How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

How To Traumatize Your Kids

Posted by , under NOTEBOOK

If you were to ask, I would be the first to tell you I am not a perfect father, perhaps not even a great one. I know some of you have said I seem like a “rad dad” but I often think I am more of a “dud” than a “dad.” So, before I utter anything even remotely disagreeable, or judgmental, please keep that in mind.

But I’ll be honest, judgment isn’t all bad. Using your better judgment is smart. Judging your reactions is a good thing. Judging your snap judgments is decisively important.

So, let me wade into the gray area between Internet trolling and criticism. That swampy bit of land where people disagree and fault you for writing about anything.

Last week, our Facebook page got a little heated over the topic of kids crying in Santa photos. If you’re not following us on there, or Zuckerberg has his hands over your Facebook eyes, here’s the gist:

First, I reposted an article, Revenge of the Santa Photo, wherein I unveiled last year’s Santa photo. Some were appalled. It garnered 60 comments and there were a fair number of people opposed to what I wrote.

Several people found the act of posting my son’s crying Santa photos demeaning and possibly traumatic for him.

Granted, we poke fun at a large swath of subjects. But I am VERY sensitive when it comes to parenting issues, ESPECIALLY about my family.

Those who read my dribbling posts know it.

And now I’m noticing all the spelling and grammatical errors. Nice, Charlie. More proof that you’re an idiot. At any rate, this is the most frustrating part of writing and interacting with people on the Interwebz, besides, you know, not being a skilled writer.

I didn’t exactly respond like a champ. I wanted people to know that a photo captures a singular moment in time from a subjective point-of-view. They tell stories in milliseconds, and their backstory can be left open to interpretation.

It seems we have all become very critical of each other, and with reality TV and editorialized news content, if a person doesn’t have a stark opinion, one way or the other, it’s not newsworthy.

People will disagree, in fact I welcome people having a different view, but this conversation crossed into denunciation, though I’m not talking about bullying. It gives me pause to reflect on how we treat other parents. We disagree before we have the full story and it allows us to disparage. We jump on people for making different parenting decisions, and lack the cordialness of discussion to find out what happened.

Sure, it’s part of the internet — that whole trolling and fault-finding thing. But why don’t we excise that part? At least a little bit.

Not all optional holiday activities, documented or undocumented, are traumatic experiences for children. I don’t enjoy taking photos of my son when he’s upset. I’m usually too busy assessing why he’s distressed or showing my solidarity by holding onto him while he wails away.

Establishing traditions isn’t necessarily bad. Some kids cry if you ask them to put on their shoes. Some kids don’t want to go for a walk when they need it most. Santa isn’t a requirement but an attempt at establishing a ritual of gratefulness and compassion. Giving. You know, all the stuff I hate doing.

And that leads me to this year’s Santa photo. Tada.

Finn's Santa Photo - 2012

People develop and change. Finn, certainly, is doing just that through experiences both affirming and unpleasant. But we’re all growing. I’m growing. You’re growing.

Let’s all grow together.

That way we can judge each other’s growth.

Let’s all disagree together!

Bad Santa
It’s not just a movie.

Instructional Diagrams
If you don’t like us after these, I’m not sure we can be friends.


50 Responses to “How To Traumatize Your Kids”

  1. JP says:

    or you can just, you know, click past, click close or JUST DON’T VISIT THE SITE!

    People these days are waaaaayyyy too uptight! I doubt that Finn has had any permanent damage done to his psyche by Charlie posting the previous pic and you can see by the latest one that he seems, jees, I dunno, almost HAPPY? Not like 1 experience defined how he thought about Santa for the rest of his life!

    Could it be that all the soapboxing in the world doesn’t make you or your child better than anyone? Guess that’s why I read his/Andy’s site and not yours…

  2. Dan says:

    If I showed all the pictures I have of my daughter crying because I was trying on a new hat or a seat or she just suddenly decided she was hungry in the middle of being cute I think people would think I’m some kind of torture loving crazy man!! She is only three months at the moment and her teeth are just about to come through and she is known to bawl at the drop of a pin. Not that the humour in these photos in lost, I have a particularly hilarious one of her trying some noise cancelling headphones on (I’ll pop it on Twitter) but I wasn’t deliberately hurting my child for my own amusement, it just so happened that she cried at that moment!

