Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Grandma ruined Christmas


Dear Virginia, I am so angry. When my mother-in-law looked after her four-year-old grandson for the day, she apparently told him that Father Christmas doesn't exist. He was confused and upset. She had already annoyed us by giving him a toy gun, of which she knows we disapprove. What should we do? Now I'm concerned that her stupid remark will ruin Christmas for all of us. Yours sincerely, Hilary

Virginia writes:

You feel angry! Well, I feel angry with both of you! I feel angry with your mother-in-law for trying to take the magic from a little boy's life - he is still young enough to enjoy a fantasy world. And I'm angry with you for leading the poor little chap up the garden path and insisting that Father Christmas exists, which, of course, he doesn't.

Don't either of you possess any subtlety? Aren't either of you familiar with the blurred grey area of a child's mind at this age, when things are half true and half not? No, they know there aren't really monsters, but small children still, at the back of their minds, believe them, in a vague way, to be true - or the concept of them to be true, not that they would use a word like that, of course. No, obviously you can't put spells on people - but isn't there a possibility that their parents do possess almost magical powers to make things better when they want to? No, dreams aren't real - but they do feel real.

As for Father Christmas, there's not much fun in thinking that a real man climbs down the chimney on Christmas Eve to fill up your stocking, and patently his sleigh couldn't be big enough to carry enough presents for every child in the whole world - but the idea of a man flying through the sky with a sackful of gifts is charming. Why don't you tell your son that Father Christmas might be real? You could tell him that you believed in him when you were a child.

"Some people believe in him, some don't..." you could say. "Grown-ups don't usually believe in him, but they might be wrong... Children often believe in him but they might be wrong." And you could add, "It doesn't sound likely he's true, but you never know, so it's worth putting out a glass of sherry and a mince pie for him, just in case. And anyway, it's fun."

Any bright four-year-old will know exactly what's going on, and will enter the whole spirit of the game. He'll be aware that a web is being spun to delight him - and, for a year or two, he'll go along with it. The truth will dawn on him gradually, and he'll be in the excellent position of being able to sneer at children who do believe in Father Christmas implicitly, if he's that sort of person, as well as being able to keep a pocket of exciting doubt in the back of his mind at the same time.

If I were you, I'd ask your son's grandmother to expand on her statement to your son. Ask her to peddle the same muzzy partyline. Even if she can just be persuaded to tell him that the idea is true, even if she doesn't believe he's true in real life, that will be sufficiently perplexing for him to be able to seize on the fantasy again if he wants to.

As for the gun, forget it. Unless you'd specifically told your mother-in-law about your gun ban (though if he doesn't have a gun, he'll use a carrot to shoot people with instead, you can be sure of that), she can't be blamed. One of the benefits of grannies is that they can help children to adapt to people with perhaps slightly different points of view, while loving them all the same.

Readers say:

Just reassure him

Believe me, Hilary, an older sibling could have done the job just as well, and caused just as much damage!

The answer is to (re)assure him that as long as he still continues to believe in Father Christmas, then Father Christmas will continue to do the magic and fill his stocking; if he doesn't believe in Father Christmas then he won't call, but Mummy and Daddy will do the honours instead! This way, he's in control of what he wants to believe until he gradually, and quite naturally, grows out of it.

Sarah White

Southampton

You're lying to him

Your anger should be at yourself for perpetuating this myth and teaching your child that it is acceptable to mislead him with the false statement that Father Christmas exists.

You will hardly be able to later complain when he lies to you, when you are teaching him that there are circumstances in which family members can lie to each other. You should be teaching him, by example, of the need to be truthful. Your mother-in-law is clearly aware of this and is teaching your child what you as his mother should be.

As to the toy gun, you disapprove but you are not helping him be aware of the reality of life as you are failing to take the opportunity to instruct him as to the existence of guns and their destructive capacity, and these days they need to know. Again, you are teaching him that it is acceptable to withhold information that he should clearly have. Overprotective mothers harm the child.

R L Davey

Hampshire

Belief and reality

Hilary, it's like believing in God - if you do, He is real to you and exists for you, and it's the same with Father Christmas. Tell your mother-in-law she must not interfere in people's beliefs - they find out soon enough for themselves. After all, with the many Father Christmasses about, your little boy will soon wonder whether those beards are real.

Ilse Danby

Bristol

Seeing is believing

In this instance, I would tell the four-year-old that the reason granny doesn't think Father Christmas exists any more is because he only comes to good children and not to adults. As granny doesn't see Santa any more, she thinks he isn't real, but he is. Otherwise, how would your presents get here on Christmas Day?

With the mother-in-law, I would request that perhaps she should think before acting/speaking.

G and J Webster

By email

Get a life!

Oh, for goodness sake! Stop being so precious, and get a life! I'm sure your mother-in-law didn't do anything to deliberately upset you, and I doubt your son has been damaged for life, knowing there's no Father Christmas (it's the truth, after all). And I'm sure he won't turn into a gangster because he has a toy gun!

Penny Joseph

Shoreham-by-sea, West Sussex

He'll get over it

Children quickly bounce back, so he won't be upset for long. When Christmas comes, he will be far too excited at all the presents to worry about where they came from!

Claire Jones

Leicester

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I've been going out with my boyfriend for six months and it is getting pretty serious. The problem is that he still continues to see his ex-wife and baby son. He spends lots of time with her, and even stays over, although he says that they don't have sex. I feel very uneasy about it. Can I give him an ultimatum or would that be unfair?

Yours sincerely, Helen

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

    £30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

    £15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

    Recruitment Genius: Internal Sales Executive - Hair & Beauty - OTE £25,000

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company supplies the ultim...

    Recruitment Genius: Design, Marketing and Media Manager

    £27000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence