2 years ago

On fairy tales and letting my children believe

I’m the parent who’s informed her children that Santa Claus is St. Nicholas, a Catholic Bishop who secretly gave to the poor. That St. Nicholas no longer lives on earth, but in heaven, with the Triune God, and that he prays with us and for us to Jesus. That the true meaning of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and not a fat, unaffiliated man in red sneaking into our house with his flying reindeer to bestow either gifts or lumps of coal depending on if my children are “naughty or nice”.

I’m a harsh B, I know’t.

I particularly wanted to raise my children this way because little girl Carolyn was not only devastated when she learned that Santa Claus was a farce, she later experienced a period of extreme doubt in the existence of God.  Santa was a Lie.  The Tooth Fairy was a lie. So how on earth was I supposed to think that God isn’t just the same as Santa Claus?  That we “have to be good because God is watching us”? Ffft.
What if we had to follow this Holy Book of rules out of a governmental attempt to simply create order in this world, making dumb, blind sheep of us all?
Yeah, not a particularly jolly period for Carolyn.  It kind of made a conspiracy theorist out of me. (It’s also important to note that my Dad’s a convert from atheism, my mother’s a revert, and they themselves were still catching up on the God thing while raising us, and I am the oldest, and therefore the guinea pig, and so for me, Santa was the only “spiritual” being I knew until the 2nd grade.)
Fast forward though that messy time and Mommy Carolyn now hopes to aid in removing some part of that confusion for her own children.  Though I know everyone may suffer that trial eventually, I am hoping to remain a steady source of consistent teaching of Christ in this already deceptive world.

But the reason I’m writing isn’t to discuss whether its good or bad to let my children believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny. To me it’s one of those parenting choices that each parent makes out of love and good intentions and I’m not about to argue with that, ever. The above reasons are ours, and I’m learning that parenting has a funny way of making me eat my words so bad.

But there’s the issue of fairy tales.  Of course our boys read fairy tales. But if we’re teaching them the truth about Santa, how are we supposed to approach fairy tales? Where’s the line to be drawn when letting our children grow in their wonder over fictional, magical characters? Is there a line to be drawn?

Through a succession of recent events, I’ve realized I have got to think this through deeper than fairy tales “yes” and Santa “no”. We can do this better.

Property of Carolyn Svellinger

Lexington’s 6th birthday was this past weekend, and he woke up with a stuffy nose this morning.  Of course, he could be developing a cold, but I suspect his big boy teeth are coming in and he will soon lose his first baby tooth.  Hook explained the whole losing teeth thing, and that it’s a passage into growing up, Peter Pan.

To my chagrin, Lexington lit up. “Oh! I know what will happen! I remember!  I put my tooth under my pillow and then the next morning, a fairy will have left a coin for me!”

And I’m like –no. Nope.

Of course I didn’t interrupt him.  Of course I didn’t correct him.  I told him he’d get something special for his first lost tooth and left it at that.  He seemed satisfied and went back to playing with his LEGOs, but I was bothered that while he knows the truth about the man St. Nicholas, that there is no Easter Bunny, no weird leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day, he’d somehow come to the conclusion that there is a Tooth Fairy.

Not a half hour later, Lexington was rifling through one of the many boxes stacked in what is supposed to be the dining room of our new house (an update! I promise I’ll get to it!!), and he came into the kitchen with an old, tarnished tiara.  Some of the plastic crystals had fallen out of their setting.  The center of the tiara was missing a dangling fake diamond that once hung from the jeweled heart center.  It was my high school homecoming crown. Somehow, that sucker has remained in one piece 12 years after it was first placed on my pompous little cranium, and through multiple movings, and multiple boxes. I looked at the tiara, thrown briefly back to my school years and smiled.  The thing is old, I should pitch it, I thought. I’ve got 4 boys, after all, and boys just don’t care about that kind of “what mama did when she was your age” stuff.

I looked up and noticed that Lexington and Collin were staring at me with bated breath.

“Put it on, Mom!”

In the middle of the kitchen, my dirty hair pulled back into a ratty ponytail, wearing a t-shirt that hugs my post-baby belly a little more tightly than I like, and black leggings with gold sparkles woven into the cotton from JC Penny 2 Christmases ago, I rolled my eyes and put on the tiara.
What I saw broke my heart.