    People on the interwebz will generally disagree with absolutely anything just because Internet. Also for the record I follow the blog avidly and think you’re an excellent dad, and one I aspire to be like.

  3. Mrs. Jenna says:

    Bravo, Charlie. And you are a rad dad.

    ::side-eyes haters::

  4. Mandee says:

    Both of my girls have had one year where they were frightened of Santa….I made sure we got a picture, and I know that when they’re grown, they are going to laugh about it. Actually, my five year old already thinks the picture of her scowling at Santa when she was a year and a half is hilarious!

  5. Amy says:

    I have a similar grumpy Santa photo. She was fine when she got there until he spoke to her. The picture is priceless. We used it as our Christmas card.

  6. Kristina says:

    Well said Charlie! I have several pics of me as a baby crying on Santas lap, and am happy to say I am a well adjusted 35 year old with a 5month old son of my own now. He, unlike his mommy, did not cry on Santas lap. I love your bl

  7. AHHHHHH look at that last picture! SO CUTE !!!!!

    Our local mall Santa smells like alcohol and Victoria’s Secret body spray.

  8. Shannon says:

    I beg to differ with Corissa who keeps insisting Santa is a stranger. Santa is only a stranger if you never have mentioned him, the kid has not been told by his friends or the media who Santa is. Santa is, in fact, very well known by my children. He’s like their freakin’ best friend. I think kids cry in the presence of Santa sometimes for all different reasons. Being willing to experience your child cry is what will keep you sane. When I went to take pictures last year (Finn’s picture in mind) I told the photographer to snap that picture especially if the kids cried. As adults they would appreciate the picture. Alas, my kids did not cry. My son did look a bit freaked out though. I actually picked the picture where he is looking at Santa like, “WHO are YOU?” instead of the one where he is smiling at the camera.

  9. Tad says:

    I’ve tried not to exploit my kids too much for the sake of photos. And for the most part I’ve been successful. Well,t here was that one time that my 9-mo-old daughter was learning about garden hoses and ended up turning it on herself – which did (sorry to say) make it to Flickr. (

  10. Rebekah says:

    Oh for real your child is friggin adorable. And while I unfortunately am in the boat of don’t traumatize your child by forcing them to sit on Santa’s lap, a good and attentive parent knows when their child has had enough. Discomfort is a part of life and for a child to feel somewhat uncomfortable…well it’s alright. But if a child is scared beyond their wits – please don’t force them to sit uncomfortably close to a creepy old dude.

    Anyway, adorable picture, and boohoo to the haters 😉

  11. Obviously he is only conforming because he was so traumatized from last year’s experience when you made him cry on purpose for you own amusement. Looking at the pensive smile, how his shoulders are rounded and slightly forward, his carefully clasped hands, and his slight lean to his left are a strong indication of Stockholm Syndrome. 😉 Cute pic, Charlie.

  12. Rebecca Hohenberger says:

    We just took my 20 month old daughter to see Santa with our 2 dogs and she initially didn’t like it and there were a few shots of her starting to tear up, but after it was over, she was high-fiving him and all giggles and smiles. The photogrpaher didn’t capture that, though…. Finn’s picture this year is awesome and proof that he must’ve gotten over last year’s fears so high-five to you (unless high-fiving isn’t cool anymore, in which case, nevermind that last part

  13. Last year Santa was my husband, and my son still cried and refused to go near him (this was at his daycare where he is very comfortable). I think it can be an age thing. We didn’t force him to stay with ahem *Daddy* but we did take pictures and yes he is visibly crying. We will try again this year with a different Santa and see what happens.

    I have a funny pic from high school with me and two of my friends, with what we call CREEPY SANTA. OMG if you could see his face, he is PISSED. Or PISSED DRUNK, not sure which. We still laugh about it to this day. EWWWW creepy santa.

