Childrearing

Once Your Child Stops Believing In The Tooth Fairy, The World Is All Lies

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tooth under pillowMy child turned a pretty significant corner this summer after losing her sixth tooth; she officially knows that the tooth fairy is bullshit. Now she wants to know what else I’ve lied to her about.

My daughter is almost eight, so I knew this day was coming soon, but I still wasn’t totally prepared. She lost the tooth, which she stuck under her pillow in exchange for some cold, hard cash, which she got. The next morning, here’s the conversation we had:

“Mommy, if you were the tooth fairy, where would you put my teeth?”

“I suppose I would make a huge castle out of discarded incisors, why?”

“No I mean if you were actually the tooth fairy.”

I would actually build some sweet turrets.”

“But where would you put them?”

“Someplace special.”

“Mom, I know my tooth is in that box over there. I know there’s no such thing as the tooth fairy.”

Holy wow. Okay. She went on to tearfully explain that she’s known for awhile that there’s no such thing as a tooth fairy, because fairies are fantasy creatures. She confessed that she figured it out the last time she lost a tooth and was crying because she felt bad that she grifted accepted money from me and her dad.

I told her it was no bigs, the tooth fairy might not be real but the idea of celebrating milestones like lost teeth is totally legit, and as long as she promised not to spill the beans at school, there was plenty more hush money where that came from.

Great. Done. Little to no trauma incurred. Until the next day.

This was when she, while following the breadcrumbs, realized that there was no Santa Claus either. I was kind of hoping she wouldn’t piece it together until December but she did, and so we had to talk about it. She told me to think about it, even with time zones to consider, there was no way Santa was dropping down every chimney in one night.

I congratulated her on figuring it out, repeated the sentiment that the idea behind Santa Claus is for real, and that she had to let her friends come to their own conclusions about the big guy. But this time she wasn’t about to let it go.

Now she wants to know what else I’ve lied to her about. Not in like a traumatized, everything you’ve ever told me is suspect kind of way, but in a wink, wink, nudge, nudge sort of vein.

“You have to brush your teeth or you’ll get cavities.”

“Really, mom? Or are you just saying that?”

It’s the same with getting to bed on time, practicing her handwriting, putting a bicycle helmet on, et cetera, et cetera, world without end, amen. I honestly don’t think she’s playing me, she’s just a little jaded all of a sudden. It’s not like these are things she balks at doing, it’s just that she now questions the legitimacy of them.

Every little thing could be a ploy on my part, a sneaky, fantastical way of getting her to do what I want her to do. She’s been reading up on cavities to try and poke holes in that story, asking an awful lot about why we need sleep to function. I’m pleased that she exercises a healthy degree of skepticism, but my hair is also coming out in thick chunks from the stress of it.

I’d like to state for the record that I always felt a little weird perpetuating the whole magical creatures thing, but I did it anyway because of the magic of childhood and all that. I’d do it again, honestly, because it was fun while it lasted.

Now I just have to think of a way to convince her that yes, humans really do need the occasional shower, no kidding, promise. No, seriously. Go take a shower.

(Image: fotocrisis/Shutterstock)

26 Comments

  1. Melissa Lepley

    August 18, 2014 at 10:08 am

    This is how I became an atheist. Not even kidding.

  2. Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

    August 18, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Parenting Beyond Belief actually had two essays from opposing viewpoints on whether to perpetuate beliefs in mythical creatures or not, and I liked both of them.

    The first was a quite simple premise: Why would you ever lie to your children?

    The second was a defense of using questioning of these creatures to model how we can question anything, no matter what it is. The second is my preferred way, not the least of which is because we’d already been doing mythical creatures for years. But one of the things he says is, “Encourage the kid to question, and don’t give them a solid question unless they ask directly.” I think that’s crucial. When I first started questioning Santa Claus, I asked my mom, and she just came out with it. I was crushed. I really think if I’d had time to adjust to it by questioning it myself, I’d have been less impacted by it. At that moment, I did still believe–so it was like having a rug yanked out from under me. No lasting trauma, however.

    I love the way you handled it, even in the face of being quite surprised by it. She questioned, you answered, let her come to her own conclusions. Answered truthfully when she came out with it. And now she knows that y’all are the reason for the magic, and I think there’s something truly beautiful in that.

