As a parent, it's pretty easy to make mistakes, especially around the holidays. Last year, in my excitement to establish new family traditions with my then one-and-a-half-year-old son, I completely ignored his personality and forced him to sit on Santa's lap for a photo. This is something I still feel guilty about and will never do again.
My son is quiet and kind. He loves people, but he also needs a second to get used to those people when they first meet. Despite knowing this, I was so eager to get that coveted photo of him sitting on the jolly, fat man's lap that I forced him to do so while kicking and screaming.
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I now know that this was a terrible way to treat my son. He trusts me completely. I am his mom and it's my job to protect him from anything bad, confusing, or hurtful, and yet I was willing to let him scream and cry because of a silly holiday tradition. Tears streaming down his flushed cheeks, he kept reaching out for me to save him from the terrifying man he didn't know.
This experience is what made me realize once and for all that children should never be made to be uncomfortable just for a silly picture. We try and tell children to be weary of adults and to watch out for strangers; then we tell them, despite their wishes, to go sit on a random man's lap. It's mixed messages at best. It's downright cruel at worst.
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Every year I see photos on fridges, on social media, and in holiday cards of crying children with Santa that are supposed to be funny. And, thanks to movies and photos from our own childhoods, that's exactly what we've been made to believe . . . that it's funny. I worry that this photo in and of itself has become a right of passage, something that every parent tries to check off in their laundry list of must-have pictures. But children are not props, and forcing a tearful photo is irresponsible.
If my son ever gets to that stage where he adores Santa and wants to sit next to him, that's fine and I will honor his wishes. Until then, I'm not going to exploit my child's tears for a humorous photo to share with friends.