I was packing our family up to head to two Christmas parties a few weeks ago when my seven year old (Z) came downstairs dressed in an oversized t-shirt and sweatpants. They choose to wear some variation of this most days, but we were headed to PARTIES! Two parties. After almost three long Covid years of no parties.
"No way, babe. Find something nicer."
Z protested. They aren't used to me commenting much on what they choose to wear, beyond weather-related advice. I held firm and continued to pack until they stomped up the stairs. A few minutes later, Z was back downstairs wearing an even larger t-shirt and different sweatpants.
"No," I said. "You can't wear that."
They argued and I continued "nope"-ing them. Suddenly, Z looked me up and down.
"What are you wearing?" Z asked.
"I'm wearing this," I replied, indicating my casual black shirt and pants.
"No," Z said. "I don't like it. Go change."
I stopped packing. I stood still and considered them. I stood still and considered our conversation. I had an immediate feeling that I was in the wrong.
"Are you teaching me a lesson, Z?"
"Yes, I am," Z said, seriously.
I asked myself the two questions I use when I feel unclear about why I want to intervene in something my kids are doing or ask them to or not to do something :
Is this about health or safety
Is this about holding true to our family's values?
The answer to both questions was no. Usually when the asnwer to these questions is NO, I can trace the answer to my own fears about something or a way of being that I've been socialized into.
So, what was this about?
My ego. Wanting to present my kids in a certain way so that I"m perceived as a parent who has it together (I don't!)
I read this instagram post by Sterna Suissa a few weeks ago and was feeling pretty satisfied about how I keep my ego in check while parenting. But, here it is! My growth edge. A reminder that I am still and always learning and unlearning. Endless gratitude to Z for holding up the mirror, for being my teacher and for so readily accepting my apology.
Before we left for our parties, Z came downstairs wearing dress pants and a button down shirt. I reminded them that they didn't have to change and could decide on whichever outfit they pleased. But, they kept the "nice" outfit on. And, I spent the rest of the day wondering if I'd shamed them into that decision and if there were other small ways that I've been coercing them into pleasing me.
I shared this story with some of my family and most of the grown-ups didn't think this was as cut and dry as I did. Some responses:
But, you're the parent and you just undermined your authority.
YESSSS! That's what I'm going for! I don't want my kids to blindly submit, even to me.
Question all authority. Challenge figures in power.
It's not terrible to have your kids look nice for different occasions.
Agree? Maybe? But, what is "nice" and why am I the one who gets to define it?
It's not just about what people will think about you, but also what they will think about Z.
Oof. This has me pausing. On one hand, yes, I want to set them up to be well-received
when they leave our house. And, also, we are constantly breaking down how nothing we perceive about a person's outside has any bearing on what they deserve and who they are as a full, nuanced human. How can I hold fast to that truth and also tell them that sometimes they need to dress in ways that other people will like -even if they themselves don't?
I'm still mulling over this last question. And, I'm trying to be really aware of how my ego presents, especially when I feel any compulsion to control aspects of my childrens' lives that I usually leave to them.
My siblings and I dressed perfectly for Easter in 1989 :)