Monday, October 5, 2015

On the Imagined Dangers of Wearing Costumes. Every Single Day.

Over the years I’ve walked down sidewalks with princesses and super heroes.  I’ve gone grocery shopping with prima ballerinas and mermaids.  I’ve taken a ninja turtle, mermaid and butterfly to the zoo and on any given day my house may look like we’re getting ready to go trick or treating on Halloween when it's no where near October 31st. 

Maybe you’ve heard people say that you shouldn’t let your kids dress up all the time (if you read the same blogs I do, you may have even read the paragraph that inspired this).  Maybe someone has recently told you that if you let your kids dress up and wear tutus to the grocery store and princess dresses down the sidewalk they won’t respect your authority or learn to listen to you and they’ll grow up to be juvenile delinquents that don’t know how to dress. 

After reading that advice two days ago, somewhere in northern Oklahoma, and pondering it as we crossed over the state line into Kansas, and then Missouri and now all the way across Illinois, until now, we’re approaching Chicago, I couldn’t force myself to agree. 

You see there are many challenges that we face as parents. There are days and decisions that feel like battles, or at least long, slow uphill walks. And I won’t pretend that I have this whole parenting thing figured out or that I know all the answers (or even most of them).  But I do know my kids. 

And I can’t bring myself to believe that letting my kids dress up, and horror of horrors, leave the house dressed up, will damage them.  In fact as I watch their imaginations blossom and hear them playing together and as I hear healthcare professionals comment on Maggie’s amazing imagination and pretend play skills, I feel like giving them a certain amount of freedom when they're picking out outfits has been the right decision. 

That doesn’t mean that they have complete freedom. Lines sometimes have to be drawn.  I’ve heard myself say “We do not wear bathing suits Mass!” and on Sunday’s before we’re home from our parish the rules are somewhat stricter.   And Maggie and I have butted heads on many a day when she tried to convince me that bare arms and legs were appropriate attire when the temperature was in the negative numbers.  That just isn't going to happen.

But in general if a child has their heart set on wearing a princess dress or other costume out, and that outfit is clean and ready to be worn, I’m okay with it.  I marched in to a pediatric neurology appointment this week, with a pink sparkling mermaid beside me and the chiffon and sequined covered tail that she was wearing was the least of the challenges that we faced that day (as of today I should know that my #1 concern should be that the first referral to another specialist just came in and the wait list is over six months long!  But I digress...).

There will be time later to grow up and learn that certain outfits are appropriate in certain settings.  They’ll be grownups for the vast majority of their lives.  

Sadie, at seven, as already realized that there is a time and place for dress up.  She knows that sometimes we can dress up and sometimes it makes more sense to wear play clothes that are easier to get clean if they’re dirty, and sometimes we go places where dressing up in fancier clothes is appropriate.  The little kids will get there as well. 

There are other battles that I’m more invested in fighting.  “No you can’t squeeze down that heating vent, it would be a very bad idea.”  “Don’t even think about hanging from the curtain rod!  How did you even get up there?!?!  Can you scale walls now?”  “You need to be gentle with your brother.  He doesn’t like it when you pinch his cheeks!” are far more pressing issues.

I have to choose my battles and choose them well.  And I’d rather save those battles for those times every day when I have to insist we do something a certain way or for moments when there are simply things that must be done that certain small people seriously dislike, like the brushing of teeth and hair, or going to an appointment that just isn’t going to be fun. 

You see, they like wearing costumes, and I don’t see any harm in it, at all.  In fact I see benefits as I watch them pretend together and create costumes all on their own.  

Just because a child isn’t meeting a particular milestone right now (if you can call giving up wearing crazy, fun outfits a milestone...), doesn’t mean that pushing them towards it is the best possible decision.  Sometimes there’s really no harm in washing that much loved princess dress while she sleeps because you know that she’d be thrilled to wear it in the morning. 

Being "normal" is overrated when you’re four.  In fact, I’m not really sure that it exists.  But those years when they want to wear the same princess dress or super hero costume come to an end rather quickly, as they move on to different games and ways of playing and if they want to stretch their little imaginations until they fall asleep happily in layers upon layers of silky costumes, I’m okay with that. 

And I’m okay if they want to flounce about town in them too.  I’m already beginning to see more and more clearly that it won’t last forever, as strangers keep telling me whenever I leave the house with only James, and that maybe they don't have it wrong when they wistfully remind me that it goes by too fast.

