“Ask A Dad” is a regular parenting column by author, speaker and dad Doyin Richards, in which he tackles some of the toughest questions today’s parents face. Have a topic you’d like him to take on? Email email@example.com.
My family is Jewish, and we recently moved from Massachusetts to Texas for my husband’s job. Last week, my 11-year-old son said “happy holidays!” to the mom who lives across the street. According to my son and my husband (who was present), she got visibly upset and replied, “Don’t say that to me! We celebrate Christmas here!”
My son is friends with her son and now feels uncomfortable hanging out with him when she’s around. My husband says we shouldn’t make waves since we’re newbies in this conservative part of town. How should we handle this?
– Chloe in San Antonio, Texas
Your son probably looked at this lady and thought, “Weird flex but OK.”
Now, I’m a Christian man, but I believe the only day it makes sense to wish someone a merry Christmas is on Dec. 25. After all, I’m not rolling up to people in October wishing them a happy Thanksgiving. Are you?
For the life of me, I’ll never understand why people get so upset over the “happy holidays” thing. I’ve used the following analogy before to explain my confusion in a way that even a toddler can understand. (True story: I used it on my daughters when they were little, and they completely got it.)
Let’s say a restaurant serves up some amazing mozzarella sticks at a buffet. Previously, this restaurant only offered marinara sauce to dip them in, because it was the only sauce the majority of its patrons enjoyed. But after observing its customers for a while, this establishment noticed that some people wanted other options. So the owners did the wise thing and created a “sauce” section in the buffet that also included ranch dressing, honey mustard, pesto and some secret sauce that nobody is quite sure of.
The bottom line: Customers are still be able to stuff their faces with marinara if they choose, it’s just that marinara will be included in a section with other sauces as well.
That’s what “happy holidays” is in a nutshell — a greeting of inclusion. Who in their right mind would have a problem with this? What guy boycotts a restaurant because he believes there’s a “war against marinara sauce”?
You’re a Jewish woman. Have you ever met someone who insisted people greet them by saying “happy Hanukkah”? Probably not. Because to do that would essentially say, “I don’t care about what other people celebrate, I only care about me,” which displays infantile levels of emotional maturity. The number of Americans who identify themselves as Christian has dropped from 83 percent to 72 percent since 2003, which means fewer of us are celebrating Christmas in a religious fashion, anyway.
You could have your kid take the easy way out here by telling him to greet this woman with “merry Christmas” going forward, but where’s the lesson in that? You’ve raised a kid to be inclusive. That should be celebrated, not ignored.
I’d tell your son to keep saying “happy holidays” around this woman ― and anyone else he encounters. If he receives any grief, he can respond by saying, “My goal is to cover everyone’s beliefs, including people who don’t celebrate Christmas, because they should get to enjoy the holiday season, too. I mean, Christmas is a part of those happy holidays I mentioned.”
Unless this woman is completely bat-poop crazy, it should end there. But if she insists on auditioning for the lead role in “The Christian Who Saved Christmas,” it may be better for everyone if your son doesn’t go to her house anymore. The boys can and should remain friends, but host them at your place instead.
One last thing, because I feel a need to put this into perspective for a moment: Mothers and their babies are getting tear-gassed at our nation’s border, yet this woman is experiencing a blood pressure spike over a pleasant seasonal greeting by a polite 11-year-old? Really?! We have much bigger fish ― err, mozzarella sticks ― to fry these days. Happy holidays!
Like most kids, my 8-year-old daughter loves presents. But she’s our only child and has my husband wrapped around her finger. If she asks for something, she gets it. It doesn’t matter if she has earned or deserves it, either — she gets everything she wants, whenever she wants. In my husband’s defense, he grew up poor and now makes a very healthy salary, so he feels like he’s being “a good dad” by giving his kid the things he never had. But part of me worries he’s creating a monster, and with the holidays coming up, I feel this might be the time to speak up. What do you think?
– Kayla in Boston
You’re correct: You are, in fact, creating a monster. I’m sure a lot of people would like to see me drag you through these internet streets for raising what many would consider to be a spoiled brat, but it’s clear your situation is a bit more nuanced.
In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in poverty ― but I’ll go out on a steady limb and guess that it isn’t a whole lot of fun. I don’t know much about your husband, but I’m also going to assume that his experiences as a child were (and probably still are) a strong motivational tool in helping him reach the levels of success he enjoys today.
He may revisit the pain of asking his parents for a cool toy or a new jacket and constantly being told “no,” and now realizes, “My daughter will never have to experience how that feels.”
It’s commendable to want to shield his daughter from the pain he experienced as a kid. We all want better lives for our children than the lives we had ourselves, right?
The problem is that he’s forgetting that motivation is what got him here. How will your daughter find the motivation to achieve greatness if everything in life is handed to her? Nobody likes rich kids who act like they’ve hit a triple because they were born on third base. Teaching kids about hard work, discipline, resiliency, basic human kindness and empathy are common pillars of parenting. I’m not saying these lessons aren’t being shared under your roof; however, there is some serious unlearning that needs to take place as well.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not that dad who believes kids shouldn’t have stuff. My kids have video games, dolls and nice clothes. The difference? They earn it. They earn it through doing chores, doing well in school and being good humans. I taught them at a young age that nothing will ever be handed to them just because they want it. Life doesn’t work that way — especially not for my kids, who will grow up to be women of color. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but that’s a double whammy when it comes to level of difficulty.
I think it’s important to remind your husband how he got here. He’s probably just intoxicated by “I Do It Because I Can” drug. Once he snaps out of it, he’ll realize he’s doing his baby girl a disservice. Keep it real with him: Does he think he’d be enjoying the success he has now if he was raised the same way he’s raising your daughter? Probably not.
This holiday season, introduce your little one to people less fortunate than she is. Volunteer at a food shelter. Donate toys. Have your husband show her what it’s like to be raised poor. After a while, a lightbulb will come on, and she’ll realize how lucky she is. More importantly, it will make her realize she won’t get everything she asks for in life. More often that not, women have to fight for what they want. It’s better she learns that now rather than later.
Doyin is a father, husband and author dedicated to creating and celebrating a world of great fathers. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook at @daddydoinwork or ask him a question for a future column at firstname.lastname@example.org.