My kids just had their homecoming dance a few weeks ago. My daughter and I went out shopping for a dress, and she looked for inspiration online for a hairstyle. The morning before the dance, I took her to get her nails done. These were all things she wanted to do, and I was more than happy to accommodate her.
She invited a few friends over to get ready before the dance and the happy sounds of teen girls applying makeup and false lashes while excitedly discussing the dance filled my house. They all looked great when they finished and ready to go. More importantly, they were really confident about how they looked.
I asked my son in the weeks leading up to the dance if he wanted me to get him anything new to wear to the dance. He answered “no” each time. I finally asked him what he was going to wear and he shrugged his shoulders. I left him alone after that.
My son has his own unique style.
He always has. He’s never been someone to conform. In elementary school all of his friends were into sports and would beg him to play. He wanted no part of it.
He is into gardening and animals, something none of his friends are interested in, and he doesn’t care one bit. I absolutely love this about my son and don’t want to dull that part of him. So my approach is no different when it comes to his clothing choices.
As I dropped my teens and their friends at the dance, my son walked past all the boys in ties, button down shirts and dress pants while wearing his chosen outfit for the evening: Nike sneakers and a sweat suit. I couldn’t help but smile.
He not only got looks from the students, he got some from the parents too.
I’m sure they were thinking, Why didn’t his mom make him wear something nicer? It’s a dance?!
Those kinds of looks used to really bother me.
In fact, all of my kids have gone through stages of self-expression that have gotten side-eye from other parents. There were times I felt judged. And, I admit, there were times when I tried to get my kids to dress a certain way just so I could avoid feeling judged.
Now I know better though. Trying to get my son to dress a certain way for a particular occasion only ends with us fighting. It’s not worth the battle to me. I’m not saying there aren’t times when I have to give him a nudge so he’ll wear something more appropriate. If we’re going to a wedding and he comes downstairs in a ripped T-shirt and sweats, we are going to have to come to a compromise. For example, I’ve let him wear comfortable khaki joggers as long as he wore nice sneakers and a clean, rip-free shirt.
The truth is, it is always going to be more important to me that my son dresses in a way that makes him feel like his best—regardless of what other people think.
My daughter made her own choices and felt happy and confident at that dance. My son deserves to feel the same way. We all do. Thinking back to all the times I was forced to wear something I didn’t want to wear, and remembering the way I felt around people, is enough to convince me I’m doing the right thing.
For my son, that means dressing for a high school dance like it’s any other day of the week. He knew what most of the kids would be wearing and he still chose to honor himself instead of following along the crowd. I refuse to make him feel bad for being comfortable and I don’t ever want to change that aspect of his personality.
He’s 15 and old enough to know what works for him—which is something I think a lot of adults still struggle with, myself included.
I’m learning to accept that he might not want to wear his winter coat when the temperature drops below freezing, or that he might choose to wear slides when everyone else is wearing boots. If he wants to wear a stained T-shirt to school, that’s his choice and it’s fine by me. If he’s more comfortable in sweatpants and a hoodie during the summer months (which he is), I’m all for it. I’m not the one wearing these things, he is.
Trying to convince my son to dress in a way that I think is appropriate would only rob him of his autonomy. It’s my job to support him—which means keeping my mouth shut about what he decides to wear. The fact that he is confident in who he is, even though he doesn’t really care how he looks, tells me all I need to know.