So I’ll be letting them leave the house looking ridiculously cute for a little bit longer.  And I’ll smile the next time I hear the ridiculous notion that it will somehow cause them to grow up to be juvenile delinquents who don’t know that I’m serious when I say that we don’t wear that out of the house, or that they won’t know how to pick out clothes when they’re twenty, because I let them wear a tutu to Meijer when they were two. 

Somehow I think it will all be all right and maybe a little better than alright if we could all be a little more understanding of other perfectly valid parenting choices.  There’s enough to worry about as a mom without building up tulle and chiffon dragons that must be vanquished in our quest to do whatever is said to be best right-this-moment and a four year olds fashion choices shouldn’t be anywhere near the top of that list.  


  1. Great post!!! Some folks have way too much time on their hands. They're only little once.


  2. People tell me this about letting my babies and toddlers run around the house and yard without any clothes on. They're babies. We live in Southern California, and they like to be nude! I even (gasp!) let the little ones play on the beach naked (my husband is German, and in Europe, it would be bizarre to see a toddler on the beach with a swimsuit on! Everyone under six or seven is nude.) The kids will have plenty of time to be self-conscious and take issue with their bodies, so if they want to enjoy their jiggly buns and poochy tummies in the sunshine, I am not going to stop them. And, despite ominous warnings, none of my kids refused to wear clothing to school, stripped down in the middle of the mall, or became sexually precocious! Give the kids a break. And yes, I took many preschool-aged kids to the market in costumes!

  3. I think you're spot on that it's about choosing your battles. I don't think it's bad for the kids at all to wear costumes wherever when they are little. But I as the parent do not want them to do that. I already have social anxiety, I don't need to add to that when we go out of the house. Also I can't stand super heroes so those things just don't come into our home. But if it's OK with you? Carry on and have fun!

  4. Have you seen most 18-20 year olds? THEY don't know how to dress and I bet most of them weren't allowed to wear costumes. The internet is full of pictures of people in their pajamas (and worse) shopping at Walmart.

    I agree with you. Let them be kids! Especially they have so many other challenges where you have to be firm with your 'no's'.

  5. Well, let me give you the *traditional* perspective. In prior generations, childhood was understood to be the time to train humans into the way they should go as adults. There's that Bible verse from Proverbs: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6)

    There are many, many things that take discipline and are not exactly pleasant. Dressing nicely and respectfully is one of them. In my generation our parents were very conscious of how clothes expressed your dignity. Often those of the lower classes tried to purchase at least one very nice outfit, including good solid shoes (proper formation and support of feet in childhood) for their "Sunday best." It was a strong statement of your dignity if your child was dressed in clean and better made clothing when out and about. It expressed a desire to show others you were a reputable person who respected yourself.

    I recently went to a funeral for my cousin. He had been quite a casual person, and almost all the visitors at the wake came dressed in the most casual clothes. I had been raised to always dress up for wakes and funerals. My brother and I were wearing dark suits (me a white blouse, black straight skirt, dark nylon stockings, and black jacket) with dress shoes. I was wearing makeup and earrings and had styled my hair. His own family were in very casual clothes. Although we were not close family, almost every person that approached the casket then came up to us to express their condolences. Why were we picked out as relatives? Our dress.

    The clothing you wear speaks volumes about you. Today we see everyone at work in blue jeans and pull over shirts. Men wear shorts to work! I don't know about you, but when I walk into a professional office (a lawyer or a CPA) I want to be speaking to someone dressed in formal business attire. If the person was in blue jeans and a sports jersey, I think I'd head for the door. I feel the same with work colleagues. I feel much more comfortable working with someone dressed nicely in business clothes. I tend to feel they are more responsible. I don't think purple or pink hair, tattoos covering the arms, and nose rings screams *responsibility*. Perhaps it's unfair, but I would tend not to want to work with such a person just because of their appearance. It speaks volumes to me about their attitude.

    People bemoan the younger generation these days for their lack of respect for others. But how do they dress and appear in public? Our society seems to want to go in the direction of *do what you want* and is surprised when people do what they want! And if people want to criticize others in social media, well, they were raised to do what they want, so it must be okay, right?

    It probably matters not that your kids dress up to go out especially when they are so little, but if I were to see children at church or in a doctor's office or even the store dressed in costumes I would think the parent was being indulgent and probably is a little weak on the authority that decides and teaches their children what is appropriate dress in given situations.

    I am trying to respectfully disagree here, not insult anyone for their choices or cause an argument or hurt feelings. As just an observer of the road society is heading down in raising their children, I think every chipping away at the foundations of our civilization and social norms will bring unforeseen and unintended consequences, many which will not be good. If you believe giving your children wide freedom in this area is harmless for your kids, then you should follow your own judgement.

