Monday, 8 December 2008

Fantasy, imagination, lies

OK, so here’s a real contentious issue for you. We never did Father Christmas. Our kids never believed that FC was anything other than a story. Not a story they particularly bonded with, TBH, but part of our mishmash Christmas Yule Solstice thing. The other day, I read something that suggested that parents who didn’t ‘do’ FC were somehow depriving their children of the ‘magic’ of childhood. This seemed to be something about lack of fantasy and imagination.

I find this rather bizarre. Having now lived eleven years with two kids, I can say that fantasy and imagination are always there. Both the children have engaged in different types of fantasy play over the years. These are things in which we have often colluded – building the fantasy through discussion and play. One example is a glove puppet that we had when the kids were little. He was a passed on toy from a neighbour and rather old and grubby. He was a king – called King, imaginatively enough ;-) He was ‘naughty’ and was responsible for all the knots on the wooden kitchen cupboards. These were caused by him hurling fruit (one of his favourite wicked activities, which were called King’s Naughty Jobs) and he talked in a haughty, bossy voice. His best friend was a small, plastic, ray fish – called Ray... They had a wild time together and went on holiday to Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, where King was arrested for shoplifting. It was all very strange and organic. I’d throw things in and the children would build and change it. They would go and find the puppet and demand, “Do King!” So, it is true, of course, that they knew King was not a real being. They didn’t really think he did these things. But it was magic. He would come alive. They were able to suspend their disbelief and address themselves to him, in a way that most adults would struggle to do.

I think that children are capable of a remarkable level of sophistication when it comes to fantasy. They know all about pretending. Leo invented his own magical creature to bring him tooth money and Christmas pressies – the Golden Dragon. It came out of him – wasn’t planted in his head as any kind of explanation for the appearance of money and gifts. And, of course, he knew (on some level) that it wasn’t real, but was inviting us to join him in this fantasy – in this bit of magic of his own creation. And, of course, we did. It was play. It was pretend. It was as real as he wanted to make it.

For me, there is a difference between the invented and evolving fantasy play of children and an imposed piece of pretend like FC. FC has always seemed, to me, more like a big joke being played on children. I’m sure that it can be done as a kind of ‘tongue in cheek’ shared pretend. But, for many kids, I think it is presented as FACT. That is a different thing altogether. It must be a loss when the child learns that FC is not real. Why do people want to set their children up for that? Anyone?

Children don’t need their heads stocked with fantasy. It bubbles up out of them. They can spin their own tales. Of course, those tales are fed by the culture in which they live. I love story and love sharing it with my children. But I’m not keen on lies. I could never line myself up with the adults and spin my kids a special ‘kiddie lie’. That just isn’t magical to me.


Em said...

Interesting stuff.

We have always had FC as a story. I don't think the girls have ever really thought he was real, it is a great story that we play along with because it is fun. When they were younger they didn't ever say if they thought he was real or not, I'd imagine pretending along so as not to break to spell. Now at 6, they happily say he is a story, confident that knowing makes no difference. We've had no trauma about finding out he isn't real, they've never worried about it. He has always been a fantasy.

The idea that if you don't 'do' FC your kids are missing out is a bizzarre one, I mean, what about all those children who don't celebrate christmas? They don't have FC.

I do like fantasy and play, but like you, I also dislike lies. I have had people say to me that it isn't a lie, it's a game. But I don't understand how a game that you don't know is a game in the first place is OK.

Nic said...

We have never perpetuated either FC or tooth fairy here. It is something that my two know about in a similar way as a story (actually we have easter bunny too in a similar way). What I hate most is when FC is used as a stick to beat with and the whole 'he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, if you are not good he won't come and bring you any presents' type stuff.
I've often felt that as HEor it is somehow even more important not to set up myths as facts to my kids - if they were at school it would likely be there (as it was for me, my brother and plenty of our friends) that the 'truth' was finally uncovered. My children look to me to tell them the truth as their primnary information giver and I can't ask them to believe some stuff from me I know to be an outright lie along with the stuff that is fact.
This is very likely to offend but I have always catergoried FC, tooth fairy etc and other fairy stories with religious beliefs to my children - something that many people do believe in and many people don't. A belief that should be respected and tolerated and not particularly argued with those who do believe but certainly to be questionned and challenged oneself.
I believe there is something else magical about Christmas to a child regardless of what stories surround it for them as it usually contains memories of brighly coloured decorations, special food and drink, presents,singing, family and friends and a more hefty dose of kindess and happiness to others than at other times. I am quite happy for that to be their magic and like you, would consider my kids pretty rich in imagination and fantasy.

Gill said...

We do Santa here - for me, he's real in a metaphorical sense. He is the spirit of Christmas - the provider of good things, midwinter cheer and merriment. I figure that as a stereotype, he's there, so why not make use of him?

He does serve some other useful purposes: he allows gifts to appear "by magic" - gifts that don't appear to need budgeting for (and therefore, perhaps worrying or economising over, which my children possibly would).

I don't see it as being a lie as such - more as a game that we play. I started it 20 years ago when I first had full-time care of little children and I had more traditional ideas than I do now. I probably wouldn't bother for the younger ones now, and am not doing quite so much, but my adult children like to carry it on for their siblings. At least I don't have to be Santa on my own any more!

