I have had many, many difficult conversations with my children. I've told my older boys, who are 9 and 7, the facts of life twice, because they each forgot once and asked me again.
I've also spent the past four years having many hard conversations about my health with my three children, thanks to a diagnosis of stage IV colon cancer 11 weeks after my daughter was born.
None of this was easy.
But, surprisingly, the conversation that hit me the hardest came yesterday, when it came time to tell my oldest the truth about Santa, reports The Washington Post.
I knew in my heart it was time. He'd been asking very probing questions to my husband (we are both lawyers, so he's been brought up to ask probing questions). My husband had remained vague in his answers, but I remember how embarrassed I was when I found out.
I was just about at his age and felt so stupid, like everyone had known the truth but me. I insisted we spill the beans.
Yesterday, when he was tucked up for bed last night (the best time for chatting) we approached the topic. My husband went first, and I batted cleanup. My son, who had basically figured it out, handled it like a pro. I was a disaster.
Of course, I felt sad he was growing up, but that wasn't the cause of my unease. It was more that I felt guilty, and it was that feeling that baffled me. It wasn't that I thought I'd told him too young - I was also in third grade when I learned the truth.
A brief survey of my friends supported this. They were mostly in second and third grade when they figured it out.
And while some of them said their older children still didn't know (and they were dreading the day they'd have to tell them), most agreed that 9 was about when their kids found out.
One friend said that her third-grade teacher told the whole class, which seems totally inappropriate and horrible to me but still supported my general third-grade thesis.
Nor was it that I'd somehow erased the magic of Christmas for him
For one thing, he already knew. Someone's grandma had spilled the beans, and word traveled fast through Mrs. Gallagher's third-grade class.
Moreover, my husband and I did our best to convince him that the act of being Santa is itself a sort of Christmas magic, one that he could now participate in, since he was in on the story.
My son loves to be treated like a big kid, and the thought of getting to help set things up while his younger siblings were asleep tickled him pink.
To tie the bow on the whole thing, I read him the entire "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" editorial before I said good night, and we had a great conversation about belief vs. faith and how it's nice to believe in the romance of life. I think the magic of Christmas is safe for him.
I finally figured out what was making me feel bad. I felt guilty having to tell him that his parents had lied to him for all these years.
I truly believe that Santa is a wonderful myth that brings delight to children (although I am also sympathetic to my friends, many of whom are single moms, who refuse to let some old white guy get credit for the gifts they worked so hard for).
I grew up believing, and loved it, and have, obviously, raised my kids the same way. But ever since I was diagnosed, our family policy has been to not lie to the kids.
We keep it age appropriate, we sometimes soften the truth a bit, and we have been oh so lucky that so far (knock on wood) we haven't had to have the really, really hard conversation. But telling the truth to them - not just about my health but in general - has become our rule.
And so fessing up to a lie, even a beautiful one, hurt. There's not much I can do about it now, except keep on with the truth telling and hope for the best.
But it has soured me, just a bit, on the magic of Santa.
• Dunsmore is a former attorney and mother who lives outside of Boston. She blogs about books and national parks at queenofbooklandia.com.