Don’t Ask Me 'Where Is Your Child’s Coat?'

What People Really Mean When They Ask If My Child Is Cold

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Before becoming a parent, did you know how many hours you’d waste trying to explain to your child that yes, people wear coats when it’s 28 degrees outside? I sure didn’t.

Why do kids like being cold? Or refuse to admit they’re cold? What is that about? I personally like to bundle up in the winter—sweatshirt, coat, hat, gloves, scarf, boots… I pack it all on. But my kids are fans of the “if it’s over 30 degrees, I can probably get away with a hoodie” life philosophy. And although I don’t understand it, after 10 years of fighting this battle, I’m done.

So if you see my 5-year-old running amok, riding his bike, or zipping around on his sweet-ass new rollerblades this winter, he won’t be wearing a coat—I’ll bet my last cup of coffee on it. Judge me if you want. I’m too tired to worry about it anymore.

I used to care. I really did. For a long time, I zipped all my kids up against their will in multiple layers, made sure they all had hats and back-up hats and dry gloves so their tiny fingers didn’t freeze. We had spring coats and winter coats and fall coats. And scarves and rain boots and umbrellas. And then, over the years, everything started to disappear. “I left my gloves on the bus.” (Why weren’t they on your hands?) “I left my coat at school.” (As opposed to wearing it on your body?) “I let so-and-so borrow my scarf and she lost it.” (Awesome. Thanks for sharing your stuff.)

So now that my kids are all in school full time, have two recesses a day, and know what it feels like to stand outside and wait for the bus in 18 degree weather, I’m pretty sure they know what they need. I am done forcing them into hats and buttoned up coats, only to watch them come running off the bus eight hours later with their coats unzipped or stuffed in their backpacks and the hats tossed in the lost-and-found bin, or worse, in a mud puddle somewhere.

Therefore, if you feel so inclined to ask my kids where their coats are, or why their parents didn’t make them dress warmer, they’ll probably tell you the truth—their mom is inside, warm, drinking hot coffee, waving out the window, and giving not even one teeny tiny fuck. I’ll take my mother-of-the-year badge any time, thanks.

But wait, you say. Not all children are old enough to be responsible for their own choices. So how about babies and toddlers who don’t know what they need? Can we judge and make comments to them and their moms?

No, Sanctimommy Susan. You cannot. Because when you “kindly” (but actually passively-aggressively) go up to a baby in Target and say, “Oh sweetie! Where are your socks? Your little feetsies are probably cold,” we know what you’re really doing. You don’t actually care about that baby’s feet, do you? It just makes you feel better about yourself to chastise a harried mom who’s desperately trying to grab formula and diapers before that baby (who pulled off her socks 82 times already that day) goes down for nap.

If you see a baby inside a heated building with no socks or shoes, for the love, please keep your mouth shut. Have you ever been around babies and toddlers? Do you know how much they loathe socks and shoes? And how much they love throwing things on the ground over and over and over and over and watching Mommy pick them up?

Also, if you haven’t parented small kids within the past few years, you may not know this—kids aren’t supposed to wear coats while strapped into their car seats because it’s not safe. (And no, that’s not like a silly rumor floating around. It’s a well-researched and well-reported guideline that could save a kid’s life.)

So today’s moms have to wrangle their hangry toddlers into the car seats at home, then again into a coat for that 11-second walk between car and store, just to avoid parking lot side-eye from Pretentious Pattys. Have you had to fight these toddler battles lately? You have? Good, you know how much it sucks. So leave the other moms alone if they forego the damn coat. Oh, you haven’t? Then you have no idea and can go ahead and take a seat.

Instead, when you do see some tiny bare feet in front of you in the toilet paper aisle at Target, please just a smile and say to that mom, “Your child is beautiful.” And then move along. That exhausted mother probably saw her toddler chuck those socks on the floor three aisles ago, said screw it, and kept right on going. The last thing she needs is “help” that’s actually wrapped in judgment from someone who hasn’t been dealing with toddlers all day and who isn’t going home with one either.

Here’s an idea: How about we all reserve our “save the world” moments for kids who need saving? If you see a starving or freezing child in tears begging for a coat, then yes, please, get that child some warmth and food. But if you see kids like mine, running around and playing and laughing and chucking snow at each other, but they aren’t wearing coats, leave them alone. They’re old enough to understand consequences and cause and effect. They are learning autonomy and how to handle their own shit. They are clearly not suffering and do not need your “help” (which is not in any way helpful and is just really you needing to make yourself heard).

Listen, if you have a bleeding heart for suffering kids, I get it. I do too. There are children in need across the globe, in every state, in every nation. Thankfully, however, there are actual ways to help those who truly need socks and shoes and coats and hats. Contact your local churches, shelters for the homeless, or shelters for battered women and children, and see what their needs are. Call youth centers. Or organizations that collect items for children in foster care. Most towns and cities have a rescue mission that accepts donations and then allows those in need to “shop” there for free. Or you can contact the schools near you and see if you can discreetly donate a coat to a child who may not have one this winter. Finally, if you’re not sure where to go, organizations like onewarmcoat.org can help you find a local coat drive.

My point is, if you want to truly help a kid who needs a coat, please do, because there are kids who are going to be cold this winter, and forced to go without. But mine aren’t, as they each have three coats hanging in their closets. Also, the barefoot baby or coat-less toddler having a meltdown in Target at 9 a.m. over a Starbucks cake-pop may not need your “help” either (nor does their mom). But you know what that mom could probably use? A “good job, Mama” from you. Or a hot coffee. Or buy a bottle of pinot and slip it in her cart.

That’s how you can truly help another mom, and her child, this winter.