I tried something new today. It’s picture day at my kids’ school – you know, the day that I am supposed to make sure my kids look as cute and innocent as possible so their 2nd and 3rd grade faces can be memorialized forever?! Yeah, that day. Except this year I did something different. This year I let them choose their own outfits. And no, my 7 & 8-year olds don’t dress any better than yours. In fact, they are probably more likely to have clothes with holes or stains on them. Yikes!
Earlier this week when they reminded me that picture day was Thursday – yes, they reminded me, that’s how we make sure things get remembered in my house! – I asked each of them what they would like to wear. They selected outfits that are not unlike the clothes that they wear every day – shorts, t-shirts, socks pulled up as high as humanly possible (does anyone else get this, because I don’t!), and sneakers. I fought every urge in my body and didn’t suggest something… nicer. Like pants with buttons, for example. Nope. I tried something new this week. I supported their decision to be themselves. To dress in a way that they felt represented who they are – in outfits that made them feel comfortable!
If you saw my 3rd grade school picture, you’d know why this is so hard for me to unlearn. I was wearing a leather skirt – yes, you read that correctly! – and a studded button-down shirt, tights, dressy shoes, and the most killer rat tail you’ve ever seen, though that part isn’t visible in my picture. Sorry, not sorry!
So, what made me change it up and try something new this year? I am new this year. First, since the Kavanaugh hearings, I am thinking even more about consent, and specifically what it means to teach little people about consent. Little currently male-identified people*. I just don’t think that consent can be taught in a single conversation – or even a series of conversations – about what to do, and not do, with your body.
I know the expression that kids will be what you are and not what you tell them to be, and I believe it completely! But what does that look like when it comes to consent? I know that I can’t just tell my kids about consent, I have to show them. I can’t tell my kids that they can say no, I have to allow for – or even encourage! – them to say no at home, even if it means saying no to me. Yikes! In order for my kiddos to be fully empowered with bodily autonomy, I have to tell them and show them.
As a result, I have started asking them before I share a story or picture of them online – they have given their OK for me to share this photo, for example. I have started being more mindful of always asking them before I hug or kiss them and honoring what they say – even when I reallllly want a hug! I won’t pretend that it’s easy. It isn’t. It’s requiring a lot of grace, apologies, accountability, and unlearning. But it is important, so I am doing it anyway.
But that’s not the only reason that I decided to try this new thing. I have also been thinking a lot about self-worth and self-love. I have done so much healing over the past few years – really beautiful, deep healing. I have worked to interrupt old stories that I had about myself and write new ones. I have learned that many of these old stories were rooted in learned perfectionism. My mother was a perfectionist and so was I. But I don’t want my kids to be perfectionists. I want them to be whole, messy, imperfect, beautiful souls. But to foster that, I have to change what I know about parenting.
I started thinking – what do my kids hear when I ask them to please dress nicely and look good for picture day? Do they think that I love them more when they are dressed nicely? That they are more worthy? Do they think that we have to dress up in order to put on a show for other people? I mean, real talk, my kids dressing in real pants with buttons and shirts with collars for school is about the same as them dressing up for Halloween – it’s so far from the truth of who they actually are that it may as well be a costume.
So today my kids will sit in front of the camera dressed as themselves. And hopefully they will do so knowing that they are loved exactly as they are, and that they have autonomy over their beautifully imperfect little selves.
Here’s to learning, unlearning, and trying your hardest to raise imperfect, messy, whole little people!
*I try to be really thoughtful about how my kids identify. Currently they identify as male, but I recognize that this is fluid and could change at any time. I want to ensure that if my kids are ever questioning their gender identity, they know it’s safe to explore.