Wednesday, January 29, 2014

From Homeless to Hipster... (and Everything in Between): WhyI've[Almost] Always Allowed My Daughter to Pick Out Her Own Clothes...

I'm sure that this post has been years in the making, just as my little girl has been five years in the making... but I'm finally taking the time to write it down!

"Did you dress yourself today?" is a question my daughter gets... a lot! It's always asked in love, and she always answers "yes" with pride. I can't remember exactly how old she was when she began picking her outfits out, but she has loved " dressing up" since she was one. As I was looking through old pictures, I found so many of her dressed up that I can't post them all, so we'll have to settle for a choice few. The question I will attempt to answer is why I have allowed her to dress herself on most days. 


I want her to be a trendsetter, not a trend follower...

She has possessed her own sense of style for as long as I can remember, and my husband and I have always enjoyed her outfits (although he's usually the one that tends to get embarrassed to take her into public wearing some of them!) She has rarely embarrassed me, and in a few years I'm sure I will be the one embarrassing her with how I dress. I'm not much of a trend follower, either!  I wanted to share my "method to the madness" theory of why I have encouraged and allowed her to express herself through her clothes. Don't get me wrong, there are times when she just can't wear whatever she wants... i.e. picture days, or when we need to look presentable for whatever reason. On those occasions, I help her choose an outfit or coach ( maybe coax) her in what she should wear to the event. Although she has a knack for putting wild patterns together and is certainly not too "matchy matchy," she actually comes up with some cute ensembles! 

I am currently reading (re-reading?) The New Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson. Not only because my daughter has a mind of her own, (at least since she turned two!) but because her little brother is now two and is most certainly a strong-willed little boy! Most, if not all, information I have read about strong-willed children is that it is actually a good thing. They are more likely to have the resolve to not give in to peer pressure when they are faced with it, and they tend to grow up to be hard working adults. Now, when they are two years old and would rather spend 15 minutes screaming, flailing, and refusing to sit in their stroller... ignoring your attempts to bribe them to do it with a soft pretzel, and would rather lie on the nasty concrete of a busy city than do what you want them to do, then it doesn't seem like a good thing at the time (yep, true story). However, I would much rather my children to grow up with strong wills as opposed to weak wills, wouldn't you? Charlotte Mason has some fascinating stuff to say about a child's will, which I will be writing about in a later post, but even with its challenges, I'm sure that she would agree that a strong will is to be desired.

Even as a five-year old princess, I want my daughter to be able to confidently put something on, and be able to still feel confident even after someone has shown their distaste for what she is wearing. Being a girl, I know that she will get "looks" from other little girls, and I'm sure she has already. In fact, we were shopping one day and I actually heard another girl who passed by us say to her grandma, "She's not beautiful." She was speaking of my daughter, so it irked me a little bit, and my daughter was distressed by it as well. Believe me, from how this little girl was talking, I could tell she was not a nice little girl. Our daughters are going to face ridicule, rejection, teasing, and just plain meanness... Whether we like it or not. Whether we homeschool them or not. Whether we're overprotective or not. It's our job as mothers to teach our daughters how to handle those comments and the emotions that follow. Trendsetters will have far more ability to bounce back and continue to be themselves no matter what others say or do. Real trendsetters know that real beauty comes from within.

I want her to have enough self-esteem to not strive to be beautiful, but to know that she is.

Girls will be girls. I'm not opposed to trying to look "beautiful," although I'd much rather just be beautiful, as all women are. And if you know me well enough, you know that any beauty that I possess is natural beauty, because I certainly don't work at it! ;) The difference between myself and my daughter is that I was a complete tomboy growing up. She is most certainly not. She can gasp, giggle, squeal, scream, and twirl with the best of them... all things that drive me a little crazy, but I remind myself to just enjoy them while I can...because they're "cute," and they're what differentiate little girls from little boys (although little brothers can do them pretty well sometimes, too!) 
I'm not the type of mom who will ever put my daughter into beauty pageants or anything like that. That's just not me. I won't force her to wear a cute outfit or cute shoes that don't look comfortable. I won't force her wild hair to do things it was never meant to do, or force her little body into clothes not appropriate for a five year old to wear. Not gonna happen. The words "beauty hurts" will never leave my lips (because it's not true), nor will I ever tell her she's anything but gorgeous (because it is true). I will always remind her that everyone is unique, and that G-d made everyone beautiful in their own special way. Not because I want her to be delusional, but because I remind myself the same thing every time the thought crosses my mind that someone is less than good-looking. Who am I to judge what G-d has created? Perhaps people can make themselves "ugly," but I don't think G-d makes
"ugly" if that makes sense.

Yes, I tell her that she's beautiful. I won't deprive her of that confirmation, because as every mother knows, especially those who have been little girls once themselves... little girls want to be told that, need to be told that. If you've ever read the book Captivating by Stasi Eldridge, then you know that every girl's deepest question is "Am I lovely?" and mothers (and fathers!) need to answer that question with a resounding "YES!" I recently read a great quote by Alvin Price: "Parents need to fill a child's bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can't poke enough holes to drain it dry."
That sums it up well. I didn't grow up with an amazingly high self-image, or high self-esteem. But once I realized that G-d made me beautiful, that was good enough for me. I want my daughter to be able to see that beauty in herself, and be able to point it out (even bring it out) in others. That's what makes a girl pretty. As she will find out, pretty girls (so-called by their peers) can be ugly girls (by their words and actions).

