“Adoption—the Santa Claus Syndrome”

“You don’t have to be a child to be a victim of Santa Claus syndrome. Anyone who has ever been intentionally lied to is aware of the hurtful feelings of deceit. Santa Claus syndrome is the intentional deception of others with the rationalized ideal that lying, tarradiddles, falsehoods, untruths, fairy tales and perjury are acceptable behavior.” —Judith Land

Santa Claus Syndrome

There are things in this life that we must come to terms with at some point in our lives. Some childhood awakenings are quite simple, while others are troubling and overtly traumatic.

The threat of being judged and intentionally exiled from family has a strong effect on the human soul and the fragile psyche and the spirit of an adoptee. “Santa Claus only brings presents to good little boys and girls. If your behavior doesn’t improve, we’ll send you back where you came from.” I know these feelings from firsthand experience. I had never had an honest or open conversation with my adoptive mother Rosella about my birth parents because any mention of them aroused jealousy and suspicion. Even in adulthood, she possessively clung to me as her only child and was unwilling to share me with others or compete for my attention. She was opinionated, intolerant of mothers who abandoned their children, and strongly opposed to adoption reunions. The fear of imminent death by cancer eventually motivated her to unburden her most cumbersome secrets before she died. I was startled when she unexpectedly breached the topic of adoption. “As an adoptee, there are some unique things you are entitled to know. Some organizations provide false identities to adoptees to prevent them from locating their biological parents. Sealed adoption records protect birth parents wishing to live a secret lifestyle, unwilling to have their lives disrupted by unwanted children they previously rejected. At the time when you were born, fake baptismal and birth certificates were routinely issued to deceive adoptees by some organizations,” she calmly divulged while quietly sipping her tea. “Public policy may seem cold and uncivilized to you, but that was the law. Your baptism certificate states that you were baptized at Holy Angels Catholic Church, but that is simply not true. The document is a fake. You should write to Saint Lawrence Catholic Church to request a copy of your original baptismal certificate,” she suggested matter-of-factly.

I was shocked. It had never occurred to me that anyone would create false documents to protect birth parents from their own children. Hearing this information was an emotional low. When I was a child, adults had bamboozled me into believing that Santa Claus existed—and I had believed them. My reaction was the same now as it had been then. Childish stories about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and a dozen other fairy tale characters living in pumpkins and tree houses in Never Land seemed harmless at the time, but these stories offered conclusive proof that adults lied to children to intentionally deceive them. I had been deliberately given false birth and baptismal certificates to prevent me from discovering my true self-identity—the names of my parents, my medical and cultural history and the exact location where I was born. The actions of the authorities were premeditated, deliberate, calculated and cold-blooded. My adoption was part of a formal conspiracy to appease birth parents living in the fear of coming face-to-face with their own children. The legal practice of falsifying birth and baptismal certificates was a tidy and convenient solution for everyone except the poor, helpless, abandoned child.

I went straight to my safety deposit box to retrieve my baptismal certificate. I immediately recognized that something was glaringly wrong. My mother was right. The information was incorrect. The document was a forgery because it had been falsely issued a year before I was adopted and fourteen months before my name was legally changed to the surname of my adopted parents. Exposure of the fraud that had been perpetrated on me provided a new challenge, sparked my curiosity, and reignited my enthusiasm for continuing my adoption quest. I tried to appear outwardly calm because it was easier to rationalize my thoughts and behavior from a secular, detached perspective than the inner spiritual, existential, and emotional base from which my innermost thoughts derived. It was difficult to constrain my fears as I wondered if the early part of my life was a dark place with evil people that I shouldn’t go. Was I naively engaging in an activity that I shouldn’t be doing? Was I unwisely about to uncover something tragic, misfortunate, and undisturbed? Would my actions generate complications and unforeseen problems? Perhaps, I would be safer and happier—if I returned to Never Land and continued my perpetual childhood belief in Santa Claus along with everyone else in the world who was ever lied to about something they were steered into with immense emotional attachment.

