Q: Our 7-year-old daughter is asking skeptical questions about Santa Claus. We have encouraged her belief in "old St. Nick" up to this point. How do we break the news to her now without coming across as total liars?
Jim: Most kids aren't as traumatized by the revelation that Santa isn't real as their parents assume they'll be. My wife and I made sure we "broke the news" to our boys ourselves. That way, they wouldn't hear it from their peers, which may have been more distressing to them and more likely to cast Mom and Dad in a bad light. Our counseling team at Focus on the Family has addressed this question, too, and recommends using language like this:
"When you were little you liked to play make-believe. I remember when you pretended to be a princess for months after watching 'Cinderella.' In the same way, it was fun for you to believe that Santa Claus is a real person when you were younger. But now you're growing up, and your understanding of the world is changing."
When you have the discussion, touch on the fact that families all over the world have stories about Santa, whether he takes the form of Sinterklaas in Holland or Father Christmas in England. You might also want to do some research online about St. Nicholas of Myra, the 4th-century Christian bishop upon whom most historians agree our modern Santa is based. Apocryphal stories about St. Nicholas abound, but everyone agrees with the general idea that he was a pious individual who gave generously to the poor.
The celebration of Christmas is ultimately centered on the birth of the Messiah. Because St. Nicholas and Jesus are both "invisible" historical figures, be sure to make a distinction between them with your daughter. Christ's birth set the stage for His life on Earth, and His eventual death and resurrection to save sinners. Even if your family doesn't embrace this view, it's certainly worth talking with your daughter about the themes of self-sacrifice and selflessness that it embodies. Helping your daughter find joy in blessing others at Christmas will likely evaporate any disappointment she may feel at the realization that Santa isn't real.
Q: I am 32 years old and have two small children. Over the past year or so, I've had random thoughts, dreams and memories of sexual abuse in my childhood. I try to ignore these thoughts, but they won't go away. It has started to interfere with intimacy in my marriage. Is it possible to be remembering something that happened so long ago?
Juli: I am so sorry for the disturbing thoughts and memories you are having! Yes, it is possible to be remembering things that happened long ago. In fact, in many cases, memories of childhood abuse can surface in adulthood, once you have had children of your own.
There is a lot of controversy in the psychological world about the accuracy of repressed memories. However, most professionals agree with the fact that highly traumatic events are stored in our memories differently than normal childhood interactions. I believe that God has given our minds the ability to temporarily block traumatic experiences that are too painful to process. As you grow and mature, you develop the capacity to process and understand things that you couldn't as a child.
Addressing traumatic memories of childhood abuse is certainly a painful and difficult process. It may be disruptive to family relationships and is likely to create stress and chaos while you are in the midst of healing. It will be very helpful for you to work with a counselor who is trained in sexual abuse recovery. In addition, you will need a strong support network to encourage you through the process. At Focus on the Family, we would love to help you find a counselor through our national referral network or to point you to excellent resources to encourage you on your journey to healing.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.)
(Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com)