Christmas & Adoption: Our Attachment to Myths

Christmas is a rough season for many in the adoptee community. Some reasons are obvious: focus on family, expectations of happiness… even more current atrocities like people thinking it’s “cute” to place their newly-adopted babies under trees as if they were a new pair of shoes.

For me, the holidays highlight my own pet annoyance: Our attachment to the myths and fantasies of Christmas. My beef isn’t so much that people allow their kids to believe in Santa. We carried on this tradition with our own children. My daughter believed until she was about 8 years of age.

My Santa ambivalence didn’t peak until last year. Several weeks before Christmas, I received a message from my neighbor informing me that my daughter was telling kids on the bus that Santa wasn’t real. I was upset with my daughter because she knew better, and I assured my neighbor we would have a long talk with her about it, which we did. But one thing struck me as strange- she said her 10-year-old still believed and came home upset that my child didn’t. I thought that was a bit odd to still fully believe in Santa, but shrugged it off. After all, it’s not my business how long people perpetuate the Santa story with their kids.

What happened next was when I became the neighborhood curmudgeon. Over the next couple of weeks, I was informed by three more neighbors about the bus incident. Not because their kids came home upset, but because mom #1 apparently told them they may have to do “damage control” with their own 10-year-olds. Yes, one used the term “damage control.”

I ran the story by my husband, as he’s always the first to tell me if I’m off my rocker. He validated my confusion, as he recalled writing to the kindergarteners as Santa when he was in 4th grade. I have a similar memory. It was apparent that either mom #1 was spreading the story and conveniently omitting that I knew about it, or the others were feigning “concern” so I, the offender, was properly scolded. So I passive-aggressively messaged mom #1 asking if there had been another incident, as I was hearing about Santagate 2 weeks after the fact. Of course there wasn’t, and that effectively shut it down.

What does any of this have to do with adoption? My Santagate experience highlighted a similar theme between Christmas and adoption: The pervasive belief that secrets, myths, and lies are necessary… even mandatory, for either one to be a positive experience for children. If those myths and lies are dashed, Christmas and adoption as we know them will be ruined. Ruined, I tell you!

When I was young and found out the truth about Santa, Easter Bunny, etc., I felt betrayed. Everyone had colluded behind my back for years so I could “be happy?” I know darn well my feelings had everything to do with being adopted. If they lied to me about one, they could lie to be about the other (At the time, I had no idea how right I was about this.).  Maybe it’s different for other people. My kids are no less excited on Christmas Day than they were during the believing days. Maybe it’s because we never invested fully in the myth like other families. I never reminded them Santa was watching or any other nonsense… I hate manipulation. Honestly, playing along with “Santa” felt a bit icky for me from the get-go since I’m very sensitive to lies, even benign ones.

I retold the Santagate story to another parent a while ago and the first words out of her mouth nailed why I was so annoyed in the first place: It’s more about them than their kids. Exactly. I would say virtually any time a parent lies to a kid, it’s about their feelings rather than the child’s. Santagate is a very benign example. Does it really matter at the end of the day how long a kid believes in Santa? Probably not. The seriousness of the two situations are not equivalent. My point in comparing Santa with lies in adoption is because in both cases, parents will insist they “do it for the children,” when they’re really doing it for themselves. During Christmas, as with adoption, the parents in question expected everyone to comply with their fantasy- well beyond its expiration date, in my opinion. The truth-tellers are the bad guys. “We only have a few good years left,” said one mother. How reminiscent this is of adoption lies and denial. The second the truth is revealed, the myth crumples. The illusion the parents wanted goes down the drain.

So that’s why I’m a self-proclaimed Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy humbug. I know I’m in the minority and I’m fine with that.

Incidentally, this year my son touched the Elf of the Shelf on the school bus. This Aquarian’s family is just ruining Christmas left and right. Passive-aggressive me secretly finds this satisfying.