  14. Marija says:

    I still have my own Santa pic when I was a toddles – and it is not somewhat distress it is outright screaming hell. And my parents showed to friends and neighbours, and I’m still showing it to every body. Nobody commented my parents were cruel. I, for one, would never, never label my parents as cruel ether, although they did make me sit in Santa’s lap despite crying. But that was sharing between friends. That each one had similar occurrences. With internet these days – everything is public (like in “published”, like in official newspaper kind of way), and tooooo many people treat information as something to sneer/judge/comment on. I know that facebook began as “friend-connecting” place but now, there are just people that “friend” strangers and then have passionate opinions of them that they have to share with everybody. In public.

    I do think that modern social-media technologies finally outgrew all of us as society – we are not mature enough to handle all of this real-time-open-to-public social life anymore.

  15. katie f says:

    Wow – people are sure sensitive and quick to blast their internet horns over nothing. The mommy high horses are reaching nose bleed proportions, which is why I quit facebook. I got similar reactions for posting a vacation picture with my then 15 month old daughter in a 2 piece swimsuit.

    • Tony says:

      OMG! you didn’t just let her run around naked. What were you doing with the camera while your daughter was in that unnatural harness.
      (I figgured you got attacked the other direction, maybe this will even it out XD )

  16. I used to judge parents who proudly posted pics of their kids screaming on Santa’s lap every year. It seemed a cruel “tradition”… but then I remembered that I have photos of my kids flipping out, and just because they’re not sitting on Santa’s lap doesn’t make it all that different. So… yeah.

  17. Michelle says:

    Your son is ridiculously adorable! My daughter’s first picture with Santa, we took with her 2 cousins and she is on the side climbing off the chair trying to bolt. But as soon as it was over she cried that she wanted to go back and see him again! Kids are crazy and you can’t win.

  18. Josh says:

    Well said. Why do we have ot be so quick to judge and condem other parents? Aren’t we all doing the best we can to raise our kids and give them a variety of experiences? Some of which go well and some that go not so well? People need to lighten up and worry about their own kids.

  19. deborah says:

    life has a 100% chance of leading to death. this is one of those things that happens in between point a to point b —and it’s very survivable. don’t wreck yourself over it. most kids laugh about it when they’re older.

    choppa choppa choppa <- the sound of all those scary traumatized-by-santa helicopter parents circling.

  20. Jess says:

    All those years of Dylan not being traumatized by Santa have caught up to us. I guess the torture of our well-adjusted child has finally backfired. I’m obviously doing it wrong.

  21. Erin says:

    Some of my favorite pictures are of my kids crying, with Santa and without. And my pictures of them crying say just as much about their little personalities as the ones of their sweet smiling faces. Life isn’t perfect, it’s messy. When they grow up I will remember the rough times just as much as the good. And I’ll love all of it.
    In the words of John Lennon, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

  22. Kenny says:

    Your blog is a humorous one. I didn’t need to know the back story to the photo because I default to the belief that parents are responsible people on the average. Therefore, I figured what happened is exactly what you described. People take life far too seriously which makes the job of comedy & the human condition of interacting via the web much more difficult than it need be. The picture was meant as a humorous commentary about Santa photos. I took it for nothing more. Frankly, I think you did nothing wrong. Great blog & I will continue to read it.

  23. Christina says:

    One of the only things I don’t like about being a new Mommy (she’s 9-months old next week!) is how terribly judge-y so many other parents seem to be. About. Everything! Breastfeeding vs. Formula, breastfeeding in public, co-sleeping, cry-it-out and other sleep training methods, vaccinations, scheduling vs. on-demand parents, and, apparently, taking pictures of your kids when they are experiencing things they find (in this moment) unpleasant. Like I don’t have enough Mommy-guilt already without so many people condemning the way others choose to do things.

    My husband and I have talked about it, and come to the conclusion that the judgement is just misdirected insecurity, like “I parent this way, so that’s the right way, and others who parent differently must be wrong, because I’m definitely not wrong…” What I wish is that people, parents included, understood that there is more than one path to good parenting, and the only thing being judgmental toward other parents does is provide a bad example for your children to follow. Generally, we all do our best to make our children in to healthy, happy little people, an there’s no need to be either defensive or judge-y about it!

    What I love about this blog is that it seems so REAL, not polished for public consumption. Parenting is not black and white, kids are not always happy, and parents are not always prefect. I appreciate what you guys do because I can laugh and learn at the same time. For example, I’ll never leave my (future) son within reaching distance of a urinal cake if I would be unable to redirect attempts to touch and/or play with it. =P Everybody wins!

