“Stay neutral, stay neutral, stay neutral.”
That is the mantra that I have to keep repeating to myself while I shop for new clothes with my 13-year-old daughter. Middle school isn’t easy in the best of times—and we are not in the best of times. After a year of sweatpants and virtual school, she has just started eighth grade and is in desperate need of some new clothes for her growing body. There is a lot of emphasis on what you look like in middle school. And, regardless of whether I like that or not (I don’t), it is a reality for my daughter.
“Are these okay?” she asks, modeling a pair of Size 0 baggy jeans that have an inch of extra denim hanging around her waist. She is small for her age and doesn’t fit into adult clothes. But she doesn’t have any interest in children’s clothing styles made in sizes that would fit her.
“What do you think?” I ask, trying not to sway her one way or the other as I silently repeat my mantra.
“I like them,” she says, as she looks at her reflection in the mirror. “I’ll need to wear them with a belt, but I think they look good.”
It is so challenging to find anything that she likes, so how the jeans fit her takes a backseat to how she feels wearing them. So I gratefully bought the jeans and a few shirts to go with them.
After drop off on the first day of school, I scrolled through other parents’ photos on social media. It was pretty wild to see that all of the girls my daughter’s age were wearing an outfit almost identical to hers. It was as if a uniform memo went out calling for baggy, belted, high-waisted mom jeans, with a tank top, thick-soled sneakers, and a plaid flannel shirt or sweatshirt to finish the outfit.
I wondered how all those other parents handled clothes shopping for school with their teens. Did they all stay silent and only offer opinions when asked? Did they speak up, only to be met with a hysterical reaction that dragged out the shopping process? Do other parents just let their kids buy their own clothes online and stay out of it entirely? I would really like to know because I have tried all of the options and it never seems to be a happy experience.
I want to stay supportive and encouraging, but sometimes my daughter just wants me to nod approvingly and then hand over my wallet. If the shoe doesn’t fit, she still might buy it—and I’m at a loss to know how to respond. I know we need to let our kids have creative expression. But sometimes I just want to give a little helpful advice about buying things that fit properly and are comfortable. But giving my daughter my unsolicited opinion is sure to lead to upset, so I try to keep quiet and remember my mantra: “Stay neutral.”
Thankfully, the first day of school was a success and the hours my daughter put into shopping for what she was going to wear paid off. She was happy to be back with her friends and she was comfortable with what she was wearing. I consider that a win, even if I had my doubts about the jeans.
The second day she wore the same jeans with a different shirt. And then she wore the jeans again on the third and fourth days. On the fifth day of school it hit me that we went through all of that effort to find jeans she liked—and I didn’t think to buy her more than one pair! We were a week into the new school year and the only thing she wanted to wear didn’t even fit her that well.
Which is why, when she asked on Friday night if we could go shopping for some more clothes, I quickly said yes—and immediately started practicing my mantra.