She woke up that morning and found a few dollars under her pillow where she had left her tooth the night before. The questions started immediately:
“Mommy, is the tooth fairy even real? I mean, fairies aren’t real, right? So why would there be a tooth fairy? Have you and Daddy just been taking my teeth and keeping them somewhere secret?”
My immediate reaction was almost one of guilt: admit nothing! Deny it all! But instead, I took a deep breath and said, “Can I tell you the truth, honey?”
She, bleary-eyed and bed-headed, swung her feet over the side of the bed, somehow sensing that this was important enough to get out from under the covers. She nodded.
“Yes, honey. The tooth fairy is pretend.”
A lot of thought went into that moment. When she was born, my husband and I had a lot of talks about what traditions we would and would not be carrying on in our family. The tooth fairy? Easter bunny? Santa Claus?
I went around and around and around in my mind about what to do. I’ve heard people warn that allowing her to believe in Santa and the tooth fairy and whoever else – only to snatch that belief away from her – could harm her relationship with God. They told me that if she finds out they’re not real, she’ll naturally begin to doubt that Jesus is real.
And I seriously considered that, but in the end my husband and I decided that a little bit of childish pretending wouldn’t hurt her. After all, we both grew up in homes frequented by all three of the aforementioned characters, and we still have faith that God is not only real, but that He is actively moving and working in our lives.
I can’t lie and say I had a strategy for how and when to tell her the truth, though. My husband and I never did really come up with a plan for that. So when she started asking questions the other day, I was both nervously unprepared and strangely relieved that the time had come to address the issue.
And as I watched her process that information in the dim early-morning light of her bedroom, I felt confident in our decisions. I had expected there to be a sadness in the moment, like I was watching the innocence forever fade from her eyes. After all, once you’ve said that, you can’t go back. You can’t unsay those words. (And I’m bracing myself the conversations about the jolly man in red that are bound to come up over the next couple of months.)
Honestly, though, it felt good to tell her. It wasn’t sad. Yes, a part of me had wanted to lie and for the game of pretend to go on. It’s fun, and while she believes in things like that, she’s still little. She’s still ours and innocent and naive and hopeful. So yeah, I kind of wanted to lie and keep it going.
But there is something I want more than fun. There is a bigger goal here, and it has nothing to do with mythical creatures who break into your house. (It’s really all very strange, if you think about it.)
I want my daughter to trust me.
One day, the questions about the tooth fairy are going to be replaced with questions of faith or sex or alcohol. When that time comes, I don’t want there to be any precedent for her to not trust me. I don’t want there to be any history of me looking her in the eye and lying. I don’t want her to ever wonder, “Well, she lied about that, so what about this?”
I want communication to be open. I want her to keep talking. I want her to keep coming to me with questions, knowing that I’m going to be honest. I want her to know that I’ll tell her the truth, even when it’s hard.
So the tooth fairy won’t be coming back to our house, and it’s bittersweet. Yes, we’ve lost some of the carefree whimsy of childhood….but in deepening our relationship and adding a cornerstone to her trust in me, I have to believe that something much better is coming.
All of this might not be how you would have handled it, but it really feels right for our family. And I know how it goes when we – those who call ourselves “moms” – read something like this. We begin justifying our own choices, second-guessing our decisions, and judging what someone else may have done.
And so friends, I offer you this today, in place of whatever guilt or defensiveness or judgment you may feel about your own parenting decisions: we are all doing the best we can for our families. Let’s not compare or overanalyze each other’s choices in light of our own families. I have goals for my daughter and my relationship with her and for the woman she will grow up to be. You have your own goals for your children and their lives. Do what will get you to your goal. Pursue the dream God has given you for your family. For your children. For your life.
Because day by day, minute by minute, we’re all going after a bigger goal, right? We’ll each get there, one little moment and one hard conversation at a time.
With blessings for your journey,