    Do I think your children will be juvenile delinquents? No! Will they end up spoiled and willful? Maybe. I guess time will tell.

    God bless. ~ Bee

    1. Bee--While it was respectable to "train up a child" for many people historically, childhood didn't begin until around age 4-6. Prior to that a small human was considered an infant or a baby. These critters were dressed in unisex rompers and were allowed to have whatever embellishments people wanted, typically according to their status in the community. Remember until about 100 years ago, (and for about 500 years prior) boys wore dresses at minimum until the age of 3 and underwent "breeching" between the ages of 3 and 8 signifying they were no longer an baby.
      Back then, people knew to let babies be babies.
      Do remember that in recent history (especally the 30's-50's) there were alot of not-so-good impacts of the "dress to impress" movement. This included racism, classism and sexism. Rapidly changing fashion made some social gatherings impossible. There were people who were denied entry to their child/parents/siblings funerals/weddings/religious ceremony because their "best" was not good enough. If you examine it closely enough from the perspective of someone other than a white, middle class man, the glory of the 50's falls far short.
      If we pedal back even farther than the 1600's we find that dress was even simpler and that different clothing for men and women (including the dreaded pants) was not so hostile and much more functional across genders. Many of the clothing changes occurred to keep people oppressed, because more "flowing" garments were cheaper to produce than britches.
      That all said, I do see children who are able to wear costumes outside of the house as a new type of classism. Cam creates many of these items and bargain hunts, but lets be real, most people do not. Many of the girls and boys who are able to play in the park in a frozen costume are children of those parents who are wealthy enough not to worry about a somewhat fragile garment being ruined. I'm surrounded by such a culture, that money can win children's favor and that costumes, and the ability to be Elsa or Anna or Why boy on any given day is paramount. There is an undertone of parental submission to children in many of these parent's decision.
      Final thought-I work in an office where we are business casual most of the time, I once worked where I was told to be business professional. Many clients, students and vendors described us as "out of touch" and "inaccesable" However when I had to move large amounts of merchandise I had clothes on the lower side of business casual and those vendors and students reviews were almost night and day. I'm also someone who walked in a New England winter a mile to Daily Mass and was scored by the busy-body old ladies for wearing jeans and a hoodie. I wore a knee-length dress for my wedding and saved $$$ and my husband didn't wear a suit (just a tie). The priest said that it wasn't the fanciest wedding but he did say it was one of the most amazing he's ever officiated in his nearly 50 year tenure as a priest. We were dressed nicely, but defiantly not to the "standard". I had a co-worker comment that I "must not feel like I really got married" because of my dress---yet she got married by a "official", on a beach in a foriegn country in a language she dosn't even speak well. I've come to the conclusion that you can't win. It's like the tale of the old man, the boy and the donkey. You have to figure out for yourself what's right.

  6. You are a great and a loving mom to your children, doing the best for them. Don't let anyone tell you that you are not. Let your kids dress as princesses and turtles and mermaids if that makes your life happier and easier. They are not lawyers or doctors (yet). I trust that somewhere along the way they will understand that it is not appropriate to dress as a ninja turtle for their job (unless they happen to be an actor in a ninja turtle movie). Yes, people will judge you - so what? They are not walking in your shoes or raising your children. You are. So trust your judgment.

  7. Yes, Bee and there are plenty of people who use that reasoning and believe autistic children just need a "good spanking" and made to behave "normal"! I don't think Cammie has EVER let the children go to Mass in something inappropriate given their ages?? Isn't it better to choose your battles when you know your children are going to have trouble with the 'right' choice? Isn't it better to let Mae wear something cute of her choosing instead of dressing her like a perfect 50's child -especially if it would result in a meltdown that would throw her 'off' for the entire day?? I don't know how long Bee has followed the blog, she doesn't seem to realize that sometimes some children need special/different rules.

  8. I think every generation, since the beginning of humanity, has bemoaned the "lazy, indulged, disrepsectful" children of younger generations. My grandparents thought Elvis was absolutely vile :) And yet, here we are in the 21st century, not dying in childbirth, sending people to the moon, letting kids who have special needs go to school instead of locking them in institutions, and allowing minorities ride in the front seats of the bus. Sanctimonious pearl-clutching is quite the passtime for some who enjoy complaining "kids these days," but Mama, your babies are happy, healthy, and most importantly - learning to be kind and generous. If only previous generations had focused more on these characteristics instead of being preoccupied with the external. Trust me, there are more important things than "fitting in with the crowd." You're doing a great job, and will enjoy the successes of your fun, sweet, confident kids for decades to come! Costumes can be put into drawers, but being judgmental and superficial is much harder to set aside.
    -a college-educated, responsible, married-for-15-years-to-a-doctor, hospice-nursing, CCD-teaching Catholic mom of five with (Heavens to Betsy - don't get the vapors!) bright pink hair!

