Column: When the tooth fairy bites into parental disputes

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A kid I know recently lost his first tooth. He beamed with pride. And his mother was thrilled for him; he grew up! It was a big deal. And… he would be visited by the Tooth Fairy! Except she learned a few minutes later that her ex-husband had already told him that the tooth fairy isn’t real.

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Disagreements over the upbringing of children are often the subject of lawsuits. Parents often argue about what activities children should do after school, costs and transportation. When families are separated, these disagreements take on new meaning and often new consequences, as one parent’s favorite activity can suddenly be quite far from the other’s home. Then there are broader philosophical and health-related questions, which are also often the subject of discussion. What are the skills children need to acquire to be happy adults? Is junior hockey the gateway to a concussion-filled life? Which is more important, skiing or Sunday school?

The legal system does a lot to settle these disputes. When the inability of the parents to cooperate is great, one of the parents may be given the right to decide. Other times, as is the case with religion, the court will often require parents to tolerate the other parent doing things differently. But there are many small, timely decisions that can be very important to parents that the legal system is not well positioned to address. And the tooth fairy may fall into that category.

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Unless there is a legal urgency, a court hearing takes months. There are also proportionality rules. And I did not see anyone, as I pondered the matter, seriously argue that the failure of a court to adjudicate a Tooth Fairy dispute on an urgent basis would cause irreparable damage. I couldn’t find any meaningful jurisprudence on this issue either.

The ex-husband who was against the tooth fairy made arguments like this: The tooth fairy doesn’t exist. The world is already full of wonders and things that are hard to fathom (such as the composition of molecules). Aren’t parents just encouraging their kids toward consumerist nonsense? Many children in the world do not get a tooth fairy, just as children who do not grow up on Christmas have no experience of Santa Claus. Is this really such a problem? Live the difference!

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The parent who was in favor of the Tooth Fairy was a person who took great pleasure in her experience with 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 solving this problem was legion. How could the mother present her child with a compellingly different point of view? Maybe the doors of his father’s childhood home were locked too tightly and the tooth fairy couldn’t get in? Maybe the tooth fairy only comes if you believe in her? Finally, she decided to do the Tooth Fairy the usual way, leaving money and a very short note in exchange for the tooth, which she threw away.

Much to her disappointment, as it was not at all what she expected, her son was saddened the next morning when the tooth he had so proudly displayed was gone. And at that moment she could not have felt more terrible (it was not possible to retrieve the tooth). She vowed never to do the Tooth Fairy the same way again.

I thought it wise not to have our legal system well positioned to judge some of these matters, because while our emotions can run high and we can be so convinced that we have the right answer, there is no one answer that’s correct. As for me, as the children around me grow up and grow up, day by day, I find that I am too.

Alexandra Kirschbaum is the owner of Kirschbaum & Co. She has been practicing family law since 2013.

Column: When the tooth fairy bites into parental disputes

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