Maddie has the most gigantic, happy smile I have ever seen. It’s the kind of smile that you only see on a child’s face. Unfortunately, somewhere along the road to adulthood it disappears and is replaced by the dull, weary smile of an adult.
As a parent of a very young child I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late, and wondering if there’s a way that I might be able to help Maddie somehow hold onto her smile of pure joy. The more I think about it, however, the less it seems possible. After all, look at some of the ways we abuse our children’s smiles:
We make our children smile by telling them about a jolly, fat man who flies around the world in a magical sleigh and brings them gifts…
…only for them to learn that everyone they ever trusted has been lying to them about this.
We make our children smile by telling them there is a giant Easter bunny who will drop by their home giving them candy…
…only for them to learn later that, like Santa (and all the magic in the world), the Easter Bunny does not exist.
We make our children smile by telling them they can become anything they want in life…
…only for them to learn that innumerable factors – from prejudice, to their aptitude, to the intense competition of a world clogged with 6.6 billion people – have resulted in 99.9% of adults not leading the life they hoped they would as a child.
We make our children smile by reading them children’s stories where good ALWAYS triumphs over evil…
…only to set them loose in a world where they are subject to possibly experiencing unfathomable evil.
We make our children smile by telling them that when loved ones die they go to a wonderful place in the sky…
…only for them to grow older and find that a large part of the population doesn’t believe this is actually what happens.
We make our children smile by giving them trophies simply for participating in events…
…then let them loose in a dog eat dog world where they better do a whole lot more than show up if they want to survive.
We make our children smile by telling them that if they get a college education all will be okay…
…only for them to find themselves saddled with crushing student loans and a college degree that means less and less as more and more students receive them.
We make our children smile by feeding them crap on kid’s menus, dessert trays, and at McDonalds…
…only for them to find that the world belongs to the fit and beautiful, and that eating all that crap has likely shortened their lifespan by a decade or more.
The list could go on and on…
Is it any wonder that by the time they are old enough to have children themselves their wonderful smile has been battered beyond recognition?
Now I’m not saying we should do the opposite of these things. The following scenerio hardly seems like a page out of Good Parenting 101:
Maddie: “Look at my painting, daddy!”
Me: “It’s okay.”
Me: “Yeah. It’s not as good as Beth’s over there. Now that kid has a real aptitude for art.
Maddie: “I don’t have appeee-tude?”
Maddie tears up. I place a hand on her shoulder.
Me: “Trust me, Chicken Muffin Love. It’s better to hear it now.”
Maddie: “Okay, Daddy.”
Me: “You’ll thank me later. Now run along. And consider a trade!”
Yeah…that sounds kinda horrible, doesn’t it? But the opposite doesn’t seem like the best strategy either.
I don’t have any answers, but I’ll keep looking for them. Maddie’s smile deserves it.
Well, apparently my 7th grade art teacher subscribed to the “tell it like it is” philosophy when she told my mother I had NO TALENT and should consider music class for my fine arts credit. Ummm?
It took me 30 years to pick up a paintbrush again. And when I did? It was SUPER FANTABULOUS AWESOME even if only in my eyes.
So THERE, Mrs. Cartermoore! Teach Maddie that it’s up to her to make her own happy, forget Santa and the Easter Bunny! And never lose that awesome smile!
HeatherPrides last blog post..I Just Want to Stay Off the Registry….
The love I feel for my kid is nothing if not magical, so maybe things just come full circle.
jennis last blog post..Can I Really DO This?
Oooh, this made me sad, Mike. Middle ground is always good. Life can be somewhere between The Wiggles and Batman’s Dark Knight. Keep on smilin’.
merlotmoms last blog post..The Danger Zone: My Family Better Get It Together – Or Else
Mary Beth says:
That smile deserves anything she wants! Thank goodness you put the picture in because by the end I needed a pick-me-up. Guess everything in moderation is the way to go.
Mary Beths last blog post..ALL YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT ME, AND MORE!
Ms. Moon says:
Look- that is a smile that says, “I am loved enormously and I am alive and where I’m supposed to be!”
You aren’t going to see that smile fade, believe me.
Cherish, Mike. Just keep on cherishing and Maddie will keep smiling.
Ms. Moons last blog post..Small Is Good
Sleep Deprivation Ninja says:
I am right there with you. My girl has started having laughing fits. It’s beautiful. I dread the day it becomes screaming fits and depression.
But I will not lie to my child. There is no santa claus, we won’t even talk about it until she hears it from someone else (we celebrate Yule anyway).
