“I can tell you all our family secrets!” my daughter announced from the back seat of the car. One of the teachers at her school lives in our neighborhood and needed a ride home.
“You don’t have to do that!” We replied in unison. Though kindergarten teachers hear their share of family secrets, and I’m sure my daughter has been the first in line to share some of her own, neither of the grown-ups in the car were interested in hearing all our family secrets on the way home from school.
My daughter ignored our plea.
“Mommy is the Tooth Fairy! But it’s a secret!”
Oh. That secret.
She lost her first tooth this summer. She told us she believed in the Tooth Fairy, so we went along with it, until bedtime. When she realized she would fall asleep and a strange Tooth Fairy figure would show up in her room and reach under her pillow, she lost it.
“Please, Mommy, tell me the truth. Are you the Tooth Fairy? I am too scared to believe anymore! I can’t go to sleep!”
When met with a decision of fear or sleep, I always choose sleep. I told her the truth. I told her that the story of the Tooth Fairy is just a story. And while we’re here, Santa is a story too. When I go in, I go all in. The truth set her free that night and she went to sleep. She woke up the next morning to a new toothbrush and a lollipop under her pillow. I asked her what the Tooth Fairy gave her and she excitedly told me, but added with a whisper, “But you already knew that, because it’s you!”
I found out the truth about Santa and the Tooth Fairy and all the mythical childhood characters when I was much older than my kindergartner. When I found out, I felt betrayed. My parents lied. Parents aren’t supposed to lie. I promised my parents that I would have children and wouldn’t lie to them like they had. I didn’t realize it’s not that simple. I didn’t realize that every kid is different. I didn’t realize that what works for one family doesn’t always work for another.
Can you tell the truth without ruining the magic?
Can you lie without betraying your kid’s trust?
Yes. I believe you can lie or tell the truth and it’s OK. Just like with co-sleeping and breastfeeding and baby-led weaning and all the things, parents have to do what works for their family.
Telling my daughter the truth about the Tooth Fairy and Santa made both more exciting to her, not less. She wants to hear the stories. We pretend together. She knows we’re pretending and the possibilities are endless. The truth works because of who she is, who we are as a family. And that’s our little secret.