"You Can't Wear That"
“Do you want to wear this?” I ask my three-year-old one morning. I’m holding up a brand new striped blue dress for her approval.
She shakes her head "no."
“What about this?” I say of a floral dress I know she likes to wear.
She shakes her head vigorously this time.
After a few more tries, I say, “I’m picking out a dress because you can’t pick out anything.” My impatience is running out with the clock. We are about to be late for her school...again.
I go into the tent where she has hidden, wrestle on dark blue leggings with large white printed florals, get on one sock, pull over the matching dress, and as I’m breathing heavily trying to get the other sock on, she starts crying and I think, “Maybe I hurt her when I put on the dress?”
“Why did you give me short sleeves?! I don't waaaant SHORT sleeves!” she whines while ferociously tugging and pulling, getting increasingly frustrated until I take the dress off. “Okay, fine!" I say. "You pick out something, but you need to be very fast...what happened to the days when I could dress you myself?"
She picks out a warm winter dress she wears on repeat and bright pink leggings. I can deal with the dress, but the pink leggings she picked out don’t match the light pink on the dress. I tell her, “You can’t wear that.”
I give her the leggings that match instead. She protests, and I’m done arguing so I go outside to get the stroller ready and give myself a timeout.
When I’m alone I think, “Why am I struggling with her?
This is a win:
- She picked something out.
- She is willing to wear leggings, which means she's going to be warm enough.
Why do I care so much about what she looks like? Is it because I think that her image reflects on mine? I think the issue at heart is that if she looks put together, it looks like I’m put together.”
I Was Being "That" Mom
I think back to a recent playground conversation with another mom. I had brought Ellie to gymnastics where she wore her pink velvet tutu complete with sequined fairy wings. It was a leotard, so it was appropriate. Afterwards, she wanted to run around at the playground. I thought nothing of it.
As we stood around watching our kids play, one mom, referring to Ellie, commented on how she wishes she could wear whatever she wanted when she was growing up. She confessed that her mom never let her wear what she wanted to until she was basically an adult. She had felt trapped, being forced to conform to her mom’s love for purple when all she wanted to do was express herself for who she was, not who her mom was.
I was being that mom.
God Is Not The Fashion Police, So Why Am I?
As I bring the stroller around to the front of the house, another picture pops into my head:
It’s one of my best friend’s daughter dressed in the outfit of her choice. How wonderfully silly is this? It may be outlandish, but oh, it is joyful.
The best form of expression is authenticity--to be unapologetically yourself is an act of contagious courage. Kids lead the way.
Look how happy she is in this outfit. Why would I want to take that away from Ellie by imposing my own very limited views of "fashion" on her?
By forcing my opinions, I was robbing her of creative expression, dulling her freedom of identity and empowerment. Didn’t I want to know who my daughter was? Don't I want her to be fully loved and secure in her unique self?
As I walked back inside to get Ellie, I took a mental note:
She is not you. Parent Ellie how our Heavenly Father parents us.
God doesn't stop me with a lightning bolt when I walk out of the house with mismatched clothes (although a little divine intervention on the velour jumpsuits would have been appreciated).
We Are His Image Bearers
Just as what Ellie looks like reflects on me, we are God’s image bearers. When people look at us, they see Christ. But while I worry about what I will wear, or what people at Ellie’s school will think if I let her wear whatever she wants, God clothes us in incorruptible clothes of a heavenly couture:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
Isaiah 61:10 ESV
How is it possible that I forget this reality and instead view myself as a ragamuffin deprived of a worthy wardrobe?
Here is the truth: we were orphans. But Jesus purchased our priceless garments with the cross, so all we need to do is put them on:
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Colossians 3:12-14 ESV
Having a matching outfit pales in comparison to the value of these virtues.
Was I wearing a compassionate heart towards Ellie? One of kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forbearance? No. I was making her conform to my ways, and not letting her be transformed by the freeing love of Christ.
If you want to put on something nice you have to take off the old clothes first. We have to let go of our need for control in exchange for freedom.
This is Ellie in all her creative freedom. As she picked out each item with care in preparation to visit her best friend, I sat back and smiled, telling her she looked beautiful. Because she did. Seeing her make her own choices, quirky as they were, was way more fulfilling to me as a mom than making her do what I wanted.
Guidelines for Getting Dressed
At the end of the day, we have to choose clothes from our closet. We do live in a material world, after all. So how do we live this out practically?
As a protective parent, I give Ellie some guard rails when it comes to clothing. This is my number one question:
Does it express your worthiness as God’s beloved child?
This takes into account:
- The weather: Her body is a temple of the Lord and needs to be protected.
- Modesty: Just as I want to protect her skin by protecting her with clothes, I want to protect her heart by keeping her intimate parts private (1 Corinthians 12:23).
- The event at hand: Exercise humility by honoring the host of the event or location owner by wearing the appropriate attire.
And listen, I’m still a new parent. This is my first encounter with struggling over outfits and opinions. Older parents, what wisdom do you have to share on the subject?
Reflect and respond
Rest in Love
Be clothed in His salvation.
- Do you worry about yours or a loved one's physical image and how it reflects on you?
- When you get dressed, do you think about if it will express your worthiness as a beloved daughter?
- Just as you put thought into your clothing choices, how can you put on the following today?
- Compassionate heart
P.S.: If this message resonated with you, be sure to check out my book and leadership guide on body image in the shop.