I’ve always believed in “picking your battles”, particularly when it comes to parenting. Not every hill can be the one you die on, and with kids, you will climb dozens of hills a day. And so, I’ve let plenty of things slide for the sake of the bigger picture and in the hopes that when I do really dig my heels in on something, it’s something that really makes a difference.
Sometimes though, I guess you find yourself about to die on a hill that you didn’t mean to climb at all. Most recently for me, it was a hill of clothes. Just two summers ago, my daughter happily dressed like this:
Sundresses, skirts (with shorts attached underneath), cute tops.
Now it’s more like this:
Long shorts, boys bathing suit trunks and surf shirt, polo shirts, and even a pair of boy cargo shorts.
It is the boy cargo shorts that just about caused me to lose my mind. It was the day that the shorts were bought that I recognized such an ugliness crawling around inside my heart and mind, a mean girl mom clawing to get out and destroy everything I’ve spent 8 years building with her. I hated it. I hated thinking that I was about to die on this hill of clothes.
I have always encouraged and supported Natalie in being herself. But I will confess, it has become harder for me than it used to be. Something about getting older, social expectations (for me and for her), and even gender identity crosses my mind.
But look I look at her – she is happy, healthy, smart, funny, sweet, generous. She is precious and beautiful and she is comfortable in those clothes. She does well in school. She has a happy group of friends that she plays transformers with on the playground at school. She plays basketball and softball and goes to Girl Scouts and plays outside with the neighbors and with her brother. And yet, I almost made clothes the battle because of social expectations? She’s doing fine socially. Sure, certain clothes are appropriate for certain times. We want her clothes to be clean and neat and fit. But does it really matter if she wants to wear a polo shirt and cargo shorts instead of a sundress?
No. It really doesn’t. Would I rather pour my parenting energy into that battle or maybe the one about gratitude or kindness or respect or responsibility or finding ways to cope with strong emotions? I really had to check my motives for why I was so up in arms about the clothes thing. Was it because of something related to her wellness, safety, or character or was it more about her not being like me?
See, what I found, once I started digging around inside that gross feeling I was having was that it wasn’t even about social or gender related stuff because she doesn’t have an issue with those things and even though mean girl mom was creeping up on me, I really don’t either. I don’t care if she’s a tomboy or if she’s a fashionista (or if she’s both). Her clothes are not impeding her social interactions, her safety, or her character. She’s fine. And I don’t care if someone else doesn’t like her being a tomboy. She’s clean, her clothes fit, they are appropriate. She’s fine.
What was at the core of it all is once again (because I have realized this in other aspects of her life), I find that she’s not me and I admit I grieve that a little. I don’t grieve it so much because I think being like me is the way to be, but because it’s a common thread we don’t share. Or at least, that’s how I was seeing it and that perspective was what was bothering me so much – the feeling of loss of some innate connection to my daughter. I may not have always been the best dressed (and my personal style has surely taken a tumble since motherhood hit) but I always had my own style and once upon a time, was often complimented on my outfits/style (and my bargain shopping skills). I guess I assumed (we know what happens when you do that) that Natalie and I would share that common thread and let the difference in our fashion choices make me think we can’t. The truth is though that Natalie has her own style too. And while we won’t be sundress shopping together very much right now (or maybe ever), once I let go of all my own ideas about what she needs to be like style-wise, I can enjoy her for who she is and help her grow in that. Because she is awesome. And I have the unique and precious opportunity as her mother to breathe life into that aspect of her, or make it a battlefield. And I’ve decided that we’re not dying on this hill.