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Is Elf on the Shelf a Better Parent Than Me?

a sitting elf
Photograph by Getty Images/Flickr RF

I'd like to think it's my stellar parenting skills and firm expectations with discipline that keep my children on their best behavior. But during the pre-Christmas time of November and December, their good behavior has nothing to do with the parenting lessons I learned by watching Supernanny or reading Dr. Spock. They have put all of their extrinsic motivation of being models of Stepford children onto Wilson, our Elf on the Shelf.

As the story goes, Wilson was sent to us personally by way of the North Pole to spy on my children and report back to Santa Claus on their behavior. For the magical time between Halloween and Christmas, my children are perfect little angels, complete with imaginary halos and sincere-looking smiles because of Wilson. Not that I'm complaining, but I can't really owe their better-than-average attitudes to my parenting. I owe all of the room-cleaning, non-whining behavior to a stuffed elf.

And it's not just any elf—it's a slightly creepy-looking 8-inch-tall stuffed elf whom I am tasked with remembering to move around the house, "hiding" him for the kids to "discover" his shenanigans from the night before. What this really means is that from November through December, just as I'm falling into Dreamland, I bolt out of bed, remembering that Wilson wasn't moved, proving to my kids that he made his magical trip back to the North Pole. Can you imagine if Wilson hadn't moved from yesterday's position? The jig would be up! They would know that the little creeper was just a doll and not the Stepford-creating magical creature he is. And then the Stepford children act would be forever forgotten and my typically whiney, messy kids would return.

I need Wilson to be real in my kids' minds. I need for them to believe that their Christmas mornings would be a sad, barren wasteland if not for their perfect behavior. I need for this slightly creepy-looking, 8-inch-tall stuffed elf to bring out the best in my kids, if only for these few weeks. Because for the other 10 months of the year, at least I'll know the gift of having well-behaved children is possible.

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