  9. I have never given children in costumes a second thought. I just think, "Oh. they wanted to wear a costume." And move on. I am actually surprised that people feel negatively about them but I guess it shouldn't shock me since someone has something to say about everything right? In fact, I love your kids' imaginations. My guy doesn't like to pretend play with costumes and it's something I've been trying to encourage.

  10. Nothing shocks me anymore. Not even the snarky comments directed at people who try to politely disagree, like me.

    Why is it people in this generation must be agreed with by every single person who weighs in, and if anyone even modestly disagrees and provides reasons for doing so, they become the new target?

    It's amazing. People don't just disagree with opposing positions, they take offense and go on the attack. Maybe I should just assume the generation that was raised with the incessant praise of "GOOD JOB!!!!!" for every little thing they did, and got trophies for just showing up, just can't abide it when people don't think they deserve a high five and "good job" for something they are doing.

    Maybe from now on if I don't agree, I should just hold my peace, since not many seem to abide divergent opinions.

    God bless you all. ~ B

    1. Funny how we have to agree with you or else we are 'snarky'. But I guess if we 'disagree [with you] and provide reasons' it makes you a 'target'. Funny, I thought that's how conversations worked?? You are demonstrating how the older generation can't admit that just because it's different from how you were raised it's not bad.

  11. FACT: 82% of bank robbers and 77% of street muggers experimented with public costuming as children. FACT: Children who wear costumes outside of the home are 16 times more likely to get a face tattoo, and 11 times more likely to end up in prison than children with good mothers. FACT: Letting your kids "get away with" wearing costumes has a direct correlation to teenage delinquency.

    1. And just where are your FACTS coming from? Please provide a reference to a reputable scientific study to support your claims. Also please note that correlation is not the same as causation.

    2. yes, would definitely like to see real scientific citations for those alleged facts. As are as I know, I never heard that Jeffery Dahmer or Charles Manson wore costumes outside of the home??

    3. Anonymous, if you couldn't read the sarcasm in Maureen's post, maybe you'd better step away from the internet for a bit. It can be a dangerous place...

  12. Ashley, I do not know Maureen personally nor I am familiar with her other writings. It is difficult to read sarcasm in other people's posts without any reference point. Internet is a funny place - there are all kinds of strange people with all kinds of strange opinions making all kinds of strange claims. The tone does not translate well over the web. There is no need to be snarky about it.

  13. Sorry! I felt my comment was so silly as to be obviously sarcasm ;) But, I live in Southern California, where you are apt to see all sorts of superheroes, cowboys, princesses, Harry Potters, and dinosaurs at the grocery store, even even the very old ladies with rosaries in their pockets laugh and smile! Play is the work of childhood - and it is serious business. If anything, kids need to have more time to play pretend, to imagine, and to just be children, not less. Spoiled is the child who thinks dignity and worth come from an expensive coat or pair of shoes, not the child who strolls confidently into a shop wearing a mermaid outfit that was made by her mother.

  14. FACT: Old bitties on blogs think they understand the internet because they know lingo like "snark" and "the web." FACT: They can't take jokes.

  15. I've seen it before, and I'm seeing it again. Mommy blogs get clogged with hormones and irrationality in the com box. I'm with ya' Bee...more and more often I find I can't disagree or raise a question without getting a shout down from any number of defensive Mama Bears. I don't often read the comments, but this topic intrigued me, so I did. I guess I'm an old bittie at the age of 33, and by golly, Aristotle was right, it is possible to have only 1 or 2 close friends. The Internet has skewed our relationships. Or rather, we often use the Internet in a manner that skews human relationships. I'm sorry that so many people get frazzled out of joint by the opinion that frequent costume wearing by children might not be such a great idea, and I'm sorry that people get frazzled out of joint by the opinion that frequent costume wearing by children is not so bad, and a matter of prudential judgment on the parents' part. Good grief!

    There, I've used all sorts of absurd phraseology that clearly indicates my utter incapacity for rational thought, so HAVE AT IT, Pirrhana Mamas! ;-)


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