If you see me with my kids in public, there’s a pretty good chance that one of them will be wearing something…creative. A dinosaur t-shirt paired with a plaid bowtie. Cowboy boots with athletic shorts. A Halloween costume at a trampoline park. The possibilities are endless.
These wacky looks don’t mean I’ve lost control of my children. I willingly gave that part of my control to my kids because I think allowing my kids to choose their outfits sometimes is an important part of the bigger conversation about bodily autonomy.
The first time my oldest son picked his own outfit, he was about three years old. We were headed to the drive-in movies, and he was very excited. Hours before we had to leave, he came out of his room in zip up pajamas, rain boots and a pair of goggles. He proudly declared that he was “weady to go!”
Even though his idea of “weady” differed pretty strongly from mine, I let him go just like he was. He was so proud. Why would I make him change?
When we got to the drive-in, he proudly marched up to greet our friends. He had no idea that his outfit was adorably silly. He was comfy and all the necessary bits were covered. His choice was perfect.
I snapped this photo of him that night, and I’ve taken about a million photos of him in silly outfits since.
Now that he’s older, he’s less likely to choose something very ridiculous. It’s been a minute since he considered goggles a necessary part of his daily life. He passed that baton to my four-year-old.
But if he comes out of his room in a shirt that’s too big, a hat that doesn’t match, shoes I wouldn’t have chosen, or shorts in the winter, I don’t make a big deal about it.
My husband and I just roll with it any time our kids feel strongly about wearing something we don’t really “get.”
Letting our kids choose their own look is a way they can assert some independence. It’s one way to express some creativity.
Choosing an outfit can create an opportunity to learn about matching colors, and dressing for the weather.
I gently point out any time they choose something that isn’t appropriate for the weather, but if they choose to sally forth in the outfit of their choosing, I figure nature will back me up on the most important lessons. Too cold in those shorts? You’ll choose pants next time. Are your feet soaking wet in those canvas slip-ons? Bet you’ll throw on your rainboots when it’s wet from now on.
I’m not worried about saving my kids from those super simple lessons.
But the most important reason I let my kids traipse around in mismatched clothes sometimes is because I am teaching them that their bodies are their own. Clothing choice is such a simple way to give them some control over their own bodies.
Part of the reason I teach my kids about bodily autonomy is because it will help keep them safe. People who would abuse them don’t wear a neon sign to let us know. My kids have to know that they are the bosses of their own bodies so that they can tell a trusted adult if anyone breaches their boundaries. We teach our kids about tricky people and trusting their instincts. We make sure they know they don’t owe anyone affection.
But bodily autonomy is about so much more than stranger danger.
We are careful to remind our kids that their bodies are their own because we want them to feel important and powerful and unique.
I want my daughter to know that her body is a wonder — whether she ends up tall and thin like her daddy, short and fat like me, or anything in between. I will teach her to own every millimeter of her body because the world puts so much pressure on women. She will not be exempt from the impossible ideals. She will need to be her own biggest fan.
If she feels like she likes her body best in mismatched socks, mixed patterns and two different shoes, then I’m going to let her wear them. She needs to know how it feels to make her own choices for her body without a single apology, even if nobody else understands them.
I want my kids to know the feeling of appreciating every bit of themselves. If they value their own bodies, I feel more confident that they will know the worth of everyone else’s. I hope that cultivating their self-respect will mean that they never tolerate locker room talk that goes beyond the boundaries of decency. I want them to respect their own bodies so much that they would never dream of disrespecting anyone else’s.
Allowing my children to choose the clothes that they put on their bodies is a just tiny piece of this important, complicated puzzle.
And listen. Clearly, we aren’t over here looking a mess one hundred percent of the time. Bodily autonomy is an important lesson, but so is dressing in a way that allows you to function in society. They’re going to be adults one day. It’s a good idea for an adult to know how to throw an appropriate getup together.
Most school days, I choose their clothing and they just wear what I pull out. For special occasions, they wear what I choose for them. I didn’t have three kids so I could miss my opportunity to dress them in matching outfits and take photos. My youngest is just a baby, so I choose matching, weather appropriate clothing for her, obviously.
My kids aren’t out here looking like they got dressed in the dark every single day of their lives.
I just refuse to make a big deal out of the days that they want to do things their own way. If my four-year-old wants to wear his pig pajamas and Mickey Mouse sneakers with a dress-up vest over it to an ice cream shop, I’m saying yes.
As they get older, the conversation about clothing is going to change, but the concept will remain the same. Even during those teen years when their fashion choices might totally baffle me, this is not a battle I’m willing to fight. As long as you’re being kind, responsible and good to people, feel free to dress like a test pattern. Your body, your choice.
(And possibly your pictures that you’ll regret in a couple decades, but who doesn’t have about a thousand of those?)
It’s just a small part of the conversation, but it is part of it. Allowing my kids to have control over the little things is a step toward empowering them to see their body as their own. My kids are my responsibility, but they’re not my property. I am not supposed to bend them to my will. I’m supposed to help them become the people they are meant to be.
My kids have so many hard lessons left to learn. Sometimes it’s important to let them learn something the easy way. Letting them choose their own clothes is a simple, painless way to instill in them that they live in a body that is fully their own.