The Great Clothing Surrender (Learning to Lose the Insignificant Battles)


Growing up the oldest of five kids, I rarely dreamed of becoming “mom.” In fact, I had very little desire for children until about four years into my marriage, when it became either have a baby or buy another puppy. We did NOT need more puppies! 

I only ever had one vision in my head when it came to having children — I wanted the girl who bounced into Walmart, cowboy boots and fairy wings proudly donned. Never a “girly-girl” myself, I loved the idea of a free-spirit more than a fashionista. 

Fast-forward several years to my oldest daughter turning 18 months old. (My children are over-achievers, so the “terrible two’s” start early in our house!) We plunged into tantrums and power struggles, and I grasped at any solution offered. A sweet friend suggested I find something to give her control over, maybe let her choose her outfits or what to have for breakfast. I was very particular about what she ate, so clothing it was!

It wasn’t a difficult choice, I had very little invested in what my daughter wore. My mother-in-law was (and is) a bargain shopper and had purchased the majority of her clothes; the rest were hand-me-downs (can you say, textile gold!). I laid out outfits and allowed her to choose between them. However, I quickly noticed, she would often choose a shirt from one outfit and a bottom from the other. “Let go, let go, let go,” became my internal mantra as she proudly adorned herself.

Clothing or Heart?

My daughter’s outfits took on a life of their own. Layers and colors got more and more outrageous and sideways glances more frequent. “She dressed herself!” I would blurt out, my word vomit barely hiding the embarrassment bubbling under the surface.

girl tutu
Though it had never occurred to me before, my child’s appearance suddenly felt like a direct reflection of my parenting skills — and I was obviously failing!

As time went on I had to make a decision: I could attempt to win back the freedom I had allowed her, or I could give up my own insecurities and focus on more important things. Reminded of the free-spirited Walmart child I dreamed of, I finally let go of me.

Losing the Insignificant Battle

My daughter is now five. She continues to dress herself and choose her outfits. We have had to set some new parameters: She must be weather appropriate in clothing that still fits well, and mommy has ultimate veto power (especially on special occasions). I don’t cringe anymore when I see people inspecting her clothing. She’s beautiful and authentic. We celebrate that often (something I am only now learning to do for myself.)

She started preschool this year, and they have special dress-up days. We are into the second semester and have yet to successfully meet the requirements. On Green Day she said, “I’m just not a green girl, mom.” “That’s cool! Do you, kid,” I thought. 

Over the years I have learned some important lessons from my little girl’s wild dress. My own pride and need to look put-together as a mother easily becomes a focal point for the battles I choose to fight. I have to ask myself daily: Am I fighting this out of personal preference or because it is shaping her character? If it isn’t the latter, it’s time to drop it. I will fight for her to learn things like respect, kindness, and empathy, but if my battle is just that, MINE, I’m learning to release my pride and move on.

She may not match, but let’s face it, people aren’t looking at my yoga pants and layers of dry-shampoo and thinking, “That mama’s got it going ON!” If the barometer for my success as a parent is based on how my kid looks in public, then I am fighting an uphill battle from the get-go!

A Challenge to Lose

So collectively, as moms let’s take on this challenge: 

  1. Let go of the insignificant “one thing” that internally defines you as a parent but has no bearing on the character of your child. Maybe it’s their outfits, like me, or maybe it’s grades, food choices, mispronounced words, or the paci that’s still holding out well into the toddler years . . . fill in your pet peeve of choice.
  2. Offer grace to other moms when their “one thing” rubs against yours. Yeah, her kid might forever have food on his face, but she’s directing her limited energy toward growing him into a man who will respect women (like your free-spirited daughter) someday.

So next time you see that little girl with her plaids and neon all intermingled, give her mama a fist raise of solidarity. You are, after all, on the same team: building a future of character-rich humans by losing one insignificant battle at a time. 


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