The Big Girl has started having definite ideas about what clothes she likes and dislikes. And her tastes and my tastes clash.
I’d love for her to wear classic children’s clothing—Peter Pan collars, wool dresses. But that’s not what she wants to wear.
So who prevails? I’ve decided that clothes, unless actually inappropriate, aren’t important enough to merit a parental veto—within reason, of course, and properly priced. But t-shirts with big designs and sparkles, jeans with embroidered flowers up and down the legs, ugly color combinations…okay.
A parent might feel very strongly that children shouldn’t bow to fashion or fads, so the fact that other kids dress a certain way is itself a reason not to permit it. Or a parent might make an aesthetic judgment and want children to dress according to adult taste, no matter what the other kids are wearing.
In Judith Rich Harris’s fascinating and controversial book, The Nurture Assumption, she argues that childhood is the period in people’s lives when fitting in is most important. Therefore, she suggests, parents should help their children look “normal and attractive”—for example, by dressing them in clothes like those of other kids.
I was very lucky with this issue growing up. I was an odd duck, and desperate to fit in, but so anxious I couldn’t even go about it properly. I remember when my mother said, “Would you like to go shopping for jeans?” I didn’t have a single pair of jeans! I did want a pair, but I dreaded shopping for them so much that I couldn’t bring myself to mention it. I was incredibly grateful to my mother for understanding all this.
Of course I want my children to understand the importance of being able to buck the crowd, to assert themselves to do the right thing, to defend unpopular ideas or preferences. But I’ve decided that clothes aren’t the ground to make the parenting point about the importance of the individual conscience; plus I wonder whether being able to fit in with the crowd is an important step in being able to stand up to the crowd effectively.
Yes, yes, this is a petty issue. That said, I’ve talked to plenty of adults who remember being made miserable by the clothes they had to wear as children.
Was this unhappiness good for them? I don’t think so. As Samuel Johnson observed, “All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle.”
And the Big Girl’s taste is actually growing on me.