Judith Land, Adoptee








About Judith Land

Judith Land lives in Colorado and Arizona with husband and coauthor Martin Land. Judith is a former nurse, retail shop owner, college instructor and avid outdoor person. Her book "Adoption Detective: Memoir of an Adopted Child" is a true story detailing the journey of Judith Romano, foster child and adoptee, as she discovers fragments of her background, and then sets out to solve the mystery as an adult. "Mothers and fathers everywhere in the world need to understand that children are forever and always." --Judith Land
This entry was posted in Adoption, Children, Parenting, Relationships and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to “Adoption—the Santa Claus Syndrome”

  1. Thought-provoking post Judy. I have been really struggling with these same issues. I can’t even totally put it into words what transpired and the depth of my sadness. I’ve been more worried that my actions indirectly hurt others than how it affected me personally. “Was I naively engaging in an activity that I shouldn’t be doing? Would my actions generate complications and problems as the result of my unwise interference in something tragic, misfortunate and previously undisturbed? Perhaps, I would be safer and happier—if I returned to Neverland and continued my perpetual childhood belief in Santa Claus along with everyone else in the world who was ever lied to about something they were steered into with immense emotional attachment.”

    • Judith Land says:

      JoAnne, Oh dear! I know exactly how you feel. There are many individuals who believe it is the God-given right of all adoptees to reconnect with their lost ancestors but the fear of hurting adoptive parents out of respect is a powerful hinderance that prevents many adoptees from doing an adoption search. Adoptive parents often think of adopted children as their “permanent child” in need of lifelong supervision and protection. They fail to recognize the fact that all children eventually grow to become fully functioning adults capable of making their own decisions and self-determination about search and reunions. Most seekers must overcome many difficulties, fears, and psychological barriers before they can enjoy the joys and benefits of adoption reunions. Most children think of their birth parents with growing wisdom and in the spirit of forgiveness. For many adoptees the reunion experience is strongly desired, and when guided with sufficient balance and understanding, it can enable the seeker to become well in an age of illness and anxiety. Out of respect for my adoptive parents, I greatly reduced my public display of enthusiasm when in their presence and consciously increased my appreciation for them. I wish you success in whatever you decide to do. Judith

    • Judith Land says:

      “The truth will set you free” is a common saying in academic circles that want to promote academic freedom and the power of learning. Many universities have this quote emblazoned on a sign near the entrance of a building. But Jesus’ statement (John 8:31) speaks of a higher form of knowledge than is capable of being learned in a classroom. The freedom he speaks about is a spiritual freedom from the lifestyle of habitual sin and concealment.

  2. Steve H. says:

    I am curious as to whether your sentiment is against adoption altogether or just that you object to the intense efforts to hide the birth parents?

    • Judith Land says:

      Steve H. – Thank you for your question regarding adoption.

      There are four kinds of adoption—nefarious, forgivable, warranted, and praiseworthy. Many ethical issues arise in connection with the procurement of adoptable children, as well as their fair distribution. What to do with orphaned and abandoned children due to war, disease, natural disasters and pestilence is a global issue; an eternal question that humans have tried to answer since the dawn of civilization. The placement of children rejected by the biological parents is an entirely different ethical situation, and many conflicting opinions exist on this topic from various sources. There are times when adoption is the obvious and best solution, or even the only solution, but children should never be treated like scarce commodities or luxuries and distributed based on the adopted parents ability to pay. There also is a question about whether or not the destructive behavior of parents, such as alcoholism, criminality, and poor health, should be penalized; whether married couples and the corporate leader should receive priority over the recluse or alternative life-style parents; and the consequences of giving one race, religion, region, or nation favored status and preferential treatment is a reoccurring social issue. Library shelves are filled with scientific research, the writings of psychologists, and many wise experienced individuals, and more attention should be paid to their advice and the predictable consequences of adoption. The early formative years in a child’s life are critical to healthy development, and I favor the traditional parent child relationship over institutional care for that reason.

