What Do Santa, Barney & Weddings Have in Common?

I question the fantasy we hand our kids of a "once-upon-a-time" journey to a romance culminating in a beautiful, very special wedding day full of royal trappings and gifts.
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Lots. Think about it.

When my daughters were little, my youngest so loved Barney that he made a surprise visit to her 4th birthday party. Her reaction was priceless and she glowed for days. Life was wonderful and she was special. It was a joy to see.

Eight days later, while waiting in line at Baskin & Robbins, my youngest again asked, "Mommy, remember when Barney came to my party?" Unable to stand it any longer, her wise, older sister (all of 7 years) blurts out, "Kate, everyone knows Barney's not real and he's on drugs. He's not like Santa and the Easter Bunny who are real. Get over it." And, you guessed it, my oldest gloats while my little one bursts into tears.

A few months later we have our first Christmas as a "separated" family. Despite the fact my happily-ever-after dream's been shattered by my husband's affair, I am determined to make Christmas really special. I make sure we get carried away with the Christmas spirit, choosing and decorating a tree, stringing lights outside, and setting out cookies for Santa. I am a mom on a mission with a tradition to live up to. My daughters aren't going to suffer just because mom and dad have split up.

Since Ms. Claus always did all the gift making, wrapping and delivering, my daughters have the same Santa as always, but this time there is a surprise that makes them ecstatic. For the very first time ever, Santa's filled mom's stocking too... and my daughters' joy warms my heart, especially the many times they say, "See Mommy, now Santa loves you too! He doesn't want you to be sad!" Happily, a new tradition is born.

Like intact families, I'd succeeded at continuing the magic of Christmas. And, unbeknown to my daughters, I also had the reality of a big credit card bill and much work to do dismantling the idyllic, beautiful holiday I created to prove our family's dreams weren't melting on the path to divorce.

Fast forward 12 years later when my oldest (now 20) helps me at a monthly program I run for people facing separation and divorce. Unexpectedly, for both of us, she is devastated for weeks afterward. She keeps saying, "Mom, it's so hard for me. I need to believe in the fairy tale of getting married. A beautiful wedding and living happily-ever-after. I'm sad and confused because everyone I talked to at your program was really nice but their marriage didn't work out. I don't know what to believe."

Her eyes are pleading with me to tell her "Steph, the fairy tale is true and it is in your future." My heart wishes I could tell her what she wants to hear. So I say nothing.

I keep to myself the analogy of Santa and weddings because I'm no curmudgeon or spoil sport. Inside though, I question the fantasy we hand our kids of a "once-upon-a-time" journey to a romance culminating in a beautiful, very special wedding day full of royal trappings and gifts.

I think about the many mid-life clients I've heard say, "I wish someone had told me what I now know before I'd gotten married. I can't believe I bought into happily-ever-after only to end up like this. We need to tell young people the truth."

Truth is, someone probably did try to tell them about the realities, challenges and drudgery of everyday life after marriage. But, like my oldest (and kids clinging to Santa), they needed to believe in the fantasy of weddings and happily-ever-after. They didn't want to hear (and we don't want to tell them) that weddings are an idealized bridge into... the reality of adult life.

Fortunately, some of us luck out and, with hard work, mature into truly loving married couples. Then there are those of us faced with the cruel reality that, no matter what we do, our dream is irrevocably destroyed. Separation and divorce become a reality as we are forced to pick up the pieces and create a whole new life, alone, at least for the time being.

I hope your dream stays intact. If it doesn't? Please repeat after me: "Santa is a romanticized, protected, commercialized and long-lived tradition merrily handed down from generation to generation. I survived that one. I will survive this too."

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