My boys’ eyes lit up in a way I’ve never seen: as if they were looking at a true, real princess. Complete awestruck silence. Big, wide eyes goggled up at me, and to them I could have been wearing Cinderella’s ball gown. Even Emmett stopped with his letters to look up at me.
My heart broke and I bent down to squeeze their little faces and give them kisses.  Collin got embarrassed (Oh! His face was the best!) and ran away. Moment over.

My heart broke because I’m SUCH a tired, lazy, mommy, and I know it for a fact.  But my boys don’t. They just love me.

I know reality.  Reality’s not a tooth fairy. There are no fairies in this world. I am not a queen of any kind and certainly not a princess (for some reason, I gather to be a prince or princess is more novel for children than to be a King or Queen). And princesses hold no more mystical power in this world than a grub. But to children, they do. And to me, I want them to, too.

There are the saints.  Those are the real deal. But the path they took to get there involves a Crown of Thorns. A personal crucifixion in some form or another. No glass slippers, at least as far as I know.
And reality, the kind of reality that rose Jesus in three days, that gets my children through the gates of Heaven is profoundly heavy, impossibly simple, and frighteningly sacrificial.

In this world evil is not black and white all the time.
It’s grey. It’s comfortable and easy and convenient. It’s disguised in glamour, and celebrated as a virtue. It’s reasoned and rationalized out of appearing evil at all. The worst of it: its existence is often denied, and instead defined as personal choice. For a child, that’s terribly troubling.

Property of Carolyn Svellinger

It struck me today more than ever how impossible it’s going to be for me to teach my children the mystery of God and about their individual, unique purpose in this world without allowing them to discover the fairies, dragons, and magic in the story books in tandem with the lives of the saints.  Their tender hearts are to be molded by Craig and I, and we have to be so very purposeful about how we raise them –but not with a cold cut tongue of harsh reality from sun up to sundown.  They’ll meet that eventually, by hook or by crook.

And we don’t raise them that way. I never planned on raising them that way. I just hadn’t quite worked out how to use fiction for their eternal benefit.

We let them watch Disney movies and read magical stories to them. I am so impatient to finally introduce C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and J.K. Rowling to them, when the time comes. But I’m realizing that while I don’t have to (and probably won’t) encourage my boys to believe in Tooth Fairy/Santa/Easter Bunny stuff, I don’t have to squash out their sense of wonder over it.  Craig and I can direct their wonder to godly things. There’s a difference between reading fairy tales to my children and attempting to convince them that the characters are real and always watching us, “or else”.
The themes in these stories are very real and very important to remember.

G.K. Chesterton wrote:

“Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”

Today I came full circle, knowing that while we will still retain our teaching on Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny etc., ever reminding our boys the reason we celebrate holidays, ever practicing our Catholic faith, we have got to let our children have some dragons, some fairies, some magic. Because it’s those beautiful stories we grew up knowing and cherishing, that I can reach my boys and point to Jesus with their messages.

But of course, you all knew that already didn’t you?  Queen Elsa, always a day behind, as youzhe.



  1. I personally never saw the point in teaching my kids to believe in anything that I don’t believe in myself. I’m aware that this makes me part of a very small minority, but I’ve grown used to being a misfit.

  2. Loved this post, Carolyn! I am new to your blog (found through Haley over @ Carrots) and have really enjoyed poking around.

    In particular, this post was very helpful for me. My sister-in-law and her husband don’t do fairy tales or santa or any “make believe” stories with their children because they feel it’s the same as lying to them. I understand it’s their parenting choice, but I’ve been so worried about what that will mean for my kiddos when they’re a bit older — will their older cousins squash out their love of fairy tales and equate them to big lies? I’m sure it’s a conversation I’ll need to have with my in-laws someday, and I just love the way you’ve put it. So I guess this is my long way of saying thank you!

  3. Chrissy the Hyphenated June 17, 2015, 8:18 pm

    “Santa was a Lie. The Tooth Fairy was a lie. So how on earth was I supposed to think that God isn’t just the same as Santa Claus? That we “have to be good because God is watching us”? Ffft.”

