one lies oneself. One explanation could be that perhaps one has lost oneself on the path of becoming an adult. Despite having promised oneself to never forget how it was to be a child, one still does the same thing. One doesn’t understand the consequences. Thank you beloved daughter for letting me be a part of your life. I love you. Hugs