  3. Samantha Escobar

    August 18, 2014 at 10:17 am

    If it makes you feel any better, I deliberately made my parents feel guilty for lying to me (I was an asshole 7-year-old).

    I determined Santa was not real one Christmas via some snooping, but waited until Easter to reveal myself. My mom and aunt were downstairs while I was in bed, so I creeped down under the false pretense of needing a glass of water. I barged into the living room and gasped: “And…and SANTA?” I exclaimed, with what I can only assume was horribly poor acting, then ran back to my room with faux outrage. I ate the candy the next day regardless.

    Conclusion: Kids are totally not innocent and lying to them is okay because someday, they’ll have to do it, too, and they’ll be happy you did it for them. <3 (Read also: Why Sam Escobar Probably Shouldn't Be A Parent Yet.)

  4. chickadee

    August 18, 2014 at 10:37 am

    My kids never believed in the tooth fairy because I was crap at remembering to retrieve the teeth. They loved and believed in SC for years, though. Fortunately for me, they never thought that encouraging them to believe was tantamount to lying to them. But I told plenty of lies about why we couldn’t get certain revolting children’s shows on OUR tv….

  5. Bleu Cheese Bewbs

    August 18, 2014 at 10:39 am

    When I finally told my daughter the tooth fairuy wasn’t real, she gigled and said that she also knew the Easter bunny wasn’t real because she caught us placing an egg next to her pillow why she slept. That little joker kept that secret for 3 years, presumably because she didn’t want the Easter goods to stop flowing.

  6. Alex Lee

    August 18, 2014 at 10:46 am

    “Follow the money”

    We were at an extended family brunch – about 15 of us altogether. My daughter’s tooth came out during a bite of strawberry waffle. Right then, the money started raining down.

    She collected $11 for that one tooth.

    She no longer asks about the tooth fairy. She also knows that $11 is not the usual exchange-rate for teeth.

    I’m not claiming innocence for trying to put-one-over on my daughter. Parental privilege, I say. But I also accept her saying “Really?” after everything I tell her.

  7. LadyClodia the Modest Rat

    August 18, 2014 at 10:48 am

    I figured out about Santa because I recognized my mom’s handwriting on the present tags, and I must have been 6 or 7. This is a terrible story, but I remember when I was 8 and a group of us were teasing a classmate for still believing in Santa. That wasn’t OK, and I definitely agree with telling kids that their friends need to come to their own conclusions. We haven’t had to do the tooth fairy thing yet, but my 5yo is anxiously awaiting his first lost tooth, but we will do it. I think we still have a few years before we have to address that they’re all just make believe. I hope I handle it as well as you did, Theresa. 🙂

    • js argh

      August 18, 2014 at 11:12 am

      GASP. Did you go to a small Catholic school?

    • LadyClodia the Modest Rat

      August 18, 2014 at 11:15 am

      lol, No, just regular-sized public school.
      Edit: Oh, I see your other comment now. Mine happened on the bus. So thinking about that there was probably collateral damage to other kids too.

  8. js argh

    August 18, 2014 at 11:10 am

    I believed all the way through 3rd grade, when I got ridiculed at lunch for still believing in Santa Claus. I was still a hardcore believer because my sister was convinced she’d seen Santa taking a nap on our couch one Christmas Eve. (Full disclosure: my dad is roughly the stereotypical shape of Santa.)

    It was doubly traumatizing because I didn’t figure it out myself AND I got made fun of for it.

    Dunno. Still undecided how we’ll approach it with our kidlet. She’s still too young to understand or care yet, so I guess we’ve got some time.

  9. allisonjayne

    August 18, 2014 at 11:17 am

    I was on the fence about the santa/etc stuff, but we ended up doing it because I figure that most kids enjoy the magic and aren’t too upset when they figure it out. I know a couple of adults who say they felt totally cheated and angry when they found out, but the majority of folks I have spoken to say they were happy their parents cared so much to do that for them.

    I personally remember feeling a bit like, “oh shit my parents have spent a CRAP TON of money on me for xmas all these years then” and feeling kinda guilty about it, but I certainly wasn’t upset with them for giving me all those years of believing in something magical and unreal.

