Tonight, I told the truth – well, part of the truth – about Santa to Arthur, my 5-year-old son. “Santa will come regardless of you being a good boy or not”, I told him while he was in the shower, feeling sad following my rant about his last mischief. He had done some things that most of us adults would qualify as “naughty”; he thus remembered my daily threats of how “Santa sees everything and will not bring [him] his presents” if he keeps misbehaving.
Now I wondered how I went from what I describe as ‘respectful parent’ to a parent that is emotionally abusing a child by threatening his Christmas parents?
The thing is, I was not that kind of parent until I moved to France 18 months ago. In Australia, since my pregnancy with Arthur, my first child, I joined a community of parent identified as ‘attachment parents’. This group of parents adapts an approach to parenting that favors positive attachment of a child to the carers; it involves but not limited to breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping and the rejection of control-crying. In developing said positive attachment, many of us rely on our instincts and put respect as the base of any interactions and parental decisions, hence why some of us also refer to ‘instinctive’ and/or ‘respectful parenting’.
When I was in Australia, being surrounded mostly by people adopting the same parenting styles helped to keep me grounded and motivated. I was validated as the parent I chose to be. Leaving Australia, I lost all of that. France is very hierarchy-focused. Structures and strict rules and everyone knowing their places…a real cultural and emotional shock for me. The child-rearing culture here clashes fundamentally with the Christelle that I have been and want to be. Even just the idea of breastfeeding beyond 6 months, co-sleeping or even feeding my child an apple any time of the day is seen as such an offence here by the mainstream. With a mental health made vulnerable with the drastic changes in my life, I fell under the cultural pressure.
I slowly started doing everything I said I would never do. I started lying to my child, threating him, manipulating him, shamed him for mistakes, human mistakes. Shouted at him. All those things I instinctively barely did in my first 4 years as a parent with him in Australia. I think we reached rock bottom tonight when he had a toilet accident and I got angry, he immediate asked me: “Will Santa throw my toy in the bin?” I realised this child was abused. It is what it is. Yes, he is loved and cared for but no child deserves to have that kind of fear. I need to get back in touch with my instincts and make things right by my children. They deserve it. I need to be the mother that I was in Australia and not apologise for it anymore in France.
Yes, Santa has a few issues.
One would say I am still lying to my child about the existence of Santa; but my husband and I believe in keeping magical and imaginative beings that brings happiness, alive.
When the time comes, I will tell my kids about how discriminative Santa is. I have earned the right as a Black mother to shield my kids from some sad truths; there are aspects of their lives that has robbed the innocence that their white peers still benefit.
They will one day learn about how Santa is a product of a massive American corporation, appropriating a Turkish figurehead. I will preserve what I can of their childhood for now.
But what I will let them know is Santa is meant to bring happiness and not constant fear and anxiety. They will learn that their parents are meant to be their safe space, and not people in front of whom they cannot be imperfectly human. They will know that all the mischiefs they do as kids will never be as bad as the shameful things respectable adults around them do to each other.
“I am so sorry, son. Santa will come. You can make mistakes and learn from them. Santa will come regardless.”