what (not) to wear

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.

22 thoughts on “what (not) to wear

  1. Cassie

    My daughter (3 yrs old) is the same way! What I’ve done is hid the majority of her clothes in the closet (she doesn’t go in there) and I leave in her drawers just a few options that I am okay with if she picks. LOL!

  2. Lacey

    We are right there with Emma. By the way…it starts at 2 🙁 I couldn’t get her in a dress the other day for our church picture for the directory the dress that she picked out when I bought it. So…I gave in to one that wasn’t as “cute”. But who will ever know. She still looked pretty and we got our picture made.

    When her daddy gets her dressed she doesn’t seem to need choices but when mommy gets her dressed she needs choices. Arghhh 🙂

  3. Gail

    I’m a mess. I have cried about 12 times in the last day and a half. This was cry #8 and 11. What in the world? This wasn’t sad. I’m just a mess about parenting in general right now, and this dovetailed right into my inner angst and sentimentality. Anyway, thanks for sharing it!

  4. Missy

    I love the name tag thing! Too funny! At the rate I buy second hand clothes, half of Leah’s stuff doesn’t match each other anyway. 😉

  5. Kelley

    Even though I am Mrs. Preppy and want my step-daughter and little sister to follow in my footsteps, I am reminded of the time when I was 3 and was bound and determined to wear a lampshade cover as a skirt. My mama refused, but I thought it made the most perfect skirt ever…bright red with white polka dots and it swirled! Even though Mama didn’t let me wear it out of the house, she let me sport it indoors and it makes for a funny reminder when the young ‘uns decide to adorn themselves in something crazy.

  6. ginger

    my girls used to wear their dress-up costumes to the store (they are a little too old now. *sigh*) all I ever heard was how cute they looked. and i was all warm & fuzzy inside. still am. it’s a great memory. thanks for a great post that i think could give birth to an amazing book. 😉

  7. Mama 2

    A sweet post…..and reminder to all of mom’s…but it doesnt have to be a battle/struggle. It’s called offering your child choices of a few pants/bottoms and a few tops/t-shirts that match those pants and they pick from those and thats what they wear…or they can run around in their underwear and stay home and not go out…to the store/park/or nana’s. God Bless to all those moms who struggle/battle with their children at dress time…May the best one win.

  8. Annie Whitehurst

    so sweet! it reminds me of a few months back when we were having dinner and a couple walked by with their daughter, who looked to be about 4 years old. She was wearing a princess dress-up dress complete with the plastic shoes and accessories. She stopped at our table to look at Annabelle who was in her carrier and I told her how much I loved her dress. She just beamed. The mom smiled and said, “You just wait. I said I’d NEVER be the parent who let her child out of the house dressed like this. Never say never…” I thought it was so sweet. The little girl thought she looked like a million bucks.. and she did… and her parents were smart to choose thier battles. Although, I agree, Target and out to eat is one thing, but to someone’s wedding is another! 🙂 (that goes back to choosing your battles)! These years do go by way too fast and I must say I am enjoying the “mommy buys cute little gap outfit and baby wears it” stage. Also the “mommy puts a big ole bow on my head and I keep it there” stage… I know it wont be long and I’ll be choosing my battles with my sweet girl…

  9. Aunt T

    how true! Tina and I used to go around…then one day I thought I would pick something total opposite of what I would wear….she loved it…She wanted to be herself and not MOM….but now we are shopping buddies and pretty much like the same thing….enjoy your girlies while they are young sweetie….it does go fast…thanks for reminding me today of this.!!!

  10. Heather

    Thanks for this insightful post! I’m the mommy of a cutie-patootie 9 month old girl, and I can easily see how I already want her to look “fashionable”…in her baby Gap clothes of course! haha! I needed this reminder that it REALLY doesn’t matter what clothes she has on…and I’ll especially need to remember this in about 5 years! Thanks for helping us have the right perspective on what’s truly important!

  11. Liz

    My Boys…. being boys…. just want to “MATCH” not “coordinate!” They like wearing plain blue shorts with a plain blue shirt – that both are navy blue but you know that no 2 navy blue are EVER the exact same color. Now try explaining, “That doesn’t match… well it does match it doesn’t coordinate… please find something that coordinates!” — To boys…. that’s impossible!!! 🙂
    Again… sometimes it’s just not a battle to fight!

    Have a great day and enjoy the sun shine! How did the girls soccer season end. Aidan is done with his this Saturday – but we just got the fall ball info in Cole’s bag yesterday! WHEW…. it never ends!

  12. Charity

    Awesome post. Thanks so much. Our 6 year old is like that – wears shorts in winter (we live in Michigan, it is NOT shorts weather in January!!), wears purple fleece pants in summer with 3 layered t-shirts on top: red, orange and yellow. Sigh. Puts temporary tattoos on her face (who bought her that art kit anyway?). Rubs dirt on her cheeks so she, too, can have a beard. I love her to pieces but sometimes I want her to wear a cute dress. Thanks for the reminder to let her be her – these years will pass too fast.

  13. Elizabeth

    I used to call my daughter Punky Brewster because her outfits were so outlandish. She doesn’t remember it, but I did let her wear them out in public (but never to church. That’s when her daddy had to help). I reminded her of this recently when she was horrified that I let her brother wear his Buzz Lightyear costume to Target. She was so embarrassed. I was so proud of him! It takes confidence to go out in public like that.

    Tell Miss Ava that I love her style!

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