Why we just say no to ‘Elf on a Shelf’

My coworker Mike and I started joking about Elf on a Shelf one day. Turns out, he and his wife and their four kids adore the creepy little elf. We decided to write dueling columns on our elf feelings. I could include his, too, but I don’t want to spread any elf joy. (Just kidding — his is a wonderful look at how the elf helps make the season bright for him and the kiddos.)

Here’s my column, which will run this Sunday in the features section:

Let me be clear: I love bribery.

Really love it. It’s probably the one word that sums up our parenting philosophy.

Let’s just try it out for a minute, I know you’ll agree:

“If you don’t get dressed right now, we can’t’ watch a show before breakfast.”

“Put your shoes on right now, or we won’t get a donut at the grocery store.”

“If you two call each other stupid one more time, everyone can go to bed right after dinner.” (Sometimes I wish they would tempt me – I want to go to bed!)

So when I say that I hope to never buy the “Elf on a Shelf,” it isn’t because I don’t believe in the power of bribery. Bribery is everywhere. Really, what else is a paycheck but a bribe to come to work every day? It’s a method that works on kids, works on adults.

But I don’t need a creepy little elf with weirdly small feet to harass my kids with all through the holiday season.

I have Santa.

In our house, we celebrate family, friends and all things love during the holidays. But we aren’t particularly religious, and threatening kids with eternal damnation for not picking up their toys isn’t quite immediate enough to be effective. So we turn to the fat guy in the red suit. And his reindeer, of course.

“Santa’s watching you” is a quality holiday threat. It’s stood the test of time – my own parents used it on me, and I’m sure it thwarted many tantrums.

I can’t even say that my annoyance with the Elf on the Shelf is because of the over commercialism – the movies, the various elves, the books. I mean, I didn’t even know about that stuff until my coworker Mike Klinski, an Elf fan, mentioned them. Besides, I love Christmas movies and Santa pictures and treasure a ceramic Santa piggy bank I’ve had since I was 5.

No, my Elf dislike has nothing to do with the “reason for the season,” with rants about marketing to kids, with parents being pulled along.

It’s the pressure.

So much pressure!

There’s no way I can remember to rearrange a red felt doll with an oversized head every night before I go to bed. I can’t always remember to let our dog out. And then there’s all those parents – some of them my friends, even! – who post photos of their cleverness and their cute Elf scenarios. Oh, the wonder of the season they’re creating for their children!

They probably always have all their laundry folded and put away and don’t have crumbs catching fire in their toasters. These are not my people. My Elf would be a disappointment to me, to my children, to the world at large. Knowing this about myself is the main reason I’m not on Pinterest – why pretend I’m going to be Martha Stewart, only to feel bad every day that I’m not?

So, I’m sorry, kids. We don’t have an Elf on the Shelf.

Mommy can’t commit to it every holiday season. But we do our own thing, our own way – and we’ll figure out our own family traditions as we go along. Right now the main one is letting the kids hang our holiday ornaments, which means my tree is neither attractive nor symmetrical and everything breakable is hung on the top.

But it’s ours. And theirs. And I think we’ll be fine without an Elf.

Besides, I just saw Rudolph’s nose so bright, and if you don’t get upstairs and into the bathtub, he’ll fly right by our house and won’t you be sad on Christmas.

Works like a charm, every time.

And here is the silly photo my coworker Emily shot of us:

Elf vs. Santa Clause

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