This post in response to Tamar Fox’s blog post “The Great Fashion Debate with My 5-Year-Old Step-Daughter” that ran on Kveller yesterday.
I have tremendous respect for you as a stepmom to a 5-year-old girl. I have no experience with girls or being a stepmom, and I applaud you for all of your awesome mommying.
However. Several things jumped out at me from your post about wanting to control how she dresses that I wanted to weigh in on. Disclaimer: I come from a family of snazzy dressers. Sometimes my parents dressed super unusually, but they were really snazzy dressers always and they encouraged me to have my own style and be as funky as I wanted to be. My sons are 5 and 8 and they love clothing. They are very particular about what they wear, and they have definite ideas of what’s “snazzy” for them. I love it. I have clothes for them they only wear on Shabbat, and when we see plays or go to kids’ birthday parties, my sons are always encouraged to wear slacks and dress shirts, or “dress jeans” and dress shirts. I love clothes and I understand the importance of clothes. Even though I have boys.
So. Here are the four things that your post made me think about:
1. Judging. You say we are judged by what our kids look like. Really? I mean, sure, sometimes. And judgmental critical people will be judgmental and critical, sure. But the fact that our children (or stepchildren) reflect us isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even if they are “quirky” or dressed however they are dressed. I try not to spend too much time with judgmental people because they make me feel bad. And if strangers judge me, I heed the words of one of the most favorite moms I know who was my La Leche League leader and is my mentor: what other people think of you is none of your business. Who cares if some Judgey McJudgerson (yes, I made that name up) judges you because they think your kid looks weird? Honestly: do you care? Do you want to? You don’t have to!
2. Mismatching. Um. I do that and I’m 37. For some people–kids and adults–we don’t place tremendous value on “fashion” or what’s hip. It’s not my thing and never will be. My ex is much more fashion-conscious than I am, and I know he thinks I dress funny. And that sometimes I let my kids wear things that don’t match. And honestly, again: who cares if they don’t match? Who says things have to match? Does Picasso’s “Demoiselles D’Avignon” match? Does discordant punk rock match? Does anything in this Universe ever really match when everything tends towards chaos and that’s just reality? Check out Pippi Longstocking. She was awesome. She didn’t match. Or Cyndi Lauper. She made a career of not matching. Michael Jackson only wore one glove! It’s okay!
3. Feminism. I don’t know what an “uber-feminist” house is, and you say you have one. For me, feminism is promoting equality for men and women and appreciating the full variety of female and male expression. It means equal pay and equal work, it means women not being harassed or abused simply because they are female, it means women honoring their natural selves and their natural talents and beauty and intelligence without needing to be defined by a man or a man’s perspective and needs. It means being yourself. It means not trying to fit into anyone’s label or mold. It means paying more attention to what’s inside of you than what’s on a TV screen or fashion magazine. And I’m a hardcore feminist; this isn’t lip service.
But I cannot fathom how even discussing a 5-year-old as femme or butch would enter my lexicon as a feminist. Five-year-olds have things they like to wear, and that is influenced tremendously by the TV and advertisements they see, and by what their friends wear because of what they see, and it’s also influenced by what they see us emphasizing. It’s an elaborate combination. I say let it be; whatever she wants, let her do, as long as it’s weather-appropriate. Honestly. And if there are clothes that aren’t weather appropriate, put them away for seasons you don’t want her wearing them for. End of struggle.
4. Importance. I try to let my sons see that clothing is fun and clothing helps us express ourselves along with keeping us warm. But there are so many more things more important than what you wear, or how hip you are, or if you even have the money to buy the things deemed hip. When I was a kid, we didn’t have money for ESPRIT clothes or any of the other expensive clothes that were popular. And the internet or Target didn’t exist, which makes looking like you have money easy because there are less expensive options than the name brands. In the 80s and 90s, that simply did not exist so we wore whatever we got as hand-me-downs or what we could afford and that was that. My mom taught me to make the most of what I had. And that was a tall order for an exceedingly short, flat-chested, large-nosed, large-chinned, not wealthy kid named Mayim Bialik. But ultimately, the emphasis we put on those things will becomes what kids pick up on. And forgive me, but it’s simply not that important, any of it.
I know you think I don’t get it. And that I have sons and I don’t get it. But I have an exquisitely sensitive special little 5-year-old man as my son and I can’t believe God thought I was equipped to deal with such a complex phenomenal soul to guard, but he’s mine and I can’t thank God enough for the chances to raise him. He has lots of clothing issues. Lots. We have had a lot of clothing fights. Lots. I have used an angry voice and shouted “WHY WON’T YOU WEAR THIS?” more than once. He seems to be made of some sweet plump skin and fat cells that never make him feel cold so he often refuses sweaters or long sleeves, and sometimes it seems clothing is a battlefield. We have had some of our hardest mornings over clothing. And it makes me nuts.
What I have found is that it doesn’t have to be this way. For whatever reason, I have more hang-ups than him about clothes and I have had to put the gauntlet down. I commend you on your parenting, empathize with your struggles, and hope you will consider, where appropriate, putting the gauntlet down, too!