      I believe it is the God-given right of all individuals to know their true self-identity, cultural heritage, family medical history and place of origin. With age comes wisdom and experience, and in adulthood most adoptees tend think of their birth parents with an ever increasing sense of understanding and forgiveness. The reunion experience when guided by sufficient balance and understanding can help some individuals become well in this age of illness and anxiety. Judith

  3. Reblogged this on FORBIDDEN FAMILY and commented:
    As I reflect on my childhood, I now am uncomfortable with the concept of Santa Claus.

    Today, I would not intentionally lie to my children, but I did, because their father and I went through our children’s early childhoods taking them to see Santa in the Mall and we dutifully laid out cookies and milk and hid presents under the tree.

    I now see that I was guilty of imposing the Santa Claus Syndrome on my children. As an adoptee, I should have known better. But I fell for the cultural bias of the times. And I now despise what I did, and I despise the way I was raised, too, with lies of all sorts.

    Sure, as a young child I was delighted, but when I realized that the wonder of Santa was a lie, I felt deceived.

    Just as my childhood was ending, at 18, I got the biggest shock of my life. That’s when I was found by siblings I was never supposed to know. That’s when all the lies told to me by my adoptive parents began to unravel. That’s when I saw, for the first time in my life, that I had a birth certificate in the name of Joan Wheeler, but I also had one in the name of Doris Michol Sippel. And, like Judith Land, I also had two baptismal certificates, each handwritten and certified by the Catholic priest at our parish, the parish of my birth and baptism. So many lies. As Judith says, this lying and perjury “is not acceptable behavior”.

  4. Thank you for writing this piece.

    Reblogged at http://www.forbiddenfamily.com

  5. gooddaytotry says:

    judith nearly all moms wanted their babies, were promised if they were good little surrenderers they might be allowed to see their child in eighteen years. were never ever promised anonymity because the social workers knew what a huge lie they were telling these moms that longed so for their children. in fact the threats of not trying to contact your child were only made after the final court order.

  6. If someone is going to conquer their “Santa Claus Syndrome”, I would think that now is the perfect time. The entire world is beginning a “renaissance era”, and part of it is facing for oneself, what, if any real truth there is in religion. It takes courage, gut level honesty, and hours of contemplation to get through all of the misinterpretations we all were fed as children, not only the adopted child. Good luck, Judy. Sure hope you can come to grips with your own personal truth and keep helping the world accept the bitter with the sweet.

    It does not surprise me in the least that a Catholic Adoption agency would baptize a baby prior to their adoption. They have their own Santa Claus Syndrome to deal with….and it’s a huge one!!

    • Judith Land says:

      “The truth will set you free” is a common saying in academic circles that want to promote academic freedom and the power of learning. Many universities have this quote emblazoned on a sign near the entrance of a building. But Jesus’ statement (John 8:31) speaks of a higher form of knowledge than is capable of being learned in a classroom. The freedom he speaks about is a spiritual freedom from the lifestyle of habitual sin and concealment.

  7. Pingback: “Adoption—Fairytales and Tarradiddles” | Adoption Detective | A True Story by Judith Land

  8. michelemel says:

    Hi Judith. I, like you am an adoptee, circa 1960. Although I was not born at a Catholic home, I have often heard stories from other adoptees about the lies, particularly about the baptism. The Catholic maternity homes were the ones responsible for the “must be baptised before they leave our care “. So, you were most likelt baptised, with names left off until adoption…and your ap’s possibly knew it; that’s how she knew to tell you where to look! What is disturbing to me about your article is how your amom told you that info was changed to protect the birth parents; it was done to protect the adoptive parents, who were afraid of losing “their” baby. Supposedly, the laws that made our adoptions so secretive was to protect us, but in all reality it was to keep everything a secret, period. It’s much easier to control the entire “transaction” if the parties conducting the transaction KNOW that there is no way for the adoptee or birth family to find each other. It is all a unicorn/fairy tale lie- one the Catholic Church was most adept at perpetuating . 😦

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