As I watch the school bus pull away, I consider the argument its arrival just interrupted.
Two weeks of school, two weeks of daily arguments about clothes.
My son is a good kid, not nasty or cruel or willfully disobedient; the rules he breaks are pretty minimal. And I know that parents and kids have argued about clothing for generations and generations. I certainly remember refusing to wear hats and gloves, finally grudgingly agreeing to pull them on, only to remove them once I rounded the corner. I also remember trying to wear things my dad thought were inappropriate for a girl of my age at the time.
I don’t like starting the morning with an argument, but it’s not our frustrating exchange that I am dwelling on. It’s actually something about the issue itself that I heard being discussed on the radio the other morning.
An authority on child advocacy was arguing that parents should not interfere with what their children choose to wear. They should instead, she posited, celebrate their children’s independence and freedom of choice in an area that is relatively harmless.
The radio presenter asked her guest whether she would be ok with a parent requiring their child to put on something warmer on a cold day or to take off something they found to be inappropriate.
The answer was no. It is, in her humble opinion, never a good idea to interfere with your child’s clothing choices.
If they are underdressed, they will get cold and may get sick. They will learn from that. If they are wearing something inappropriate, they will equally have to deal with and learn from the consequences. If their colours don’t match, what’s the worst that could happen?
Because of my nature, these kinds of strong parenting opinions tend to make me second-guess myself. And so, as I have continued to argue each morning with my son about what he has chosen to wear, there is a little seed of doubt somewhere inside, nagging me to keep quiet.
Finally, this morning, I stopped to face this little voice and consider what it, and the radio guest, were saying.
And I must say, I really strongly disagree with the view that we shouldn’t interfere with our kids’ clothing choices. I am all for them developing independence and the ability to think for themselves. I equally agree that they need to learn to make decisions for themselves and to live with the consequences.
But saying that, I know from experience that my child isn’t going to learn anything from catching a cold. He has, in the dead of the Canadian winter, forgotten to put his jacket on over his short sleeved t-shirt when walking from school to his after school program. And he has gotten sick. And then he has done it again.
So, I am going to tell him to wear something warmer if it’s freezing outside. He may remove it as soon as he gets out of my sight, but I have at least made sure that if he gets cold later, he has that extra layer. And hopefully it will sink in and one day he’ll realize he’d rather not be cold.
I also think there is value in teaching your child about colour coordination. If I don’t tell him that an orange t-shirt doesn’t go with red pants, who will? And would it be better that the useful information came from me or from some taunting person three years from now? If I were my son in that position, I would want to know why my mom hadn’t stopped me from going out like that.
Even more importantly, I think parents, as role models and informal teachers in their children’s lives, have a key role to play in showing children how to dress appropriately and not offensively. I am not going to let my child wear a rude t-shirt out of the house (or to pick one out in the first place). I am not going to let him wear droopy pants that hang so low I can see the butt of his underwear. I am going to try my damnedest to teach him that the droopy-seated, accident-in-the-pants look is not a good one.
Hopefully, teaching our kids how to dress at an early age will give them a good foundation for choosing their style as they get older – and help them avoid some of the current ridiculous and inappropriate trends, including dressing disreputably at work.
So, Advocate for Children’s Independence, I must respectfully disagree with you. I think it’s ok for parents to tell their children to put on an extra layer, to make sure their clothes don’t clash and to pull up their pants.
And I don’t think that by doing this, we are deeply wounding their sense of self. Nor are we impinging upon their right to freedom of choice.
It’s called parental guidance. It’s kind of part of our job.