Parenting Advice: Letting Some Things Slide

When you are pregnant with baby #1 you buy all of these super cute baby clothes thinking that you'll be spending most of your day parading them around in super cute outfits. In reality, (if you even get out of the house at all in the first 3 months other than to go to midwife appointments/doc appointments) you probably don't make it out of the house in the first outfit you chose because chances are they have pooped it up before you leave.

This was my first parenting lesson in letting things like super cute baby outfits slide.

(Tip: If I really wanted them to wear something specific for a holiday or a picture or something I'd take the outfit with me and change them into it right before the event. It's still not a guarantee though.) 

When your child is a small baby you still have complete control over what they wear out in public and if you're doing it right, you give up control the minute your child expresses any interest in what they want to wear. I feel very strongly about this because it is so important for children to learn how to be creative and independent and when you are that young it starts with clothing and the toys you choose play with.

When my daughter was a young toddler (just after a year old) she started going into her drawer and picking out different pieces to wear. I always let her wear whatever she wanted to wear. Since I picked them out in the store I didn't really have any exceptions unless the weather really didn't allow for the outfit. If we were just going to be playing in the backyard and she wanted to wear head-to-toe snow gear and it was an 85 degree day outside, I still let her because we could walk back in at any time. I did however, let her know it was pretty hot outside and that she might be more comfortable in something cooler, but then I left it up to her to make her own decisions about her comfort level. If we were going out somewhere and she wanted to wear something that would be in conflict with the weather I tried a little harder to help her change her mind, but if she was really set on something specific* I always took an extra outfit of my choosing with us in case we needed to change. If she did want to change I made a point to not say anything like,"see I told you you'd be too hot/cold! You should have listened to me in the first place!" Because who really wants to be talked to like that?  I can't think of anyone. But also, I left it up to her to come to that conclusion herself.

My Child:"It's way too hot for that coat, Mama!" 
Me: (Wiping sweat off my face)"You're right!  What should you wear instead?"

If she wanted to wear a fancy dress and shiny shoes to go to Target or Trader Joe's, I always let her. I started keeping the clothing that was reserved for fancy holiday events (and out of season) up out of sight until the event so it would stay nice and clean. After the event it was fair game to wear whenever. I realized all too quickly that you usually only get one season out of anything a child wears because they grow so fast, so why not just let them wear it.

You are only a kid once. Let them enjoy it!

When she was about 2 1/2 to 3 years old she went through this phase of wanting to wear a solid color head-to-toe. So for instance she would pick green one day. She wanted to wear a green shirt, green pants, green socks, green shoes and a green headband to preschool (all various shades of green, of course.) I let her despite the fact that she looked like she was wearing her jammies. Who cares?  When you are a child you can totally get away with wearing something like that. The next day she wore all white. She looked like a tiny nurse. It was adorable. Toddlers are very much into putting things in groups, lining things up, putting them in categories - this is how they learn. Clothing isn't any different. As toddlers both of my kids would line toys up or stack them up one by one. It's the same thing with clothing and wanting to wear all one color. By letting them pick and wear their own clothing creations you are giving them the freedom to create and the chance to learn.

My daughter is in kindergarten now and she still picks her own clothes almost everyday. It's hardly ever a combo I would put together but that doesn't mean for one second that I could do it better. She creates some cute outfits. She's been picking her own clothes without too much influence from me since she was about 16 months old. If I set something out she might put half of it on, but then choose something totally different for the other half. I have always stocked her closet and drawers with very bright colors and patterns. Almost everything I buy her is comfortable to play in, paint in, dig in the dirt in and be free to be a kid in. This is incredibly important. In order for kids to thrive and fully experience their world as a child they must have clothing that will allow them the freedom to play and explore without the fear of getting too dirty.

I volunteered a lot in preschool, pre-K and now in kindergarten and every single day there are a few kids who have come to school so perfectly well groomed and meticulous and looking very reminiscent of a mini adult and they are afraid to play. I can't tell you how many times I have heard a child say, "My mom told me I can't get dirty", or "My mom told me not to take off my (scarf/headband/hair bows/button down shirt/bow tie/ neck tie/etc.,) so it won't get lost." But it keeps them from playing so they just sit out of the activity.  It makes me really sad to be honest. If a child can't get dirty playing with kids at school, when can they?  

A little girl in pre-K who looked like she just stepped out of a magazine ad everyday told the teacher that she "wasn't allowed to do any of the finger painting because her mom didn't want her to ruin her clothes, even with a painting smock." And don't get me wrong, she looked adorable - for a family photo shoot, but it wasn't appropriate for a 4 year old to be dressed like that for school because it didn't allow her to play.  She said that her mom told her that the painting smocks have paint on them so she can't use them either. I don't blame the mom for not wanting to ruin the clothes because they looked very expensive, but keep them for a photo shoot or fancy holiday dinner or something. Even then, the child shouldn't live in fear of being a child and possibly getting dirty. It's not fair to have these high expectations of them. 

