This is what Halle looked like when she left for school today: black high top converse, pink knee socks, cut-offs, striped Ralph Lauren shirt from the DI, black sequin bag, fabulous coat, sunglasses and standard 10 year-old pony tail. I looked at her and wondered if her knees would be cold… and then my memory neurons fired up and past experiences with her older sisters flooded my brain. I remembered battles over clothes and outfits and hair styles and tears (mine) and pouting (me) and then the inevitable surrender (by me).
When daughter number one, Courtnee, was three (really, three!), she started having an opinion on how she dressed and what she would wear. Okay, I thought, we will go with it because daughter number two, Riley, is a baby and she doesn’t know how to express an opinion on what she wears so she will wear whatever I decide. Of course, this new attitude usually stopped at the front door and sometimes I still managed to get Courtnee to wear what I wanted her to. Then she turned four.
When Courtnee was four and Riley was one, I ran an after-school kindergarten program. I spent every afternoon, and some mornings, with 20-30 kindergarten-aged children. Courtnee and Riley came to work with me and Courtnee, and I, received a great education on the fashion of five-year-olds.I don’t really remember how the boys dressed (do other people notice how boys dress or is it just because I am the mother of four girls), but the girls…they were fabulous. One girl would come to school in her dance class tutu and her high-tops. Another girl wore nothing but jeans, logo t-shirts, and Nike shoes. One girl even wore fairy wings. Sometimes their outfits matched, and sometimes they didn’t, but they were happy and comfortable and themselves.
You might wonder what kind of parents would let their children dress in such a way? Well, I will tell you. The school I worked at was one of the best public elementary schools in a fairly progressive and liberal city and thanks to open-enrollment, the students came from a variety of areas. They also came from the homes of highly-educated, talented, and ultra-successful parents. They did not dress the way they did because money was an object, because for most of them it wasn’t. These parents were a bit ahead of me in the parenting game and I learned some important lessons from them:
1. Let your child express their personality, dreams, and style in whatever is comfortable to them.
2. You can get great fashion tips from a 5 year-old.
3. Choose your battles…clothing choice is not worth damaging your relationship with your child or injuring their sometimes fragile egos.
4. Realize that your child’s choice of dress style does not mean you are a bad parent…or a good parent.
5. Remember that you are the parent, and sometimes you get to decide.
All great lessons, but lets face it, the image we present to other people affects the way people view us and our children. We might not like it, we might refuse to believe it, we might fight it, but we can’t change it. First impressions matter…and later impression do as well. So, after 20 years of raising girls, and over 40 years of being one, I have learned a few things on my own:
1. Be flexible…there are times besides February when red and pink look great together.2. Compromise…I pick outfits on MWF and you pick outfits on TTHSa.3. Don’t let them do the shopping, and then the only outfits they have to choose from are things you know you approve of. Caution: if they are like my girls, they will refuse to wear it if they don’t like it.4. Let them come shopping with you so you know that they will wear whatever your hard-earned money has purchased. Or let them buy it with their hard-earned money.5. Cleanliness and neatness are not an option…if you have worn it every day for the last week, it ain’t going to happen…if you got it off your bedroom floor underneath a pile of books, shoes, makeup, etc. it ain’t going to happen…if it is torn or broken in any way…DITTO!6. Modesty is not an option…enough said.7. Weather and season-appropriate dressing is not an option…okay, sometimes it is. I did let Halle wear a blue cotton jumper to church last week, but it looked great and weather appropriate with a black cardigan and tall black boots. I did not, however, let her wear her white eyelet dress the week before.8. There are certain times when I will pick outfits…no exceptions! Family pictures, formal events, funerals, and any other times I decide (see #5 in previous list). These things happen rarely enough that I will choose this battle and I will win.9. Age-appropriate dressing is a must…children are not miniature adults and girls get enough distorted messages from society about women and sexuality.10. Everything changes when they are teenagers and 99% of the time it is not worth the battle…except for the modesty issue! Just make sure you establish the ground rules when they are young and most of the time their choices will be okay.11. Your kids can teach you a lot about style and stepping outside of your comfort zone in what you wear and how you express yourself.12. Every girl goes through a pony-tail phase at about age 10. They will grow out of it.13. Find your own style and you won’t worry so much about theirs.