At about the age of 2, my twins started having opinions about what clothes they wore. Of the boy/girl pair, the girl was particularly choosy — this is still the case now that they are almost 8. The loudest and most drawn-out battles my daughter and I had were always about winter clothes, until one day I decided: no more.
When your kids are babies, you can dress them however you want: want to put an old-school Dukes of Hazzard shirt on them? Fine. Want to draw a fancy French moustache on their face? Do it. And when they are that little, it’s your responsibility to make sure that they are dressed warmly for winter weather. Later, when they become angry little 2-year-olds, you can use Jedi mind tricks like: “Would you like to wear the blue coat or the red coat?” But once they hit 4 or so, that’s when they need to start learning how to make their own choices, and that those choices have consequences.
My daughter runs hot. I am positive that when she grows up, she’s going to leave me in cold, grey Seattle and move to California where all she’ll ever have to wear are tank tops and shorts. The kid just doesn’t get cold easily. So starting early, we had big fights about whether or not she was going to wear a coat. Or a hat. Or mittens. Or pants. Our mornings were miserable because we are both stubborn and loud. I was wrapped up in the idea that, as her mother, I needed to make sure that she was dressed appropriately for the weather. Now, that does seem like one of the basic duties on the parenting job description, but following fight after fight after fight where she would argue that she wasn’t cold and I would argue that it was 30 degrees outside, I decided to give it up.
I decided, frankly, that life was too short to spend every morning trying to convince this dummy that when there is snow on the ground, a summer dress is probably not your best choice. I decided that natural consequences were going to be more convincing than any power struggle. So I went from being her mother to being her advisor:
“What would you like to wear today?”
“A tank top and leggings.”
“OK. You should know that it’s very cold outside. You might want to step out on the porch to see how cold it is.”
“Yeah, I did. I’m fine.”
“OK. Well, I am just going to recommend that you wear warmer clothes, but this is a choice you can make.”
Life became beautiful. Sometimes, just my refusing to be part of the battle was all it would take for her to say, “Hm. You know what, Mom? I think I’m going to wear a coat.” Other times she would decide to wear light clothes, and she would freeze. And I have to tell you, in the beginning, I loved that (those “I told you so” moments can be very rewarding). And I didn’t worry about what other parents or strangers would think because most of them would take one look and know exactly what was going on, and the ones who didn’t could bite me. Of course, I wouldn’t allow my child to get frostbite, but, more importantly, my child won’t allow herself to either. In order for kids to learn, sometimes they need to make choices that make them say, “Wow. This is awful. I should do something else next time.” And I am A-OK with that.
My daughter is now in the second grade, and still goes out in lighter clothes in cold weather than I think is wise. But it’s her body, and she is smart enough to know how wearing clothes works and what weather is. So I let my hot-blooded girl do as she pleases (with the occasional recommendation from me) and we are all a lot happier. I don’t get it, but I’m not her, and this is one in a long series of choices that my kids are going to make that I won’t understand. I figure it’s good preparation for the neck tattoo she’ll get at 19.