So instead of being a typical kid and playing, this little girl with the perfect outfit sat on the bench and watched the other kids play so she could stay clean. 

She couldn't dig in the sand box because she said her shoes were brand new and her mom didn't want them sandy. She couldn't ride the big wheels or tricycles because she had too many frills and layers on her skirt and they would get caught in the wheels and rip. She didn't want to run around and play tag because all of her layers made her too hot and sweaty to run and her fancy slip-on, clacky shoes made her feet hurt and they would slip off if she ran. That sounded like punishment to me. And for what?  For the parents to have an image of a perfectly groomed child?

This is a true story and I witnessed her having to obsess about her outfit every time I saw her. I felt really bad for her and I wanted to tell her mom she was doing a disservice to her child by making her an outcast by not letting her feel free to play like a child because she needed to look perfect everyday, but you can't say these things, of course. I asked her child one day if she had any play clothes and she asked, "what are those?" "They are clothes you can play in and it's ok for them to get dirty." She said, "Oh no, my mom doesn't like me to get dirty in my clothes."  Not that every child has to "get dirty", but they should have the freedom to play in a way that is age appropriate.

So now we're in kindergarten and my child wears every color in the rainbow in one outfit. I have had parents come up to tell me how cute my daughter looks everyday in all of her bright colors and mismatched socks. I make sure to tell them that she picks everything out everyday and that I can't take credit for her unique, colorful style. It's funny because I had a conversation with a mom the other day as we were dropping our girls off at kindergarten. She was telling me how her daughter always wants to pick her own clothes and she said, "I hate it when she wants to do that because she never picks things that I want her to wear and it's always mismatched colors and patterns and I'm like, you are not going out of the house like that, and then we have a big fight about it!" My first thought was, "Why not she's 5? Who cares? You need to pick and choose your battles and that isn't one of them." But I didn't say anything because I could tell she had more to say about it. Then she said, "Her combos are ridiculous. I'm not going to let her wear a striped shirt with a polka dot skirt and argyle socks! What are the other moms going to think if I let her go to school like that?" 

I laughed as I looked over at my own child laughing and running like a wild woman in the kindergarten yard with her friends because what was she wearing?  A purple skirt with bright rainbow hearts all over it, lime green short leggings underneath, a t-shirt with muted, pastel pink, purple and white stripes, one hot pink sock, one bright yellow sock (both from the same set of a 6-pack of socks), turquoise shoes and leg warmers (Baby Legs) pulled up to the ends of her shorts that were cream colored with brown, pink and white argyle. Oh and a hair bow that was hot pink and bright turquoise cheetah print.

I couldn't make that up if I tried!

It was a proud moment for me as a mom who has decided to give up complete control over what my very artistic, very creative child chooses to wear. She looked exactly like a 5 year old kid who picked her own clothes and I'm 100% OK with that!

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  1. Thank you for sharing this, I think it's so important to give your child the space and freedom to dress themselves and to choose their own 'look'. I was always encouraged as a child as was my sister (separate parents) and whilst I can't say that we're both 100% comfortable and confident with how we look, we are both strong and independent women unfazed by other people's opinion.
    That said I do believe it is important that my children look nice; that they look clean, presentable and well taken care of when being presented to a third party for whatever reason. I'm a single parent and in the UK we do come under some level of scrutiny whether real or imaginary, that we are somehow inferior or even struggling. To me it is a priority that my children leave the house to go into the world for pre-school, school or to socialise looking 'well put together'...I will often give them the choice of several pre-selected outfits in these circumstances that way we are all happy. My daughter is almost five and can more or less now make outfit choices that are acceptable and well styled without my almost two-year-old son on the other hand...well, he just likes cars. Car t-shirt, car shorts, car long as he's clean and the clothes are in a good state of repair, I'm not bothered about clashing or the fact it's sweltering outside and he's got his wellingtons on (sandals fit in my handbag so why the dickens not)?!
    Letting children learn and grow is an important part of parenting and I think you've got it spot on! #ToddlerApprovedTuesday

  2. I totally agree with you. T never wears 'weekend' clothes to nursery so it means he can participate in anything without it mattering that he'll get dirty or wet! He chooses his own clothes and loves doing it. His favourite is matching his underwear and socks ;)

    Thanks for linking up with #toddlerapprovedtuesday x


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