This morning one of my kids went to school wearing clothes that were mismatched, a tad too big and, frankly, tacky.
But the clothes were in good condition and seasonally appropriate, so I’ll allow it.
Several years ago I stopped apologizing for my kids’ clothes. “He dressed himself!” I’d explain, embarrassed by clothes that don’t match, or a Halloween costume in June, or that same shirt they wore yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that…
But then I realized that none of my friends ever looked at my two-year old wearing an oversized Virginia Tech jersey and a fluorescent turquoise tutu and assumed that I had put that outfit together, so I didn’t need to explain.
Plus, I realized I was inadvertently shaming them. It’s better to allow people to think that I have bad taste, we were rushed, or that I simply don’t care. Or they can assume what really happened: my kid chose their own outfit.
With a few exceptions, I let my kids choose their clothes, as long as they are in good condition and appropriate for the weather.
I would like to say that I allow my kids to choose their clothes because raising kids who are independent! Expressive! Confident! Creative! But that’s not the case. I’d love for my kids to look like they stepped out of a MiniBoden catalogue. I gave up that dream because they don’t want it, and the fight isn’t worth it.
(Plus, their crazy outfits and wild hair goes well with my laid back, whatever-goes, as long as it’s safe and fun it’s fine parenting style.)
The reason, I realized, that I feel such a strong desire to explain my kids’ outfits is because I am worried that people will judge me — my parenting — by how my kids look.
Appearances are such indicators of our parenting abilities, right? Good parents have an orderly home and quiet kids who fold their hands in their laps. Every picture on Instagram of kids in coordinated outfits is followed by a trail of comments — Wow! My kids would never cooperate – This is amazing! – How did you pull this off?
So if my kid is mismatched and out of fashion, I’m the one to blame, right?
But appearances are nonsense. They mean absolutely nothing. Everyone knows it and everyone acts like it isn’t true, even though they also know it is.
The “get dressed fight” I mentioned a few paragraphs ago is a fight every parent knows, but it looks different in every house, for every child. There might be tears over brushed hair, or foot-stomping because they wanted their blue pants, not the khakis. Or there might be bigger issues. It could be stubbornness, or it could be anxiety, or sensory processing challenges. The spectrum of “the get dressed fight” is exactly why it’s ridiculous to compare.
Perhaps this is another area in which we could use a little more grace — for our kids, for each other, for ourselves. Because we’re all given a different set of circumstances, but we’re all doing our best.
In my house, the “get dressed fight” is a big one, one I worry about, dread, pray about, and have spent hours strategizing and trying to conquer. In the midst of those knockdown, drag-out fights I am forced to admit the truth — the way we look doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. Appearances don’t matter, even when strangers’ opinions of my parenting is at stake. The only thing that matters is the heart; who we are inside. And so I am making an effort to shift my hours of effort and prayer toward helping my kids know and believe that who they are inside is what makes them beautiful.
I stopped caring, and apologizing, and making excuses a long time ago — years ago, even. So why am I writing about this now? It’s because we’ve made progress. And progress has perhaps been the best indicator that it doesn’t matter. That when, at home there are tears and tantrums and an entire drawer full of shorts in different sizes, styles and brands that you bought hoping MAYBE one pair would work, the only thing that actually matters is that your child feels comfortable with you — and they trust that you won’t force them, kicking, screaming, tearing at their waistband, into a shape they do not fit into.
Before I became a mother I never imagined that something like a pair of shoes could cause so much hand-wringing. A pair of comfortable shoes! Not even patent leather or boots. You try the expensive brand that promises comfort, and you even let your little one choose sparkles or characters or whatever they want. You have no illusions about Saltwaters or Uggs or even a basic pair of sneakers. Style or even foot support doesn’t matter. All that maters is that it’s February, and your child can’t wear sandals.
All you want is for them to be happy, to feel comfortable, and to know that you hear them; you’re on the same team.
The end result might not match or be in style, but it is, I believe, what good parenting looks like.