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Two Words I Never Thought I’d Say

Erin Zammett Ruddy

My children are five and almost three and it happened. I heard this phrase come out of my mouth and I was shocked and disappointed. Am I overreacting?

Yesterday, as I was pushing the car-shaped cart into the grocery store with my two little children nestled all snug in the driver’s seat, I went over the rules for the trip (don’t touch anything, don’t ask for any candy, don’t stand up, don’t scream, don’t fight). Then I followed it with… “Santa’s watching.” And then I cringed.

I know some parents swear by this technique this time of year but I had always assumed I wouldn’t need it. I had always assumed my kids would do as I say without bribes or threats or Christmas gifts hanging in the balance. Or that I would have more creative ways of diverting their attention and getting them to do as I say. Then, of course, I had kids. Particularly lately—with major work deadlines and holidays to plan and a house and yard and life to clean up post Sandy—I have realized how hard this parenting thing truly is. So I will currently take all the help I can get, including from a fictitious bearded man who lives on cookies and milk.

That said, this is not going to open the floodgates of “you better watch out, you better not pout” parenting. I’m not going to overuse my new two-word behavior modifier and I certainly would never say anything like, “If you don’t stop smacking your brother, Santa’s not going to bring you any presents.” A. It’s cruel. B. It’s not true. Christmas is coming whether my kids beat the shit out of each other every day or not. And I really don’t like empty threats. I do like Christmas and we’re already getting very pumped for the season here so I suppose talking about Santa’s naughty-or-nice methods was going to happen anyway. And if the mere mention of his name gets my kids both adorably excited and back in line, well, what’s the damage, right?

How do you guys feel about the old “Santa Claus is coming to town” bit? Do you tell your kids he's watching? Am I crazy to have thought I could have/should have avoided this technique?