  10. LiteBrite(UterineDudebro)

    August 18, 2014 at 11:38 am

    My son is in the process of losing various teeth. I’m not sure if he truly believes the tooth fairy is real or not. What I do know is that even if he thinks the tooth fairly is a bunch of B.S. he’s not going to let on because cash for teeth is a pretty sweet deal.

  11. Misericordia Storm Van Dette

    August 18, 2014 at 11:54 am

    I actually found out that everything wasn’t real when my parents allowed me to sit and watch South Park with them..coincidentally an episode about the tooth fairy was on and it went down from there.

    But they kept up with the whole charade on Easter and Christmas etc all the same 🙂

  12. Lackadaisical

    August 18, 2014 at 11:56 am

    My kids never swallowed the tooth fairy myth but absolutely believe in father Christmas. I have no idea why one is plausible and the other is crazy, perhaps it is because Father Christmas gives more loot and kids are mercenary.

  13. K2

    August 18, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    I gotta admit I find Santa and the tooth fairy belief rather silly.. I would hope no kid ever asks me if they’re real, because I’d have to avoid the question to not annoy anyone. :p I didn’t believe in them ever.. Especially since we didn’t have a chimney. 😉

    • js argh

      August 18, 2014 at 12:07 pm

      My husband’s mom used the response, “I don’t know, honey, what do YOU think?” Apparently it worked really well for him and his brothers.

    • leahdawn

      August 18, 2014 at 3:41 pm

      That is my favorite response anytime a child asks me a moral/ethical/fictional creature related question. It gives you a good idea of where they are at and helps to structure the conversation to an appropriate level.

    • K2

      August 18, 2014 at 6:37 pm

      Good point. I’ll remember that.

    • Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      August 18, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      Not to mention, how awesome is it for a GROWN UP to value what you think? 😉

    • js argh

      August 19, 2014 at 12:10 am

      I think this is one of the many reasons why they did an excellent job raising my husband.

    • leahdawn

      August 19, 2014 at 3:44 pm

      Exactly. I haven’t had to answer the “where do babies come from?” question myself, but I think this would be a good tool for that issue too!

  14. joanne

    August 18, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    My bestie has always told her kids there’s no such thing as the Tooth Fairy or Santa. But she’s quick to tell them that SOME people do believe in these things and that’s okay. We don’t talk about our beliefs because it is rude. She gave them the same story about God. I did, just for fun, sign a present I gave the girls “Jack Frost” since we had just watched that holiday movie. Of course they knew it was me tricking them.

  15. Jezebeelzebub

    August 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    LJ was eight when I decided to come clean about my lies. She was like, “Uh, I KNOW that already, and I also know that Justin Beiber doesn’t give you ear cancer.”

    So then I said she may be right about SC and Tooth Fairy and all, but the American Cancer Society was still doing research on ear cancer and Justin Beiber and that nobody was 100% sure yet that he *doesn’t*.

    • Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      August 18, 2014 at 11:17 pm

      I’m stealing that one, only it’s going to be One Direction.

  16. KatDuck

    August 18, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    My husband had the crisis-of-faith version when he found out his parents had *gasp* lied to him while I figured out Santa when I was 3 and was mostly annoyed that my parents didn’t put more effort into the myth than they did.

    I retaliated by ensuring my younger sibs believed well past the age when their peers had figured it out. One of them hasn’t fully forgiven me for the psychological warfare.

    But I’ve always been one for stories and that line between the real and the fantastic and, besides that, I grew up going to Disneyland and so I already had a category for “make believe real.” Plus, again, my parents weren’t actually very good at creating the myth so I didn’t feel lied to. I did really humor and encourage my mom when she tried to make it a bit fantastic, however, and wished that she’d done more because what she did was fun and magical but it always stopped way short of where I wanted to take it. Still, I’m glad she tried and I’m also rather proud of 3yo me for seeing the logical incongruities.

  17. Kathryn Mackenzie

    August 18, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    When I was 7 my mother told me I wasn’t allowed to tell my then 3-year-old brother that Santa wasn’t real. We had a huge fight, because I thought it was unfair that I got punished if I told lies, but they were allowed to lie to us. (It ended with me being smacked for yelling at her, and sent to my room).
    As an adult, I still have issues with the whole Santa/tooth fairy/easter bunny thing, especially when kids reach the point where they are asking if it’s real, and the parents keep telling them yes, instead of telling them the truth.

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