I wrote about my own surrender to looking stupid a few months ago. Lately, I am realizing that this theory must apply to my children as well. Okay, let me try to circumvent any nasty comments by saying this: I don’t think my kids ever look stupid.
But . . .
sometimes the choices they make are just not my choices. And sometimes their fashion sense just doesn’t make any sense.
I’ve mentioned my disdain for character clothing, and my loathing of crocs. And yet, for some reason, these two items seem to hold a mythical attraction for Jafta. He has one “character” outfit that he begs to wear EVERY SINGLE DAY. Sometimes, at naptime, I will come in the room and find he has changed into this outfit by himself. And he wants to wear his crocs everywhere he goes. Pair this with his red Angels hat, which he also insists on wearing every day, and it’s not exactly fashion city around here.
And then there is India. She has her own quirks about dressing. She demands to wear her crocs, too, but she likes them with socks. Classy. She also refuses to wear pants, and won’t tolerate anything in her hair. So she is my messy-haired girl wearing dresses with socks and crocs. And for some reason, her latest demand is that she will only consent to wearing about four of the dresses in her closet. All of which are way too small for her.
Now I believe in picking my battles. I do not think that clothing is a battle worth fighting. But sometimes, my pride gets in the way. When we show up to preschool and all the kids are wearing Paul Frank and skater shoes, I grimace a little at my son in his Cars outfit. When we go to church at all the girls are in cute outfits with combed hair, matching bows and mary-jane shoes, I laugh and smile at India’s strong will, and inwardly wish she was wearing an outfit of MY choosing.
In my psychotherapy practice, I counsel people all the time about the concept of differentiation. It’s the idea that caring about someone doesn’t mean they need to reflect our own choices in every way. It means allowing our spouse/friends/kids to have different views, different opinions, and different tastes. Intimacy is not birthed out of being like-minded with people, or liking the same music, or clothes, or shoes. That is an adolescent’s view of intimacy, and as we move into adulthood, we choose relationships based on shared values but enjoy the differences in our circle of friends. And more importantly, we recognize the choices of others are not a reflection of us. When we let go of this false need for managing others, our relationships blossom.
Wow, that sounds great, huh? So why do I struggle so much to do this with my kids? In a way, it does seem like kids are the final frontier in the process of differentiation. It’s hard to let go of the notion that they are walking and talking representatives of who we are as a parent. But when parents treat their children like little extensions of themselves who need to mimic them in every way, where does that lead? IT BACKFIRES. We’ve all seen the ending to that story of control, and it’s not pretty.
This all takes me back to a memory of the outfit I choose to wear for my first day of high school. I was 13 years old, and having kind of an identity crisis. I couldn’t decide if I was going to be a punk-rock chic or a hip-hop diva. I loved the music and fashion and attitude of both these worlds, and back in that day, it was all about personal expression of your musical tastes.
My decision . . . and it is with great pain and embarrassment that I write this . . . my decision was to make a pair of MC Hammer-style pants out of a punk-rock fabric.
Yes, you read that correctly. I made these pants. Not only was this the lamest idea EVER, but the idea was executed by the crappy sewing skills of a 13-year-old with a semester of home economics under her belt. (I’m sure you are surprised to hear that rapper pants in punk fabrics were not readily available at the mall.)
My mom, watching this whole debacle, had two choices: a) try to talk me out of this fashion disaster, or b) take me to the fabric store and help make sure my sewing didn’t leave my butt hanging out. My mom chose to help me make the pants. I know she thought they were hideous, but she was supportive anyways. And you know what? The result is, I got out of my rapping punker stage pretty quickly. Whereas had she balked at it, I probably would have kept up appearance just to be rebellious.
All this to say, my kids may like country music (sorry ya’ll), may want to dress lame, may want to join the color guard or follow a Dave Matthews tour or be in a handbell ensemble or wear a sequined leotard while singing a Depeche Mode song in a talent show (oh wait that was me). Whatever choices they make that don’t endanger their morals or integrity are gonna need to be left up to them. And me . . . I’m gonna need to let go. Starting now.