A child I know recently lost his first tooth. He beamed with pride. And his mother was excited for him; he was growing up! It was a big deal. And … he would get a visit from the Tooth Fairy! Except that she learned, a few minutes later, that her ex-husband had already told him that the Tooth Fairy isn’t real.
Disagreements about how to raise children are frequently the subject of court cases. Parents often fight over which activities children should do after school, the cost and the transportation. When families are separated, these disagreements take on new meaning, and often, new consequences, as one parent’s activity of choice may suddenly be quite a distance from the home of the other. Then there are broader philosophical and health-related questions, which are also frequently the subject of dispute. What are the skills that children must acquire to be happy adults? Is junior hockey the gateway to a life of concussions? What is more important, skiing or Sunday School?
The court system does a lot to adjudicate these disputes. Where the inability of parents to cooperate is significant, one parent may be given the right to decide. Other times, as is the case with religion, the court will often require parents to tolerate that the other parent will do things differently. But there are a lot of little, in-the-moment decisions that can feel very important to parents, that the court system is not well positioned to address. And the Tooth Fairy can fall into that category.
Unless something is legally urgent, getting a hearing in court takes months. There are also rules of proportionality. And I could not see anyone, as I contemplated the issue, arguing in earnest that the failure of a court to adjudicate a Tooth Fairy dispute on an urgent basis would create irreparable harm. I also could not find meaningful case law on the matter.
The ex-husband who opposed the Tooth Fairy made arguments like this: the Tooth Fairy isn’t real. The world is already full of miracles, and things that are difficult to fathom (like the composition of molecules). Aren’t parents just encouraging their children in the direction of consumerist nonsense? Many children in the world do not get a Tooth Fairy, in the same way that children who don’t grow up with Christmas do not have an experience of Santa Claus. Is this really such a problem? Vive la differénce!
The parent in favour of the Tooth Fairy was a person who derived a great deal of pleasure from her experience of the Tooth Fairy as a child, who wanted to share that experience with her children. She sees it as harmless fun, and part of the magic of childhood.
The mental gymnastics involved in resolving this problem were legion. How could the mother present a compelling different point of view to her child? Perhaps the doors of his father’s childhood home were too well locked, and the Tooth Fairy could not get inside? Maybe the Tooth Fairy only comes if you believe in her? Finally, she settled on doing the Tooth Fairy in an ordinary way, leaving money and a very short note, in exchange for the tooth, which she discarded.
Much to her disappointment, as it was not at all what she expected, her son was sad the following morning, when the tooth he had been so proud to show around was gone. And in that moment, she could not have felt more awful (it was not possible to retrieve the tooth). She vowed not to do the Tooth Fairy the same way again.
I thought, there’s a wisdom in not having our court system well positioned to adjudicate on some of these matters, because although our emotions can run strong, and we can be so convinced we have the right answer, there isn’t one answer that is correct. As for me, as the kids around me are maturing and growing up, one day at a time, I find that I am as well.
Alexandra Kirschbaum is the owner of Kirschbaum & Co. She has practised family law since 2013.