I want her to embrace modesty as the most important factor in choosing what to wear.
As far back as I can remember, my girly girl has been a fan of modesty in clothing. She has always loved my long skirts, and is often disappointed they don't make them in her size! She loves flowing dresses and long-sleeves (seriously). At times, I have had to discourage her from wearing leggings or long-sleeves when it was way too hot for them! I think she understands the importance and the beauty of covering up. Of course, we have talked about modesty many times, usually when she asks about it. In Pre-K, I gave her a big Melissa & Doug sticker pad full of little girls she could choose clothes for. Together, we made sure their short skirts had leggings underneath, and their swimsuits had cover-ups over them. We dubbed them "The Modest Girls" and since I only gave her five or six girls at a time, the pad lasted a long time! We have made (glued together, not sewn) dolls' skirts longer if needed or added fabric to Barbie's shirts, learning about modesty all the while. 
Although she has an understanding of what's modest and what isn't, I try to make it a point to not allow her to criticize what other people choose to wear. She usually doesn't hesitate to tell me when she's seen something "not modest." I have a friend (who lives really close now) who will tell you that one of her first experiences with my daughter was being shown a picture of Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, and told that Jasmine was not modest! She laughs when she recalls it, and so do I. 

My fashionista has put together some wild outfits, usually involving several different patterns that definitely don't belong together... but usually the only times I have her alter it is due to modesty. She knows that's my only "rule" when it comes to dressing... is it modest? My second question is... is it comfortable? (i.e. Are you sure you can still wear those size 8 shoes when you're really a 10?) Third question is... is it appropriate for today? (i.e. Are you sure you're going to be able to run and slide at the park in that long dress? or Won't you be more comfortable running in sneakers, not jelly sandals?) Again, true stories. ;)
I know she's only five, and she wants to be like me and dress like me. Modesty is important to her because it's important to me. We are blessed to have several friends (and their little girls) who embrace and model modesty as well. It also doesn't hurt that we live in a highly orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Hey, little girls (and big girls, and women) running around in long skirts is the norm here! I'm glad that she has this early understanding and foundation of modesty, because I certainly didn't. I know that she will get older and want to look like everyone else... but to embrace modesty is half the battle. To value yourself and dignity more than you value what others think and do (and what advertisers force on you) is the other half.  She can be as fashionable and stylish as she wants to be, but I want her "rule" to also be... is it modest?      
If it was just "my rule," then perhaps she would just reject it as she gets older. Fortunately, it's not "my rule." It's G-d's design and desire for all women (and men) He created, and it goes far beyond the clothes you wear. 

I want her to gain confidence in making decisions. 

It was my plan to locate two books on discipline (that I own) somewhere in the midst of my husband's hundreds of books, but I was unable to do so (which is pretty bad). The first one was Dare to Discipline by Dr. James Dobson, and I recall him mentioning kids benefiting from being able to make "safe choices" at home in order to learn how to make good choices in the real world. Children need to be able to make choices (whether they be good or bad) because they can learn from them within the safe confines of their family environment. The other book was Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp, which I also enjoyed reading. Ironically, the books are kind of opposed to each other (sometimes purposely) on a few subjects, and I remember that making decisions was one of them. Hopefully I recall this correctly when I say that Tedd Tripp seemed to think that children making decisions for themselves (even on simple matters) was to be frowned upon, and that they would learn how to make good decisions by watching their parents make decisions. Both authors pleaded their case here, but I would lean more towards Dr. Dobson's understanding, simply because I have survived one two year old and am in the process of surviving another. Any mom knows that toddlers love to have some say in any (or many) areas of life, in fact, they thrive on that little bit of control. If you were to give them no control whatsoever, they will act out in many ways in the areas where they do have control whether you like it or not. For example, I have never successfully forced a toddler to go to sleep, to eat a particular food, or to use the potty. Perhaps I've tried...with coaxing, bribing, threatening... but let's be honest. It doesn't work.

As I was thinking about how to word this section, I watched (my first ever) webinar on parenting last night. It was free, and I wanted to try it. The topic was "How to get kids to listen without nagging, reminding, or yelling" so I was curious. It was led by Positive Parenting Solutions, and I would recommend it to other moms. While it was designed to get parents to go further and pay for online training courses, etc. I feel like the information I received in the free webinar was enough for me to really move into a more positive way of discipline.The reason I mention it here is because the first thing she said was "Kids have a hard-wired need for attention and power." If they don't feel like they receive enough of either "in age-appropriate positive ways," they'll act out. She wasn't saying that they should do whatever they want (I wouldn't go along with that!) The point was that as parents, instead of trying to control them and fight against that need for power, we should give them the choice to exercise their free will (which they possess because they are human beings!) If they choose to disobey, they choose to reap the consequences.

Therein lies one of my biggest motivations for allowing her to choose her outfits. I want her to make confident decisions when she can. I don't ask her to decide between right and wrong, or decide any "big ticket" items in life, but getting the choice between this shirt or that one, these shoes or those shoes, broccoli or peas.... goes a long way in showing her that I respect and trust her judgment in these areas. Then, in the event that she needs to change or choose something else, I have found it's been easier for her to trust my judgment at those times.

I think as parents we sometimes forget that we are raising people... they have opinions, tendencies, likes, dislikes, style, personalities of their own

We don't want them to "be like us"... we want them to be better.



  1. I like the idea of teaching modesty through play (the dolls, examining movies...)!