Last year around this time I was having a discussion about the holidays with two brilliant five-year-olds. They both had the family tradition of making that wish list for Santa. One of them was exuberant about her desires and generously shared her thoughts. But when I inquired about the wishes of the second child, she burst into tears. My heart stopped. What was wrong? The little one explained, “ My parents said that if I was not good every day that Santa will bring me nothing but coal. I can’t be good all the time so I won’t get any presents.” She was devastated. I immediately thought about how difficult it would be for a five year old to be perfect for the months leading up to the holidays. How could she not have one whiny, moody, stressed or tired day? I wondered if her parents proved perfection while preparing for the holidays.
When children still believe in Santa Claus, they also believe everything their parents tell them. Is this kind of perfection pressure healthy for little ones to carry? For the child mentioned above, she had curbed herself from wish lists, turned off television ads where toys were displayed and emotionally shut down because she knew she was unable to be perfect. On Christmas morning, however, when toys, games and other gifts were scattered throughout the house, she was in shock muttering the words, “ I must have been good, I must have been good.” It was hard for her to enjoy her abundance because she was still quite confused. This story touched my heart and has lessons for children and adults alike.
Do you like the Christmas song titled: Santa Claus Is Coming To Town? I usually enjoyed singing it or hearing it until I experienced the above story. Listen to the words: “You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why…He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been good or bad…so be good for goodness sake.” Imagine this message as an eerie one that causes angst for children at a time when they should be taught about love, giving, and family connection.
When raised in a narcissistic family, there is a strong message that you are valued for what you do rather than for who you are. This causes long-term devastating effects because children are not taught to focus on building a solid sense of self. Children in these families spend their childhood energy twirling to get parental love and approval, doing for and taking care of their parents. As discussed in prior posts, the hierarchy in these families is skewed. In a healthy family it is the parental role to take care of the children not vice versa.
Using the words good and bad to describe children is dangerous. The labels tend to permeate the whole being. Rather, parents determine specific behaviors they would like attended to, but not call the whole child bad. The labels of good and bad can stay forever. Adult children of narcissistic parents internalize the message, “I’m not good enough. ”Now, we’re encouraging “not good enough for Santa?”
I also think about how we strive for this perfection ourselves during the holidays. We seem to easily raise the bar on our expectations of idealized scenes of perfect gatherings, beautifully prepared food, just the right gifts, lovely decorated houses and of course super model weight loss that should happen before next week. If we are not currently Wonder Woman or Superman, we must morph quickly.
For adults these kinds of expectations can cause unnecessary stress, depression and anxiety. Then we also start labeling ourselves as good or bad and self-esteem can be knocked down with each thing we can’t perfect. Do we really want to create all this for our kids and ourselves? What could be a greater gift to us all than to practice compassion and love without this pressure to be perfect.
My Santa doesn’t bring coal or watch children with an evil eye expecting not one pout or cry. Does yours? I envision Santa flying overhead modeling love, the spirit of giving, and showing empathy towards those things he sees that need improvement. Remember Santa even stopped bullying when Rudolph was having problems with his peers. He didn’t tell Rudolph to get over it already and pretend that all is well. He didn’t say, “ You better not cry, you better not pout.” He didn’t demand perfection. He said instead, “ You can guide my sleigh tonight, red nose and all!” Ahhh!
Let’s drop the naughty or nice gig and lighten up. Kids can’t pull it off and neither can we. What do you want to see different this season in your family? I’m looking for more general acceptance of others and self, dropping unrealistic expectations, and maybe seeing more Mommies kissing Santa Clauses. When the kids cry and pout or we get stressed and irritable, how about more hugs too? The gift of giving everyone a break tops my list this year.
Additional Resources for Recovery:
Resource Website: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com
Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/the-book-2/buy-the-book
Audio Book: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/the-book-2/buy-the-book
Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/workshop-overview-healing-the-daughters-of-narcissistic-mothers
Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. Karyl McBride
“Is this your Mom?” Take the survey: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/narcissistic-mother