Friday, December 11, 2009

What Not To Do

Recently I have caved on one of those parenting principles that I said I'd never do: use Santa as a disciplinary tool. But, people, I'm tired - so tired - and Finn is still running us ragged.

So about two weeks ago, when Finn was under the table, naked, and we were already late to get out the door to school, I heard myself say: "SANTA IS WATCHING! If you don't come out of there by the count of three, I'm calling him and telling him you're having trouble listening!!"

He scurried out, saying "sorry, Momma".

I realize this is complete manipulation on my part, and that his response and apology don't really count. It's bribery in its most desperate form. But with two weeks to go until Christmas and an unruly four year old ... I didn't care. I just wallowed in one whole week of good behavior .. with any hint of trouble I'd threaten to call Santa and he'd snap to attention.

It left me with an icky guilty feeling. I'd like to believe I have the smarts, patience and ability to be a more proactive parent. I've always been so-so on the whole Santa thing, anyway, preferring to give vague answers to the increasingly difficult questions about how he really delivers all those presents in one night, and how elves know how to make video games.

But, like many questionable tactics employed by parents everywhere, it was destined for trouble. A few days ago he was, once again, giving me a hard time as we were trying to get to school. I gave him a stern look, and told him to behave or I'd call Santa.

He peeked out at me from under the table, with a sly grin. "Go ahead, Momma. Call him," he said.

I blinked twice. "I will, Finn, if you don't come out now!"

He said, "Dat's okay. Call him."

I picked up the phone, thinking to myself: I totally deserve this. I pretended to dial, asked to speak to Santa, and announced to the dead air on the other end of the phone that Finn was having trouble listening. Finn giggled.

"So, Santa, you're saying that if Finn doesn't start listening better, you'll know about it?" I fumble. I don't actually want to say that he won't get presents; I'm uncomfortable with that, and Finn knows it.

"Thank you very much, Santa, I'll tell Finn," I continued, stalling for time and thinking madly: tell him what?

I hung up the phone and looked down at Finn. He has a huge grin on his face. "What did Santa say, Momma?" he asked.

"He said you need to listen better, and that he's watching you," I say. "He wants your listening to get better, and soon."

"So, if I don't listen bettah, I'll get coal for Christmas?"

I don't want to say yes, and I don't really know why. I'm so deep into it now, so far afield from any parenting tools I ever possessed, that I say, "he said if you don't listen better he'll call you himself and talk to you," mentally ticking through a list of men with gravelly voices I could actually get to do this.

Finn ponders this. "I'll listen bettah," he says. "But if Santa does want to talk to me, I going to tell him that you yell too much and you should get coal, too."

"Fair enough," I reply, thinking: at this rate coal is what I deserve.

Later that day Greta and Finn are playing in the next room, and I hear Finn tell Greta that he wasn't listening and that I called Santa. "She DID? You better be good now, Finn," she says. "It's a big deal if Momma has to call him."

A few minutes later she comes up to me and whispers in my ear, "Good thinking, Momma." My heart skips a beat - has she figured it out? Is this her way of telling me she doesn't believe in Santa anymore?

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"I know you didn't really call him," she says.

I gulp. "You DO?"

"Yes," she grins at me conspiratorially, "there are no phone lines to the North Pole."


  1. Good one, Greta!!

  2. I'm laughing, for many reasons, but mostly because I can identify as it is exactly our situation...unruly 4 y.o. boy, threats about Santa, me feeling badly/guilty.
    No advice, just know that you are not alone.

  3. You know, I have been using this on my 7-year old son and don't feel guilty AT ALL. I will take all the help I can get, even if it's from Kris Kringle. :)

  4. I've done it occasionally too. I try not to but I'm a big believer is using the cards before you!

  5. Seriously, you're so not alone in this. There are so many worse things you could be doing, this isn't even a stye in the eye of the grinch:)

    I don't know if you've ever heard of Terry Pratchet, but he wrote a story called "The Hogfather", which is set in the fictional world of Discworld. The Hogfather is basically thier Santa. The characters are weird and wacky, but he makes an excellent point about why Santa is important-learning to beleive the little lies (e.g., Santa) helps you beleive in the big ones (i.e., justice, mercy, and other abstract concepts you can't see or touch but which are necessary for civilization).

    Kids are supposed to listen to thier parents, so they grow up to be responsible adults. If listening to Santa helps them practice listening to Mom, maybe there are worse things to worry about.

    Hang in there! I'm totally going through this with my little boy too, I know exactly what you're talking about. Except we don't have naked boys under the table, we have them in the living room. Which faces the street, and has lots of windows. But no curtains.

    I so get it.

  6. Oh man, do I ever remember using whatever tool in my arsenal to get my kids to shape up. I still say parenting is a marathon. Hang in there. I wish I lived close by so I could have Finn and Greta over for an afternoon - on one of those days when you think you deserve coal but really, you just need some support.

  7. Using Santa as a disciplinary tool is wrong? I'm going to pretend I never read that! Having had to give up most of my manipulative techniques since getting sober, I relish the opportunity to do so with my children whenever possible. My friends and I were just joking the other day that since invoking the name of Santa seemed to work so well, we were going to use Cupid, the leprochauns, and even Christopher Columbus throughout the rest of the year. I need any support I can get!

  8. Christopher Columbus! Haha, I am SO using that! :)

  9. OMG my husband made NUMEROUS "calls to Santa" in the week before chirstmas this year about our 4-year-old boy!!!!