Dear Prudence

I Saw Mommy Being Santa Claus

Prudie counsels a parent who fears that lying about Santa will hurt her daughter.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at

Q. Tell the Truth About Santa?: My husband and I are parents to a 3-year-old girl. We are divided on the subject of Santa. Right now, our daughter believes in Santa and hasn’t asked any questions about his special brand of magic. I think that once she does start asking questions, we should tell her the truth in a kind way, i.e. “The idea of Santa—of loving and giving—is very real, but he’s not a real person. But now you get to be part of the idea of Santa.” My husband thinks we should keep the story going with creative answers until our daughter is old enough to just come out and say, “I know Santa isn’t real, you guys, cut it out.” I feel very dishonest about this and worry that our daughter would feel hurt by the extreme steps we took to keep her in the dark just so we could enjoy the innocence and magic for a little while longer. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I don’t know of anyone who feels harmed or mislead by their parents indulging in the magic of Santa, the Easter bunny, or the tooth fairy. When my daughter was in kindergarten she said to me with great passion, “Mom, I have to know—I have to know!—is the tooth fairy real or is it you and Dad? I have to know, Mom!” So, I told her, but said that she had to keep the news to herself because lots of her classmates still believed and it was up to their parents to tell them. Of course, two days later I got a call from another mother, “Hey, thanks a lot, Justin is crying because your daughter told him there’s no tooth fairy.” Reality will eventually out, but there’s so much reality in this life, that one of the delights of childhood, and of being a parent, is to spread a little fairy dust occasionally. Your child will let you know when she knows. Or she may keep it from you. I know people who continued to pretend to believe in Santa for several years because they were worried about hurting their parents’ feelings.

Q. I Get It, I’m Black!: Last week, I was at a work event with a group of colleagues (I was the only black woman in the group). We were meeting a lot of people that night and some of them shook hands with everyone in the group except for me. Instead, I was treated to a “fist bump” and a “What’s up, gurrrrl?” This happens frequently enough to be annoying and incredibly embarrassing for me. I’m sure people do not mean to be offensive, but it is! How can I gracefully get them to just speak normally to me?

A: I have turned this answer over to the producer of this chat, Lindsey Underwood, who is also Slate’s social media editor. She writes:

I feel you, sista. It is incredible how many people think it is appropriate to adjust how they speak or behave when they are around people of color. From my old building superintendent who always would casually always greet me with “Hey, girl,” to co-workers asking me if I saw last night’s episode of Love and Hip Hop when we’ve never discussed the show, I know how annoying and dumbfounding these situations can be. However, most of my awkward interactions have been pretty low stakes. Since you are understandably tired of these inappropriate greetings, and they also undermine your professional status, I suggest that you pull aside any big offenders individually in the office and let them know that even if they don’t mean these greetings to be offensive, they are. I imagine your co-workers will be as embarrassed as you are and will dial back their special treatment. If the behavior continues, consider going to HR.

Q. Couples Counselors Marketing “Open Relationship” Workshops: My partner and I had been seeing a couples therapist for the past few months to try and address some difficulties in our relationship. The therapy had been helpful overall. But I received an email from the therapist, which seemed to be a mass mailing (and to my work email no less), advertising a workshop he was running for people considering “open relationships.” I felt icky, not only because open relationships was not something that had ever come up in therapy, but also because it struck me as an intrusion. It made me feel as though I was being marketed to, and that it violated our privacy. Is this a normal thing for a couples therapist to do? And regardless of whether it is normal or ethical, am I right about not feeling comfortable returning to this therapist?

A: Thanks for the reminder that it’s time for me to repeat that when I tell people to seek a therapist, that means a good therapist, not a crazy nor unethical one. Sure, it’s not easy to separate the good from the bad, and that’s for a column of its own. But if you hired a caterer who left everyone with indigestion, you would not use that person’s services again. So, too, with a therapist who violates your privacy and mass-markets a disturbing workshop. This is the kind of thing that you could consider reporting to your state’s licensing board. But if you’d just rather move on, then move on. Cancel future appointments and start the process of finding someone new. (Recommendations from friends or one’s physician, looking at the referral pages of professional associations, are a good place to start.)

Q. Busy Boss: I work for a small company with a staff fewer than 10 people. We recently got a new boss, and it’s clear he’s committed to making the business the best it can be in every way. However, when I go to his office to ask a question or give an update, he rarely looks at me. His eyes stay focused on his computer screen and it’s hard to tell if he’s even listening. I know perhaps I shouldn’t take this personally, but it makes me feel that my ideas or questions are not valued or important (and I am attempting to limit visits to his office as much as possible—it’s not like I’m knocking every five minutes). When he started here, he told the staff he has an open door policy and that he welcomes feedback. I just don’t know if this is the right thing to mention, or whether I should let it go.

A: Busy boss may have an open door policy but it actually may mean: “I hate it when you cross the threshold of my door.” He also may be an awkward person who globally has a hard time making eye contact. He may be listening in the way that’s most comfortable for him. But since he doesn’t appear to enjoy personal intrusions, use email. The beauty of that is that when he responds there is a record that both of you can refer to, and you get a more explicit sense of what he’s thinking. Do not take this personally, and do not point out, “Boss, either you don’t like me, or your interpersonal skills are lacking.”

