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Unwrapping Parenthood: What to do When Traditions Conflict

When I said my marriage vows, I recall promising to be steadfast in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. But the day my husband and I stood before 300 people and vowed to support each other for a lifetime, I couldn’t have imagined this: that one day we’d have an argument about whether Santa Claus wrapped his gifts or not.

I foresaw the usual conflicts— disagreeing about how money should be spent or even when to start a family— but Santa of all things? I honestly didn’t see that one coming.  Nonetheless, there we were on Christmas Eve, both of us unwilling to budge, both recalling the way it had been done in our own childhood homes.

Every year the “discussion” is the same.

In my home growing up, we’d come downstairs to find Santa’s gifts unwrapped and assembled on the living room rug. There’d be a bicycle, perhaps, or a brand new dollhouse. My brothers’ gifts were there too: skateboards or sports equipment and one year, even a Guinea pig (who didn’t make it to Easter).

The fact that they were unwrapped somehow added to the excitement— seeing them there in all their glory, just ready to be ridden or played with or used.

My husband, however, remembers Santa wrapping the gifts. He says that Santa’s wrapping paper was always different from the ones his parents used for his other presents, and he claims that the handwriting was also different. His position is that there is something inherently exciting about the unwrapping— that seeing an exposed gift somehow takes away from the thrill of the day.

It’s funny how marriage sometimes catches you off-guard. We enter into it with a unique set of traditions and experiences, some of which don’t come to the surface until much later. Parenthood causes us to peel the layers off our lives, to expose hidden truths from our pasts.

Some of it, like the matter of Santa using gift wrap or not, is ultimately unimportant. Other matters go much deeper. The longer I’m a parent the more I’m realizing that it’s an exercise in looking back as much as it is in looking forward.

In this case as in so many others, we’ve learned to compromise. We eventually meet in the middle: Santa wraps a few gifts and sets a few out under the tree as-is. And ok, I’ll admit it— there is something to be said for a 5 year old looking at a gift tag and saying, “This one’s from Santa Claus!”

When it comes down to it, these are the experiences my children will remember. I like to think they’ll have learned a thing or two about the importance of compromise.

It’s hard to imagine that one day, years from now, they’ll be the ones in our shoes. They’ll be the ones looking back on these days, just as they’re looking forward to whatever lies ahead.

More by Mary Lauren

Why I Sucked it up and Bought the Present She REALLY Wanted

Post-Divorce Parenting: Putting Kids First during the Holiday Season

Typical or Troublesome: Parenting Experts Weigh in on Common Behavioral Issues

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