As for the ‘anything they want in life’ bit. I think it’s important to note that in any field, there are brilliant people and there are people who are just there. Sure there are millions of musicians and artist, but most of them suck. If you truly love what you do and pursue it all the way, it’s hard to suck.
I’m also going to flat out explain to my girl that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Paul Allen, Dean Kamen, her dad (me)…the list goes on… are all successful college dropouts.
I think the only thing I can do to help my baby be happy is to be honest and loving. Sure, she’ll have hard times with people and situations in life. I’m not going to pour frosting over a flesh wound. But she will always be able to laugh with her dad.
Daddy Dan says:
Great post, and I agree that Maddie has the most amazing smile I’ve ever seen on a baby.
Daddy Dans last blog post..Daycare Sucks
Wow, you’re not a glass half-full kind of guy, are you?
Middle-Aged-Womans last blog post..What We Have to Look Forward to in Our Golden Years
If we tell them that the story of Christmas is a lie then we have to explain about our most famous liars..Shakespeare and Mark Twain.
The Easter bunny IS real and I have the plastic eggs to prove it!
I’ve always told my children they have the right to TRY and become whatever they want.
My kids knew that when they did something for others, they always beat evil in some small way.
We tell our children that some people don’t believe in Heaven? That explains diversity in thought…a PLUS
Don’t let your children compete in activities that give them trophies for participating…it’s a choice.
Don’t tell them that all will be well if they get a college education. Only tell them that they will understand the world better by being better educated
You’ll always love every painting your child does because they do it for you.
Our greatest accomplishment in life isn’t our career, house or other self centric deeds…it’s our children.
Andrea's Sweet Life says:
Quite a thought provoking post, Mike.
With our kids, I’ve tried to be honest, and follow their lead. We reward effort (real effort – not just showing up) and we reward growth and improvement even more.
With Alison, we have a reward chart where we work on a new behavior each week. She is rewarded with smiley faces each time she repeats the desired behavior, but can also earn frowney faces if she does the “opposite” (ex: if she’s supposed to stay in her seat through meal times, but gets up). Her reward is pre-chosen by her and sits above the chart. If, after the designated time, she got enough smileys – she gets the reward. If not, well, she doesn’t get it and it goes back to the store. It’s up to HER, see? And she gets that amazing smile, all on her own, when she knows she’s earned it.
As far as religion – we are Christian, but just as I was raised accepting that there other religions out there, we are raising our kids that way. We attended a service at Alison’s BFF’s church a few weeks ago, and they had the kids saying, “Jesus is the ONLY way!”. While I understand their sentiment, that is just not the church for us, because it’s not what we believe. It’s the way WE (her parents) chose, but certainly not the ONLY way, even for our children.
Santa, the Easter Bunny – we do participate in those traditions because they are FUN, but we “wink-wink” and even take turns “being” Santa Claus. In Christmas movies when they talk about believing and having true Christmas spirit, we talk about the Christian aspect of it, and focus on that.
We do Love And Logic (www.loveandlogic.com) which helps you help your kids to make mistakes and learn from them, all with empathy from you, at a time when their mistakes are less likely to cause life-long problems. It’s a lot of “uh-oh, that’s too bad” and “what are you going to do about that?” that makes them THINK.
It’s all a crap-shoot, really. And it’s why I have frown line wrinkles now instead of a huge, gorgeous smile like Maddie! But also – look at Jackie’s! smile. Sometimes it DOES last.
Dang, sorry I wrote a book!
Thanks for all the amazing responses! It’s nice to know other parents wrestle with these questions too…and it sounds like you all have great ideas for how to explain this weird thing called life to our little loved ones. Any more responses would be appreciated!
A Free Man says:
I have a tendency to go for the pragmatic parenting approach (technically known as Party Pooper Papa) but then my partner smacks me upside the head and begins to seriously question her mate choice.
A Free Mans last blog post..Well child, are your lessons done?
So, let me get this straight:
1) Santa isn’t real
2) The Easter Bunny isn’t real
3) I’M responsible for ruining Maddie’s smile because I don’t believe in Heaven?
WELL SHIT, that just ruined MY entire freakin’ week.
As I said in a prior comment, she DOES have the best smile! I think we’re all trying to figure out the same things. I try to teach my kids that hard times are a part of life, and when you’re faced with a challenge, there is a huge opprtunity to grow from it. Do I wish I could protect them from everything? YES Do I also wish that they never had to have any bad experiences in life? DEFINITELY, YES. But I also know that as hard as it will be for me to see them struggle or be hurt in any way, it will make them stronger, more empathetic, and (hopefully) happier in the end, because I think you have to earn happiness–you have to make good choices, and learn from the choices you make that aren’t so good.