Q. Re: Santa: When my third daughter was 9, she cornered me and asked if the tooth fairy was real. I hemmed and hawed, and gauged her feelings and hedged a bit and then admitted that I was the tooth fairy. Having been through this with her sisters, I expected the tears while she wrapped her mind around it. She then said that we’d all been lying to her. I said, no, we’d been keeping this tradition for her, and that it was important she didn’t spoil it for other children. She then asked, “Does [middle sister] know?” I said yes. “Does [older sister] know?” I said yes. Then “Does Daddy know?” Hee.

A: Who told Daddy??

Q. Re: Truth about Santa: Hi Prudie, I’m one of those kids whose parents and sister tried to keep the mystery of Santa going for as long as possible. I was 9 years old when I figured it out, and was incredibly embarrassed that they duped me for that long. I was the last person out of everyone I knew who still believed, because I trusted my family, and I felt pretty stupid. I’d err on telling the truth sooner rather than later.

A: All right, I am now hearing from people who were deeply scarred by believing in Santa even as puberty approached. OK, parents—if your kid is near double digits in age, time to get him or her off Santa’s knee at the mall and give it to ’em straight.

Q. Boxes of Land Mines: I am not a very sentimental person as far as objects are concerned. My husband is the same way. We are loving people, and cherish memories, but we don’t like clutter and both have hoarding tendencies that we keep in check by keeping trinkets to a minimum. Now that we are married and own our home, our parents are bombarding us with “special” Christmas ornaments and other keepsakes from our past. One parent also buys us things that we don’t need or particularly like because they’re a good deal. I feel fine with taking things and immediately turning around and donating them in most cases, but how do I handle taking things that I know have sentimental value to others? My stepmother is not an easy person, and traditions and holidays are a particular flame-out point for her. I already have a box of ornaments from her past that I don’t like or use, but I don’t know what to do with, and she just told us she’s bringing another box this week. How do I say “Thanks but no thanks”?

A: You are not the keeper of your family members’ keepsakes. If they don’t want them anymore, it’s more than understandable that you don’t either. Oh, boo-hoo, for stepmother and her sensitivities and her holiday meltdowns. Tell her that not only do you not have room for her previous ornaments, you won’t have room for the next delivery. Say that if she wants to get rid of them but also wants to remember them, it’s time to photograph them and put the pictures in a file marked, “Ghosts of Christmas Past.” Then whatever comes through the door that you don’t want, should go back out the door and into a donation or garbage bin, whichever is more appropriate.

Q. Re: Inappropriate Greetings: Have you tried just staring at their fist, with a look of genuine puzzlement on your face? I do this when I get the questions from the relatives about why I’m not married or in a serious relationship. If they make you uncomfortable, make them uncomfortable right back, in a quietly puzzled way. Sometimes that’s the only thing that gets through.

A: Love your solution for this and many other dilemmas!

Q. Re: Santa: Half the fun of having kids is making up ever-more-elaborate tales about Santa. Our 5-year-olds think that he is aided by GPS and demands a brief annual PowerPoint from their father and me, regarding their requests and their behavior. On Christmas Eve, we are glued to NORAD’s Santa Tracker, which is an important tool for getting them to go to bed. Constructing our family’s Santa myths has been a hugely enjoyable way of reconnecting with the kind of imaginary play we engaged in as children, and neither of us plan on giving it up for at least a few more years. If our children end up humoring us for a bit, oh well. It’s not like we’ve never humored them on anything.

A: Thanks for the endorsement of such fantasy. I’m stunned to be hearing from so many people who have never gotten over being lied to about this. There must be a whole branch of psychiatry devoted to Santa betrayal.

Q. Re: I Get It, I’m Black!: I would not pull people aside as suggested, but instead, when someone sticks out their fist, you just stick out your hand. By simply not participating in the obvious, people will understand you want to be greeted in the same fashion as everyone else. Giving the impression this hurts you, by pulling people aside, will probably hurt your career more than your feelings. Take it from a “sister” in a similar system.

A: I appreciate your take and understand your perspective. But I don’t think a private conversation pointing out the inappropriateness of the fist bump is displaying hurt. It is a polite and direct way to address something that needs addressing.

Q. Re: Boxes of Keepsakes and “Donation Bin”: I run a community center, and this time of year we get lots of very nice people driving up and offering us their used “sentimental” Christmas ornaments, kids’ games missing pieces, etc.—basically their random junk they can’t bear to part with so decide to give to a “good cause.” There are a few organizations set up to deal with this (Goodwill, for example) but for us and I suspect many others, we’ll just end up having to sort your things and take them to the dump. Relieving your guilt is not what we’re here for. Just throw it out.

A: I understand that there’s a saying that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. But if people are ruthlessly honest they will know what is trash. Don’t dump junk on organizations that have to use precious man-hours and resources to sort it out and dump it themselves.

Q. Re: Fist-Bump Letter: Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but I thought the LW was saying that the people her work group was meeting and being introduced to were doing the fist-bump greeting, not her co-workers. That would be massively awkward. I think the suggestion just to stick out her hand for a handshake is the best idea.

A: Thanks for pointing this out. The letter is ambiguous about who is fist-bumping and “What’s up gurrrrl”–ing. Indeed, if it was only outsiders and not co-workers, an outstretched hand and a small polite smile is a good response.

Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Only a few more weeks until Christmas. Santa, please, think of the children!

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