    This is PRECISELY why I was “a harsh B” with my girls also. Funny thing about that … now they’re grown and can do as they please, they all have a strong relationship with the Lord, pray, read their Bibles and attend church regularly.

    1. Chrissy the Hyphenated June 17, 2015, 8:58 pm

      Addendum (now that I’ve read the whole thing … after pausing to comment urgently on that one bit that just SPRANG OUT LOUDLY!) … this is BEAUTIFUL!!!!

      Your tiara tale reminded me of the Easter we got our three girls fairy princess crowns to celebrate the FACT that God is the King and we are brothers and sisters to Jesus, His Son, which makes us all in actual FACT, real live princes and princesses! They were wonderful crowns … circlets of twisted wire covered with flowers and shiny stars and ribbon with tails of tulle and ribbon hanging down in the back. ::sniff:: Thanks for reminding me. :)

      Also, may I recommend stocking up on true angel stories in addition to true saint stories? I fed my kids a steady supply of saint, angel, fantasy, fairy, true life … all kinds of stories … for the reasons you say so eloquently. Plus, the Bible is full of wonderful stories and Jesus told parables often. Clearly, God LOVES stories!

      We would talk about the meanings and about which ones were true or based on something that really happened and which ones were made up but had a truth in them. It was an interesting challenge for them to sort out the difference between movies featuring a made up story starring live people and a true story told with animation.

      Another fun thing I LOVED to do was compare the book and movie versions and talk about how the medium affected how the story was told. When they were older, we looked at movie and books from different eras and talked about how the way the stories were told were influenced by and spoke to the culture of that time and place.

      My girls grew up with the Harry Potter books coming out … the agony! (I felt for Tolkien’s fans who had to wait for each publication!) They were adults when the movies began appearing. We had SUCH fun with them, but I got the extra fun of them being older and wise and thoughtful enough to have real insights to share that I hadn’t thought of myself. :)

      The summer before the first HP movie came out, my eldest was working in a restaurant near Tanglewood in western Massachusetts. A customer gave her his ticket to that night’s concert, because he wouldn’t be able to go. She only caught the second half after her shift, but she was so THRILLED by it, she called me at 1 am to gush!

      (There’s me thinking, “My KID is not just gushing about a concert of CLASSICAL music … but she called ME to gush at! Wow. It’s almost like I must’ve done something right, you know?!”)

      The topic of her gush was Hagrid’s Theme. She said, “I wasn’t planning to go to the Harry Potter movie, because I don’t want to spoil my own imagery from the book. But John Williams was at Tanglewood tonight and he debuted Hagrid’s Theme and it is SO BEAUTIFUL AND SO PERFECT, now I can’t WAIT to see the movie!!”

  4. My most developed sense as an adult is still my sense of wonder (my poor eyesight and bad hearing and motor skills leave a lot to be desired), and I absolutely love this post.

  5. Beautiful post! I’m a brand new reader and so glad I found you. I’ve been struggling with this ever since I took my almost 4 year old to see Cinderella. She asks me daily if she has a fairy godmother who will help her when she really needs help! It makes my heart hurt to say no, so I’ve redirected the discussion towards the idea of guardian angels. Anyway, thanks for posting and have a lovely day!

  6. Very nice post. And great reflections! We also don’t do Santa or the easter bunny in order to direct our attention to the reason for the season. But we all love fairy tales and read and watch them together! And as for your boys seeing you in a tiara…that is so precious :) Sons are heart breakers for sure. Mother son relationships are very special!

  7. Thank you so much for such an eloquent post! I have four little ones too…and you so beautifully formulated exactly what has been on my heart. My 5 year old lost his first tooth yesterday, btw! Daddy combed the aisles of the store late last night in order to produce the promised “Tooth Fairy” surprise for the morning. They learned all about T.F. from tv of course, but they also know it is really Mommy and Daddy that give them gifts. I love how you wrote about raising and forming our children in the Catholic faith…that is why I homeschool, it is so, so important to be able to guide and form them at every single moment. Thank you for a wonderful and inspiring message.


Add yours