Up until about 9 months ago, my daughter would wear any outfit that I picked out for her. She didn’t pass much remark on the color, fabric, style, etc., at all. She just happily got dressed into whatever I chose for her each morning. It was awesome. Since she was born I’ve loved selecting clothes for her. Getting her dressed in the morning was one of my favorite tasks, and I didn’t even mind if she soiled what she was wearing because then I just got to change her in to something else equally cute! Some might consider it a strange pastime, but I even loved sorting through her drawers in spare moments to find new and cute combinations of things for her to wear. I would often have her outfits planned for up to a week in advance.
Somewhere along the line, things changed. She suddenly developed a strong opinion regarding her daily outfits, and any clothes that I suggested were promptly and vociferously refused. I tried picking two outfits and letting her choose between the two, but even that idea was quickly turned down. When this shift first occurred, I would just physically force her into whatever I wanted her to wear. I assumed it was a short phase of toddlerhood and that I would be able to resume picking out all her clothes for her. Two things quickly became clear; this was not going to be a short phase and forcing her into certain clothes just caused unnecessary arguments and stress.
After realizing that force wasn’t the answer, I tried involving her in the process. This literally consisted of me lifting one shirt at a time out of her drawer and her adamantly refusing to wear every.single.one.of.them. She’d look me square in the eye, put her hands on her little hips and with the tenacity of a terrier, repeat, “I want to wear a dress” or “I don’t want to wear sleeves.” We would both become increasingly frustrated, she would start to whine and cry, and I would sometimes yell at her to “just pick something!” The dressing process became such a struggle. I was disappointed that an activity I had once enjoyed with my daughter had became such a chore.
It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that for her, getting dressed is a matter of control and independence. She wants (and deserves) to have the autonomy to dress her own body and, as long as the outfit is somewhat practical, it’s really not worth the effort for me to try and coax her into something she just doesn’t want to wear. If she wants to wear yellow crocs, pink and white striped pants, a rain jacket with ladybugs, fabulous Hello Kitty sunglasses, and a pink and purple hat, who am I to stop her? She really actually wore that in public (see photo for proof!). She’s warm and she’s happy and that’s really all that matters.
I do sometimes find myself explaining her outfit choice to people that we meet in public. I’ll say something like, “And as you can tell, Claire picked out her own outfit today.” I really need to quit doing this. When I say that, what I’m doing is putting down something that she took the time to carefully select from her drawer; I’m making excuses about something that she is proud of: her style. My ultimate goal is for her to be confident in her own skin and to understand that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. I am not accomplishing that by sending her the message that her outfit isn’t good enough.
While I am getting better, I do still find myself sometimes trying to gently convince my daughter to wear a specific dress to church or specific outfit to the health care provider’s office. I thought it might help both of us if we pared down her wardrobe to a smaller more manageable capsule of clothes that all mix and match. With this approach she has complete control over what she chooses to wear and I happen to like all of the clothing items that she gets to choose from. Win-win. We selected 9 long sleeve tops, 6 short sleeve tops, 7 pairs of pants, 3 sweaters/fleece tops, 4 pairs of jammies and two dressy outfits for her capsule. So far this–in combination with me just chilling out about the outfits she chooses to wear–is working well to simplify the dressing process and eliminate unnecessary stress from our morning routine. I’m liking it so much I’m considering creating capsule wardrobes for every member of our family!