    So basically, thanks for the blog and for modeling non-judgmental and un-filtered parenting experiences. <3 you guys and your beautiful families! Oh, and wish Elena and me luck with Santa this year!

  24. paddy says:

    Good one.. How come the Santa is the same (?).

  25. Addie says:

    Push through Charlie! None of us know what we are doing the first time through, and it’s so easy for strangers to criticize us. You seem to be doing what you think is best, and Finn seems happy, so there. That’s all we can do.

  26. Jen says:

    Yay!!!! I love his Santa photo!!!

    We forgot to see Santa.

    That’s where our tradition of seeing Santa every year has taken us, to the point of forgetting because “ya know…. he’s everywhere so who cares”

    We are finding the magic in different ways this year.

  27. Mother Duck says:


  28. I freaking love you dude.

    And for what it’s worth, I was in the newspaper for my hysterical sitting on Santa’s lap crying my head off photo when I was 2, and I am not emotionally scarred by it.

    At least I don’t think.

  29. Yeah, there’s a fine line between spirited debate and all-out trolling. I find it fascinating how quickly people write others off, just because of differing ideas. My favorite is when a reader disagrees with me and chalks it up to the fact that their opinions are based in scientific fact, and mine are the result of being an uneducated ape-man. Nice.

    And I’m not bothered AT ALL by the documentation of pseudo-traumatic events in a kid’s life. It’s all a part of life. No harm, no foul.

  30. Terry says:

    I have at least a few good ol crying pictures, and one awesome one with my daughter screaming her head off on Santa’s Lap. Kid’s get scared, it is a part of life, nothing wrong with snapping / sharing a photo or two. Anyone who has an issue with it either doesn’t have kids, or is in my humble opinion not preparing their kids for life. I wish I had a picture like that of myself, I would frame it and put it on my wall!

    So I say GOOD FOR YOU!!! Your kids will love you more for having a sense of humor and a sense of real life.

  31. yaya says:

    I understand that posting things out there regarding your kids leaves you open for criticism, but people are way too quick to judge and pat themselves on the back. I can’t stand when parents judge and criticize based on one thing they see.

  32. Julia says:

    Hey there… so… well, thing is… I have a couple of thoughts here I’ll share.

    One of them is that pictures lie. I’ve taken thousands of pictures of my daughter (now aged 2 years and 3 months), and there are quite a few some people say she looks miserable, but truth is, it was just the face she had that split second. I don’t take pleasure in documenting my daughter’s pain or discomfort, but sometimes she just lifted her hand and grimaced and “it looks like” she was in pain or in bad mood, but she wasn’t. I swear.

    The other is that you’re sharing part of your lives. I’m not totally sure I would do the same, that I would write about my family for the world to see, that I would post pictures and anecdotes of my daughter without her explicit consent for strangers to pore over and comment. These thoughts notwithstanding, I am a fan of your website and other parent blogs (most notably dooce), so I guess the discussion is not whether you’re a troll or not, but whether it is fine to write (and read!) about the personal (and often private) experience of being a parent.

    By the way, I think you’re doing it very well. You post more about being a parent than about your kids themselves, and it sounds to me like you’re allowing them their privacy.

  33. Haters gonna hate. People ridicule others (and watch reality tv) simply to feel superior and better about themselves. It’s one thing to say, aw, poor kid, but it’s another thing to say what a horrible parent you are for taking a picture of a crying kid. Those people are all troll, all the time. To focus that judgement on their own lives would be horrendous. And honestly, NO ONE wants to do that.

    Dig your work Holmes. And yes, I laugh AT you as often as WITH you. (Actually no, probably more.)

  34. Lisa says:

    It seems odd to me how many of the comments here seem full of anger or judgement themselves. Lots of name calling going on, too. So judgement and name calling is okay in defense of someone you like and/to agree with?

    Charlie, this woman expressed concern for your child. Concern. If you felt perfectly okay with what happened, I think you would have been able to respond calmly, without being defensive, and explain that while you could see how it could be interpreted that way, no child was harmed in the making of that photo.

