My Daughter's Independence Sometimes Makes Me Feel Like A Bad Mom

I Was Embarrassed By My Daughter’s Appearance Until I Realized This

Hero Images/Getty

The chorus teacher’s email said, “Wear something festive.” The concert fell on a Monday, but we had family in town and were spending the weekend with them at Disney. I had the concert scheduled in my phone’s calendar, but honestly, between packing for a family trip and making sure out-of-town guests staying with us were comfortable, buying a special winter-themed outfit for my daughter’s chorus concert was the farthest thing from my mind.

But, Sunday evening when we returned from our trip, while I unloaded the car and emptied out backpacks and cleaned up, my 8-year-old daughter rummaged through her dresser drawers for “something festive.” She came up with a pair of hunter green leggings, a sparkly red T-shirt, and a Santa hat, and laid them out in a neat pile on her dresser. Prepping her clothes for the next day is pretty typical behavior for her, so I didn’t think anything of it.

Until the next night, that is, when we showed up for her concert. We got there early because I was volunteering, and as the kids poured in, I realized something: almost every little girl was wearing a fancy Christmas dress, with chiffon and ruffles and sequins and twirly skirts. Each girl’s hair was neatly braided or coiled or curled, and hair-sprayed into place. Sometimes with glitter.

I looked at my daughter in her green leggings and simple sparkle T-shirt. Her big Santa hat with the fluffy white rim was pulled over her long, wavy hair in the most adorable, lopsided way. Mismatched athletic socks glowed white underneath the black straps of her patent leather Mary Janes. Compared to the other little girls, she looked a bit… casual. To put it mildly.

Crap. Was I supposed to get a fancy dress? Should I have done her hair? I worried I’d let her down. Was she looking around wishing she was wearing a frilly dress too? Was she wishing I’d French braided her hair? Or something? (I suck at French braids.) What would the other parents think? Would they think I didn’t care enough about my kid to dress her in concert-appropriate attire? (Whatever that even was?)

After about five guilt-riddled minutes, I realized something: All these other little girls, as beautiful as they looked, had gotten dressed with lots of help. My daughter had taken the initiative entirely on her own to pick out an outfit—and actually picked a perfectly festive Christmas outfit. She had prepared for her concert completely independently.

Not that it actually matters whether a kid needs a little or a lot or no help at all getting ready, or even if a parent helps when the kid doesn’t need it. The point is that I was insecure about what other people might think about my parenting, and I needed to get over myself. My daughter is naturally independent and always has been, and sometimes this shows up as mismatched athletic socks under a pair of dressy patent leather shoes. So what?

This child makes her own snacks, tracks her own grades, stays on top of permission slips and money owed and projects due. She tells me when we’re getting low on milk. She’s been this way since she was a baby—she made it clear from the time she was a few months old that she wanted to sleep by herself in her crib and nobody’d better disturb her. If she spills something, she gets the cleaning supplies—without prompting—and cleans the mess herself. She cleans her own room. No, it’s not clean to my standards, and maybe any adult who would walk in and look at her room may think it actually looks a bit messy (and, okay, sometimes the mess really does get out of control), but I almost never have to tell her it’s time to clean it. She just gets tired of the mess and picks it up herself.

So why on earth would a bunch of fancy dresses and complicated hairstyles make me feel so insecure about my parenting? I suppose I do nurse a layer of guilt over doing so little for my daughter. I say all the time that I feel like she is raising herself. It feels like all I have to do is feed her and drive her to piano practice. Actually, sometimes she even feeds herself. But this has always been her way. She would think I’d gone mad if I suddenly began hovering over her trying to stuff her into a dress she didn’t choose.

So, yes, my daughter probably looked a bit disheveled in comparison to many of her well-coifed friends. But she is dressing herself in away that makes her feel good and comfortable. She is setting her own style standards, and as long as she loves what she’s wearing and feels comfortable wearing it, that’s what’s most important to me—whether its leggings or a tulle skirt.

My daughter is the most independent little kid I’ve ever met, and I absolutely love this part of her personality. Her independence will carry her far in life, mismatched socks or not, and anyway, whoever said there was anything wrong with standing out from the crowd? Well, I guess I did, or at least thought it, and it looks like I have a whole lot to learn from my badass, fiercely independent daughter.