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.