    • charlie says:

      I think you’re seeing, from the community here and myself, a backlash against the intense parenting debates, etc. that spiral into hatred and carping criticism. The mommy and daddy wars, what have you. All of the detritus of Internet conversation.

      The language used (including the comments I did not choose to show) were not based on concern but judgment. Concern presents itself as an ally to the person spoken about. The harm they saw in the photo could not be explained away. They believed I made a poor parenting choice, but even that, in and of itself, is not the issue. The issue is how people address each other especially regarding parent on social networks.

      In the end, most people who call out other people about an issue end up looking like assholes. I can’t say I fall into any other bucket, myself.

  35. Dennis says:

    If you ever need a distraction to get away from angered parents just throw breastfeeding versus formula bomb into the room and run like there’s no tomorrow

  36. Kendra says:

    Only in LA does Santa look so good!

  37. Roberto Citrone says:

    Agree with HC. Frankly, my preschooler doesn’t have the mental energy for continuous “structured” activities. I know my kids, and they get way too tired with more than 3 outings a week. I thought we weren’t supposed to “over schedule” our kids…?

  38. Dania says:

    My favorite part: “You should chill out before you herniate something.” haha laughed for days.

  39. Tony says:

    I have had a few of these get to the point where I have told them I am doing what I think is best, you clearly think this is abuse, so as a concerned citizen you have a moral obligation to contact child protective services. The only under stress advice I try to give is “it will get better, eventually.”

  40. Donna Newsom says:

    My parents teased me. (Nothing truly hurtful) I tease my son (Again, nothing truly hurtful). We’re actually quite well adjusted. At least all the school yard bullying (and I got a lot) didn’t scar me. Now my son has a kid in school trying to push him around. He tells him no and tells his teacher. He hasn’t been wrapped in bubble wrap his whole life. He knows how to stand up for himself yet has a sense of humility when needed. I think the santa photo is adorable and hilarious. At least you got him over there at all. Mine has yet to go along with it, period!

  41. Donna Newsom says:

    I just wanted to add: I used to do family photography. Kids start bawling at the drop of a hat. 90% of the time the parents and I would have a quick chuckle at the crying shots at the end of the shoot.

  42. Jon says:

    I don’t give a fuck about what any of these fuck knockers say. Get money, Charlie.

  43. JulietsButterfly says:

    Awww, sometimes they’re so excited for something that it scares them! And some kids are great until a camera shows up. When my older son was not quite 2, we had family portraits taken and he was ok for the family shot, and flipped out when we did individual pictures and a few shots with just him and his sister. She’s trying to comfort him and he is screaming (just like your son in the Santa pic!). Needless to say, his “solo” pic was of me holding him, and I was partially photoshopped out.

    You’re a fine dad. He might have been more upset in the long run if you hadn’t grabbed at least one shot of him with Santa that year. Sometimes the lines are long and it’s a once-in-a-season chance for that image.

    It was a different holiday, but my same tempestuous son was stoked to see the Easter Bunny at a spring carnival at church, but when the Bunny walked up to him to say hi, he flipped out, hid behind me and started to cry. We let him hide behind me while my daughter and I got a pic with the Bunny. The next year, he refused to believe he had been scared, other than we had some photographic evidence.

  44. Whitney says:

    I stopped judging other parents the second I became a parent. You never know another parent’s situation, and when you see a parent or child in distress maybe our first thought should be, “What can I do to help this parent” (make a silly face to the child, open the door, carry a bag, help put their groceries on the belt at the supermarket…) rather than thinking this parent is a failure…

  45. Paul says:

    I am a huge fan!!! Became a reader prior to the birth of my son and find myself laughing quite often at the tantrums that are thrown. My mother absolutely loves reminding me that I was the same way.

    And remember… Those poor Santa’s have been peed on more times than all of the parents on this post put together. Sometimes a little smile from them is a hard task.

    Kids are going to cry and throw fits…
    Parents are going to laugh about it…
    And if those parents don’t giggle at some point, they are the bad parents. Just remember all the crap you want to complain about, is the same crap your parents went through. And I’m sure they don’t gripe about it as much as their kids do.

    BTW, love the pics and the site.
    You are awesome!

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.