With a baby, it’s simple. Mommy buys cute GAP outfit. Baby wears cute GAP outfit without so much as a murmur of complaint. And then Baby turns into Little Person somewhere around age two—or three or four? I can’t even remember now. All I know is that they begin to use words. Then sentences.
Before you know it, you’re trying to get your compliant child dressed to go to the store and you hear, “I don’t want to wear this! I want to wear that!”
And that could be just about anything. The wrinkled dinosaur pajamas in his bottom drawer. The sequined (ripped, stained) ballet leotard handed down from her older cousin. The ski pants when it’s summer. The too-small shirt that shows her adorable pudgy belly. The flowered top with the striped bottoms.
“No, sweetie. We can’t wear that to the store. Mommy has an outfit all picked out for you, okay? Don’t you like this extra-special t-shirt and jeans? See how cute they are?”
But your child doesn’t see. And a temper tantrum ensues. And you stare at your little angel aghast. And then you look at your watch. And then back at your child. And you have a monumental decision to make. And pronto. The response you choose could very well determine whether your child becomes a missionary in India or a hoodlum in a street gang.
Whatcha gonna do?
Before I impart some half-baked advice, let me get some background on you first. What’s your true motivation for having your child look a certain way?
If fashion is a big deal to you, then chances are, you will care deeply what your child looks like when you’re out and about.
If you throw on clothes without much thought, this area might not be as much of a battleground for you and yours. Susie can wear a feed sack if she’s so inclined.
Or maybe you were never a fashionista but secretly wished you were. Your kids might be your second chance to make a first impression.
If you see your child’s appearance as a reflection on his/her mother, well, then, this battle will be big for you. (Unless God blesses you with a little one who shares Mama’s incredible sense of fashion.)
Basically, you have a decision to make. Which is more important—that Johnny look how I want him to look or that I let him make his own choices (wearing his Spiderman pajamas out in public for the third day in a row)?
Too bad there’s no one right answer. And too bad your answer will change based on circumstances. For example, taking your son to Target in his stained and wrinkled Thomas the Tank engine t-shirt is not going to kill anyone. But letting him wear it to his aunt’s wedding is another story.
Meet my friend, Sandi. When Sandi’s daughter Whitney was five or six, they went round and round when it came to Whitney getting dressed in the morning. “She had very firm ideas about what she would and would not wear,” Sandi says. “I was exhausted, and we were both crying every day.”
Sandi’s solution? “I finally bought some stick-on name tags and wrote on them ‘I dressed myself today.’ I would slap one on her, and out the door we would go.”
Too bad I never thought of that—especially with daughter #2. Not that tags are necessary with Ava—it’s obvious who dressed her little self. (example: white t-shirt, jean skirt, white Mary Janes, and super-thick, bright yellow Sponge Bob Square Pants knee socks. Catholic school girl with a twist.)
It wasn’t that Sandi was picky or snobby. She just wanted Whitney to match (they affectionately called her Miss Polka-Dot-Checks-and-Stripes). Well that, and to not wear shorts in the dead of winter. Sandi took great joy in dressing her two daughters alike. Whitney wasn’t having any of it.
Little Miss Polka Dot is 20 years old now, and according to mom, “she eventually got her wardrobe seasonally appropriate and has a great fashion sense.”
Something Sandi said to me later struck quite a nerve in my mother heart. “I wish I had known then how fast it would all go,” she said. “I would have let her wear her snow boots and shorts every day like she wanted to.”
Wow. Take it from Sandi, a mom who has been there and has come out on the other side. Fifteen years later, she says the unthinkable. It didn’t matter what my daughter wore.
Just yesterday, Ava put on a pink-and-white striped t-shirt and said, “Can I wear one of my skirts?” The girl loves skirts.
“Honey, the only skirts you have clean are flowered.”
“That’s okay,” she said. “Can I wear a skirt anyway? I don’t like matchin’ stuff. ”
I thought of little Whitney, sighed and nodded yes. As I watched her pull her green-and-blue flowered skirt up over her little girl legs, round bottom and up onto her little waist where it clashed happily against her pink-and-white stripes, I grinned.
“Ava, you look sooooo beautiful,” I said. She hugged me tight around the neck, and I didn’t ever want to let her go.
I wrote this 2-ish years ago with the intent of putting it in a book (that may or may not ever get finished). No deep spiritual meaning. Just some encouragement for you sweet mamas of young ones to embrace these fleeting days—and to remember what really matters.
And Miss Ava (going on 7) still isn’t into wearing stuff that actually “goes together.” We have a deal—she doesn’t ever have to match, and rarely does. But she’s got this quirky, endearing way of making mismatched look cute. I could learn a thing or twelve from that little girl.