Okay, off my soapbaox…sorry.
Like Blink 182 says, “Well I guess this is growing up.”
All you can do is love love love and get joy out of the fact that because of Maddie YOU get to believe in a flying fat man and oversized rabbits again….besides it’s either she learns the truth about Santa or is that kid in 7th grade everyone’s laughing at because they still DO believe in Santa. Take your pick, Spohr.
Don’t forget the tooth fairy!
People give me the most horrified looks when I tell them that I’m not raising my kids “on Santa Claus.” I seriously don’t believe it’s necessary. Wasn’t Christmas about something else anyway? What was that?…
I don’t think it’s lying, however, when we tell our children how wonderful they are, despite aptitude. In our eyes, our children are always the cutest and best.
I think it would be very worthwhile for you and Heather to sell Maddie shirts online. I’ll take one with this picture, please.
Ok, I’m partly depressed, but partly know exactly where you’re coming from. It’s hard not to project our adult experiences on our children. But there is a part of us that needs to keep the magic alive for our children. It doesn’t matter what magic it is (tooth fairy, Santa, Easter bunny, etc.) as long as it’s a special time with our children. There is enough out there to bring them down (wait until elementary school~the “I can’t be her friend because I’m not pretty/smart enough starts young) and we need to lift them up. Not false hopes or lies, but just a real belief in our children. They are the best of what we have to offer the world.
Kristins last blog post..Cage Fighting
I have been thinking about this post for several days now. There are times for brutal honesty and there are times for magic. Isn’t that life? As we grow older, we may smile less. But the beauty of being a parent is that we get to experience the magic with our children. It just changes from Santa and the Easter Bunny to scoring the winning goal or getting your drivers license.
I would like to say that i really like your site thenewbornidentity.com a lot
now.. back to business lol
I cant say that im 100% with what you wrote… care to elaberate?
Penis Enlargement says:
Well I think you are genius and the post is marvelous.
I know it’s been over a year since this was posted, but I stumbled upon it and had to post a comment. Has anyone ever been permanently affected by finding out there was no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny? I was six when I learned the truth from my older brothers. I’m now in my twenties and still get presents from Santa. My parents never made a big deal about Santa, though. They never made stopming sounds on the roof or had someone come in dressed as Santa. They pretty much left it up to us. My younger sister fully believed until she was ten or eleven. She’d leave reindeer food or cookies out on Christmas Eve and it’d be gone in the morning. My parents still use Santa to give out “bigger” gifts.
It’s all in the way it’s presented!!!
I’m proud to say that I am a college graduate who does have student loans, but I also have a job decent enough to begin paying down those loans. Sure, I didn’t have to go to college, and it would have been cheaper, but I would have struggled a lot more to pay for rent, food, gas, etc. I’d rather have to repay loans for five-eight years and live a comfortable life than live paycheck to paycheck for my entire adulthood.
My parents raised four children who have all kept their joyous smiles. None of us had trouble with school, drugs, religion, alcohol, sex, or relationships. We’ve had stable parents who were there for us no matter what. I believe the biggest factor was the amount of casual family time we had. We lived several hours from our grandparents, but made an effort to visit each side at least once a month. During the car rides, we would sing songs, play games, tell stories, and just be silly. We had a good time, and really enjoyed sitting in a car for six hours. Nowadays, kids pop in a movie while playing their Nintendo DS and listening to their iPod all at the same time. There’s really a lack of togetherness. My oldest niece is 3 and was already addicted to the car’s DVD player. Unfortunately, it broke a few months ago, and my brother and his wife realized that they didn’t really need it afterall.
And while I don’t yet have kids myself, I fully intend to lie to them. I’ll let them be little and innocent while they can. I’ll let them believe in the magic of Christmas and Easter. I won’t let their smiles go away. No matter what age, there are things to believe in and things that bring pure joy.
And, I’ll let them believe that good triumphs over evil for as long as possible. If the next generation doesn’t believe this, then they will not put forth any effort to fight evil in the world. They simply won’t care because their parents have told them that it can’t be done all the time.
Fairy Games says:
I enjoyed reading your interesting yet very informative insights. I just love reading anything about eye-catching articles. Thank you for sharing and I am looking forward to reading your newest and most recent masterpieces!!! – Fairy
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