I’ve always been a big fan of shopping, especially shopping for clothes. I wouldn’t say I’m fashionable or up on all the latest trends, but I’ve always enjoyed getting new clothes from my favorite stores when the seasons change. This love of clothes intensified when my daughter was born five years ago. I reveled in shopping for cute outfits for special occasions like holidays, birthdays, and family pictures, cultivating her wardrobe in my personal style, and dressing her each day.
This was great while she was a baby and toddler. I knew someday we’d be having battles over what she’d wear but figured I didn’t have to worry about that until she was oh, I don’t know, 13? Imagine my surprise when around age three my daughter started having strong opinions about clothes and how she was going to wear them.
If it’s cold out, she wants to wear a tank top and shorts. She begs to wear dresses reserved for special occasions to play outside. She pairs a dressy shirt from one outfit with the athletic pants of another. Or I have a specific outfit picked out for the day and she flat out refuses to wear it.
On the radar screen of parenting struggles, I realize this is barely a blip. I try to follow the age old advice of “pick your battles” but sometimes it bugs me when she doesn’t wear what I want or how I intended an outfit to go together. Deep down I know it’s not worth fighting over and she should be able to wear what makes her happy. But, I’ll just admit it: I get an irrational amount of joy and satisfaction from having her wear the cute outfits I’ve picked out. How do I reconcile that?
Even though we we can resolve our disputes most of the time, dressing has remained an ongoing source of tension between us. A few weeks ago my daughter refused to wear the outfit I had picked out for family photos and the conflict escalated to nuclear level. Her will knows no bounds and I finally bitterly gave in and let her pick out something else.
Later that night, I voiced my frustration about the situation to my husband. He said something blunt (as men have a tendency to do) that stuck with me. “She’s not your doll. You can’t expect someone as independent as she is to not want to have a say in how she dresses.”
He was right. (Yeah, I can’t believe I just acknowledged that both in writing and in public either.) It’s important to me that my daughter grows up to be a strong, independent, and confident woman. Not giving her very much freedom to express herself through what she wears kind of seems contradictory to that. I decided it was time for me to stop playing dress up and help my daughter foster her own personal style.
With that in mind, it can be difficult to strike a balance between letting her have complete freedom and wanting her to be appropriately dressed for the occasion. Because I don’t have the skills of a United Nations level negotiator, here are some tactics that help keep the peace at our house:
1. Plan Ahead
One of the items in my daughter’s bedtime routine is to pick out her clothes for the next day. She really likes laying each item out on the floor in the shape of a person. Keeping her involved in the decision usually eliminates any battles the next morning as we’re trying to get out the door for school.
Since I shop without her, I still decide what’s in her closet and drawers. However, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to her “style” and buy things that I think she’d like.
Additionally, rather than try to sell her on one specific outfit for an occasion, sometimes it works better to set aside three outfits I’m comfortable with and let her choose.
3. Know Your Boundaries
Just because I have the power to control what she wears doesn’t mean I always should. I’m learning to let go and not intervene as much. Instead, I plan to compliment her more on how she puts outfits together to build her confidence as she develops her own personal style.