I have a friend whose kids always match. Not just with each individual outfit– the kids match each other. So do their hair bows. So do their shoes. I can envision those children on the cover of a magazine. I have never been inside their home, but I assume it is impeccable and it smells good. Clearly my friend’s life is structured and productive.
Such is the power of presentation. When a mother steps out of her home and into the world and everyone in the family is well groomed and coordinated, it really doesn’t matter what she does. As long as she is not egregiously rude or violent, we tend to assume she is nearly perfect.
I can’t help but wonder what I am communicating when we leave the house. You see, my children dress themselves. Partly because that is one less thing I have to do for them, but mostly because they insist upon it. I have chosen not to fight that battle.
When my oldest son was four, he didn’t like green. He liked bright green. He also liked bright blue. He never defined which yellow he liked. (Apparently yellow is vivid enough without having to specify, as are red and orange.) He especially liked mixing his brightest colors together to make his outfits.
I often cringed a bit when he emerged from his room, ready for the day. However, he explained his system for getting dressed: “I wear bright colors when I am happy.” So, I let him choose what to wear. He was very happy that year.
I was sad when he started school and had to wear a uniform in plain, boring colors. His shoes and socks, however, remained vibrant. He also learned some things about how to dress: “Layering is cool, Mom.”
My older daughter is an artist at heart. Her favorite color is rainbow. Her clothes attest to this fact. I thought the combinations my son wore tested my fashion sense, but my daughter added patterns to the mix, making him look drab by comparison. She explained her approach to getting dressed: “All the colors in the shirt are also in the skirt, and so they match. See?” I can’t argue with that logic, and so she splashes through life as a rainbow.
When she started kindergarten, I was not sad about her wearing a uniform. I knew that her penchant for color would not fade, and it hasn’t.
My second daughter is my diva. Her favorite outfit last year was her “black kitty outfit.” If I called her “Black Kitty” she obeyed quickly and happily all day long. I kind of liked that outfit.
As with her older sister, any efforts on my part to influence her opinion have backfired. Her current favorite colors are “pink, purple, and fancy.”
I admit, I am a little jealous of my friend with stylish kids. I want my kids to be fashionable, and sometimes I wonder if I am failing my kids in some way by not teaching them to match their clothing.
Then I see my brightly clad children and remember that I made a deliberate choice to let them have control. They will not be children forever, and they will learn to follow trends and dress to be “cool.” It is already happening to my oldest. It is still cool to look like a rainbow, so I give them the power to dress themselves.
What do I communicate to the world when I step out the door with my children? Some days, I am not sure. Right now, I am more concerned with what I am communicating to my children. I am telling my children that their opinions have value. I am telling them that I don’t have time to choose their clothes every morning, but that I still love them. I am telling them that they can make decisions for themselves, and I approve of the decisions they make.
And I suppose I am telling the world that my kids are happy. Can’t you see how brightly they are dressed? You might want to grab some sunglasses.
QUESTION: In what ways do you show your children that you approve of their choices? Is there an area in their lives where they are ready to take on more responsibility?
CHALLENGE: Identify an area in your children’s lives where they can assume more responsibility, and let them do it.
Images provided by Emily Allen.