Like any child, both kids have had their share of “boundary exploration” moments, those times when they decide that they are due to start asserting some independence, making a few more of their own decisions, regardless of how contrary these decisions may be to our wishes. Unfortunately, what they perceive as self-assertion we often see as a kid that just doesn’t seem to want to do what they are damned told. “Getting too big for your britches” is a phrase that I remember hearing a lot as a child.
It can be a tricky balance to find. The difference between encouraging autonomy and letting them do whatever the hell they want often a small one. Giving choices about things such as side dishes for dinner or breakfast foods, but being firm about keeping those choices within the predetermined parameters. Telling the teen that she doesn’t need to wash her clothes that particular day, but making it clear that within the next few is expected. I don’t want our children viewing us as authoritarian dictators, but do need them to remember who the bosses are around here.
With the five year old, most of these battles revolve around clothing. On just about every other issue, it doesn’t take much more than a stern look and a switch over to “dad voice” (very similar to Christian Bale’s Batman voice) to end any argument that she finds herself bold enough to start, but for some reason the outfits that she wears is a constant source of contention.
Some of these fashion choices are actually shocking in their visual unpleasantness, an insult to the eye. More often they are seasonally inappropriate or seemingly chosen out of some sort of twisted humor sensibility. When told that a ruffled short sleeve shirt and skirt combination wouldn’t be allowed on a recent trip to the grocery, her idea of changing into something warmer was to stuff the entire ensemble into last year’s snow pants.
Some of her worst offenses are mismatching universes. Every gym day she wears her Spider Man sneakers and I’m forced to again explain why a Marvel character shirt, Avengers or Black Widow, is OK, but DC heroes such as Superman or Batman are not. I’d sooner send her out into the world bare ass as have a child of mine seen wearing a Star Wars T-shirt with a Star Trek sweatshirt.
I’m forced to choose my battles, my criteria often based on where we are going and how concerned I am about being judged by strangers. It’s a struggle between my need to fight stereotyping, the idea that “dad must have dressed her” and my more natural tendency to not give a rat’s ass what anybody else thinks.
We’ve come to a bit of a compromise. I have final say over her school clothes, so far avoiding any calls home with recommendations for eye exams, on weekends we venture out looking like circus performers on furlough or straight out of the commune.