I wrote a bit more about my views on Santa here.

Gill said...

Archetype! Not stereotype! *Slaps own head* ;-)

mamacrow said...

well Gill's been much more articulate than I can HOPE to be right now, but anyway here goes...

We do FC and toothfairy, and many many other things too... as a carry on of our child hood traditions, and part of the fanstasy and magic of childhood, yes. But i see King as totally in the same vein. (oo, pupets are great! we have Ken the homicidale girafe, which was Papacrows when he was little!)

When the older kids started asking about FC, we spoke about the spirit of christmas, and how children without parents, or very poor and deprived families need him the most. Lucky families like ours, full of abundance - well we like to help out FC and be part of all that.

FC is a concept, and therefore, utterly real (to me, at least!). He's imortal, he can't die, because he's an idea, an ideal, an expression of emotions (genorosity, love, caring, giving..) a personification of those things. So if there is anyone loving, caring, and giving at christmas time, he'll be there.

I don't see the point of lying. I HATE all those 'lies to children'. I ALWAYS say 'yes probably' to 'will this injection hurt' for instance. I mean, what an earth is the point of lying? Surely that is entirely hurtful to your relationship.

I could go on... this whole 'false sheilding' of children, it's almost creating them a false reality rather than holding their hand while they explore their own true reality - fantasies and all.

I've never understood the sweeping under the carpet of birth and death, either, hiding it away in the hospital. wiered. and ultimately unhealthy, I feel.

Di said...

I remember King! He was quite peculiar on first acquaintance.

One holiday in Ireland some (childless) friends created the most amazing fantasy fairies for P. They came and left flowers and other gifts on the window sill, and she left things for them before bedtime. It was very magical, and also a really nice way of communicating between P and the adult friends. The fairies existed in some kind of half-world between fantasy, lie and reality I think.

I never had FC done for me with any degree of seriousness, and I imagine that's why I don't have any urge to do it seriously with my kids. We get so much of this from our own parents. At least, I do.

Allie said...

Blogger just ate up my last comment, so I'll try again.

Thanks to you all for your input.

Em, I agree that a game implies some sort of knowing participation. Otherwise, I feel it's more like a trick.

Nic, yes, I think children often do find Christmas magical for all those reasons. I think ours do. I know I did.

Hi, Gill! Yes, I think I have read that post. My problem is that FC is not presented to children as a metaphor or story but as a literal fact. I think children tend to have a great respect for story and I don't get why that isn't enough.

Mamacrow, how did you deal with the fact that very poor or deprived children might need 'him' the most but often don't get him?

I like fantasy. I'm a big fan of sharing and enjoying the fantasy life of our children. But the joy of fantasy is that it *isn't* reality. That is why we have it. That is why we need it. If you take fantasy and present it as reality then, in the end, it is reduced to just a lie, isn't it? If you delight in fantasy for it's own sake then you never have to let it go. You never have to grow out of it.

BTW, Mamacrow, I am with you on false shielding of children. There is something rather sinister in the way we make so much of the 'innocence' of children. I could write a whole blog post on that!

peri said...

Interesting post and comments - I very much enjoyed reading both.

We did FC and the toothfairy to some extent but it was never a big thing, more part of the whole. When J outgrew (at an early age) it was used as a story as part of Christmas, we have family traditions that FC is a part of - and is viewed as just a bit of fun.

I think the problem lies with the globalisation of childhood as a separate part of human life and a lot of short sighted people don't look behind their own ideas and experiences and from that they spout nonsense - like Allie's post pointed out. I believe that you should do what you feel and your family feels is right for you and no-one has the right to gainsay that decision.

Ok waffling over.


mamacrow said...

'Mamacrow, how did you deal with the fact that very poor or deprived children might need 'him' the most but often don't get him?'

that's easy. Thats where FC needs our help more than ever.

Kids seem to 'get' this. After all, i think they sort of get on some level that their teddy - or King, or Ken the giraffe - is alive BECAUSE of them - as alive in them - in their imagination sort of? because they are there - to do the magic.

So we have to do the FC magic - by donating to children in need, doing shoeboxes of love, donating stuff to the open door thing, passing on gifts and clothes etc to families that are need, etc etc.

'secret santa' is fun to do too.

mamacrow said...

oh and allie, i complete agree with what you said about fantasy.

I ultimately belive that humans are intrinsicly creative - we create more of ourselves, we create music, art, stories - and we can make a mess, to quote Wibley Pig.

So that's why I class FC and co as 'real' in the sense that they - as a fantasy and as a concept - are another of our creations.

hmm. that made more sense in my head. oh well!

Allie said...

Thanks again for all your interesting comments. Like Di, I suspect that my attitudes to FC were largely influenced by my own childhood and my parents' reactions.

Each to their own - of course.

mamacrow said...

yeah - forgot to mention that - i had FC growing up - though a smallish stocking and we couldn't have it till after morning church AND had breakfast! (cue major indigestion). The whole ritual of putting out a mince pie and a drink were rigoursly observed.

Papacrow also had FC growing up - though it was a pillowcase, and was on the bed when he woke up. That's what we've gone with... and yes, we do ones for each other!

sad? possibly. fun? oh undoubtedly! And he's GOOD at stockings - I got an increadable wooden Budhah in mine last year.

oh and I couldn't agree more - each to their own :)