Appearance: Big Deal or Little Deal? Or Both?

There was an ad that used to play on the radio in St. Louis for a certain well-to-do kid's clothing boutique (I no longer remember the name…it was not a franchise, though).  The ad went something like this: "We know that how your children look reflects on you.  Your children are part of your image. At [name of store] you'll find adorable outfits…" and so on.  The first bit was what caught my attention, even as a teen.  Your children are part of your image, and how they appear is a reflection of you.  I found the ad to be very snobby (it didn't help that I knew the store to be located in a very ritzy suburb) and I thought to myself, When I'm a mom, I'm not going to be obsessed with what my kids are wearing.  There are more important things. 
I still think that, and still believe that there are far more important things than what my kids are wearing.  But today, I had to ask myself if I have been in fact PRIDING myself on not caring what they look like--to a fault.  As I walked my daughter into her school room, I noticed the leftover vestiges of peanut butter on her face, her still bed-heady hair, and the sweater she picked that clashed with her dress (not to mention her tennis shoes looking incongruous with her tights and dress outfit that she picked).  I thought, "Uh oh…she is THAT child.  I am THAT mom." 
I almost always let Ruby pick out her own clothes, and have done so ever since she started being able and interested in dressing herself (around 18 months, I think).  Max has shown no interest in even wearing clothes at all, so I pick his clothes and dress him, and obviously do the same for Ben.  Ruby picks out some pretty interesting outfits, and even though I try to make sure she has a mostly mix and match type of wardrobe, that girl is all about layering.  Layering things that cannot possibly go together, even in Portland.  So even though she tends to look, um, eclectic 99% of the time, I haven't really worried about it.  She is getting dressed all by herself (very important life skill) and getting many chances to make her own choices in a realm that I can afford to let her do so.  At least, that is what I thought.  
Now I'm wondering, though.  A few things have brought it to mind.  One was a FB post by a friend from our old church whose four children always look awesome. They are pretty much the most adorably dressed family you've ever seen.  They don't  have matching clothes per se but they are always coordinated.  It doesn't happen by accident, though.  She revealed in her post that she oversees all of their clothing choices for school (exercising mom veto power when necessary) and she packs their clothes for vacations so they will always look good as a unit.  When we went on our trip to North Dakota this past summer, I packed the kids clothes in little ziploc bags for each day, but I gave not a thought as to whether Ruby and Max's outfits went well together (because I don't know what boy clothes go well with their sister's entirely pink wardrobe).  I just made sure they had clean clothes, period.  I don't know if I will ever attain the status of making sure all of my kids coordinate except for special occasions like family photos (which, as you will see in this post, did not particularly help).  
Then I read a few of Kendra's posts (like this one and this one) about how it is very important to her to make sure that she and her six (now seven) kids always look presentable in public because they are ambassadors not only for Christ but also for large families in general, and she wants to be good PR for both of those causes!  That is a laudable statement, and got me thinking about whether I am doing any good in that area.  Mostly when I'm out with all three kids I just get looks of sympathy, bewilderment, or "Oh my, they keep you busy!"  My mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law usually tell me I look tired.  Usually I try to be clean and neat on a daily basis in terms of my own appearance, but I will admit that I don't always expect my kids to look clean and neat.  I guess I've been lumping it into the category of, "Ehhh, don't sweat the small stuff.  They are wearing clothes, who cares if they match? And if I changed Max and Ben's outfits every time they got the least bit dirty, I'd be doing even more laundry than I'm already doing (which seems endless)."  Maybe it is small stuff for this season of life (AKA three kids ages three and under!) but maybe it is not.  
Aristotle believed that all behaviors and emotions can be imagined on their own spectra, and that virtue was to be found in the middle of each spectrum, not at either end.  Aim for the means, not the extremes.  For example, the virtue of confidence is the mean between the extremes of arrogance and insecurity.  The virtue of courage is the mean between the extremes of foolhardiness and cowardice.  I think Aristotle is where we derive our saying of "Moderation in all things."  How does one find moderation in this area? Clearly one can go to the extreme of being preoccupied with appearances, which can lead to shallowness and hypocrisy ("I don't care if my kids are like as long as they look nice.")  But perhaps I've allowed myself to drift towards the extreme of slovenliness and calling it "independence" and "practical."  Definitely food for thought.  Any other parents out there have thoughts on this matter?  I'm interested to hear.  For now, though, I'd better go do some laundry…because at least the clothes we are wearing can be clean, if not fashionable!  


  1. This was a really interesting read for me. I'm a big fan of the virtue of the middle. You know some of my thoughts on it, since you linked to them! But . . . I do let all of my kids dress themselves (except for the baby and the two year old), but I send them to try again if things don't match. I think learning to coordinate outfits properly is a skill worth having and it doesn't come naturally (especially for the boys!). I also let them pack their own suitcases, mostly just because of the time it would take for ME to pack for all of them. This has resulted in the sharing of underwear between brothers and the wearing of less than ideal outfit combinations to Mass on vacation, but we lived!

    My sister has a very strong willed three year old, and her solution has been to put entire outfits, each in a storage box, so she gets to pick a whole outfit to wear, but not individual pieces. I don't personally have time for that level of organization. But it works for them.

  2. I love your posts Jenny, I too have similar back and forth ponderings on things I do and why I do them. Let me just say I would like to be more picky about the things my son wears... but he has some sensory issues and a strong will to boot, so I pick my battles. When he wants to wear the one pair of socks that are comfortable to him for the third day in a row (ewww) I pick that battle. When he wants to wear the worn out exercise pants with holes in the knees to the grocery store, I don't pick that battle. I've wondered the same thing about how people perceive what kind of Mom I am based on how my kids look. But the bottom line is I can't control how my kid looks all the time (though I would like to, and if I could he would be a lot more trendy) and if people misunderstand me and my values because of it - well that's how it is... I try to keep that in mind so I'm not tempted to do the same thing the next time I'm at the grocery store and see a kid with Kool Aid stains on his upper lip and some gaudy pop culture print tee shirt on...

    1. Good point, Sunshine…there is so much to take into consideration about any given situation, and yet it is so easy to go in with a judgment all ready to go. Hmm, there's a post in that...

  3. For me Jenny I let my kids dress them selves as long as they were clean. Walker went through a period where he liked to wear his socks up to his thighs and and shorts and rubber boots. Hunter went through a stage where he wanted to wear every color in the rainbow everyday. They both went through the superhero stage where all they wanted to wear were superhero outfits. Hunter was painfully shy except when he was in his superhero costume he was Mr. Confidence and I think if he had not had the superhero costumes or the chance to pick out his own outfits to feel confident and express himself he may have turned out differently. I think as long they are clean and well behaved it didn't bother me because it's temporary. Even when they wore tutu's and people said things, because I knew they were clean and well cared for I wanted to enjoy them being themselves as long as I could before society eventually would determine what they should wear. Ripped jeans just means your kids play outside and arent sitting in front of a screen all day I personally would rather see ripped jeans and mismatched clothes to me it means an active creative kid. Eventually the boys grew out of wearing mismatched things as I knew they would and now society has imposed it's influence on them I wish I could go back see them dress in their superhero outfits again. I even let them have pink and blue hair at one point. Would I let them pierce themselves No because it is more permanent and cognitively they are not mature enough to make a decision that has such permanent consequences. Your a great mom and the perfect mom for Ruby, Max and Ben.


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