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Boys and Clothes: They win the battle, I win the war


I like clothes. I like fashion. I have 4 boys. One of these things is not like the other.

When my kids were little they let me dress them in anything and everything: funky layers, loud prints, seersucker shorts and long socks…it was all fair game. As they got older layers were too hot; then button down shirts were out; next to go was anything with a collar; and most recently they developed an aversion to jeans.

I know some parents think caring about how kids dress is a waste, but I can’t help it, I care. A few years ago, I resigned myself to having kids clad in t-shirts and denim and that was okay; after all, you can make the denim a little skinny and add a V or cool print to the t-shirt and look put together. However, when jeans left our “acceptable clothing list,” a little war started, especially with my #1 and #3.

#1 claimed that all the boys his age wore athletic clothes to his new school, ALL of them. When I volunteered at the school, I paid close attention and while ALL was a little much, many of the boys were wearing athletic clothes to school. In the past, for us, athletic clothes had always been for sports, but #1, all of a sudden, felt like athletic clothes were school clothes.

With #3, the battle was a little more intense. Jeans were too tight, they bugged him, they were uncomfortable and itchy, he couldn’t run fast at recess or play hard during P.E. He HATED them. There were tears of frustration and anger and grumpy moods almost every day. Not worth it.

So, we had a little meeting and I laid out my issues with athletic clothes:
1. I had just purchased school clothes for everyone, so everyone had at least 3 or 4 new pair of nice jeans.
2. Athletic clothes get ruined quickly and tear easily, so they don’t look nice for nearly as long as jeans do.
3. School seems like a place where you should look presentable, not like you are on your way to a practice or bed.
4. We don’t own a lot of athletic clothes, so there is no way clean ones can be worn daily.
5. I buy your clothes and athletic clothes are not cheap. In fact they are often more expensive than “cute” clothes, so spending $15-$20 on pants I that I would rather you not wear is a tough sell.

After hearing me out and pretending to understand, we compromised by allowing athletic clothes on P.E. days. In a matter of weeks, #1 and #3 had P.E. every day :). I realized I was losing a battle that was not worth fighting.

So, we started a new clothing plan. I had to give a lot, but in the end, it makes for smoother, happier mornings and still allows me to get what I want when it really counts. Here are our clothing rules:

1. You may wear athletic clothes, but they still have to be “school clothes” not jammies, meaning they have to be decent looking and the shirt and pants should look like they go togethre (they got quite a few new options for Christmas to add to their collections). If your nice athletic clothes are not clean, you will have to wear jeans.

2. If I need you, on any day, ever, to wear something different, there will be NO complaining or whining and you will do it with a smile.

3. If you complain, refuse or whine about wearing something nice every once in awhile, you will no longer be allowed to wear athletic clothes to school. I will take them all, since I bought them all, and leave you jeans as your only option.

4. You still have to comb your hair, brush your teeth, and wear deodorant (if you are old enough), every day.

This has worked out quite nicely for all of us. There are days I still cringe a bit when they walk out the door (especially when we forget to do hair), but I am mostly okay with what they wear, because on the important days (school pictures, programs, church, heading out to dinner, etc.) they wear what I ask them to pretty happily. I have also become rather selective with what I buy, which keeps their options at least presentable.

Earlier this week my #3 had a program at school and he was supposed to wear black pants. I wanted him to wear church pants and he wanted to wear black athletic pants. He started to have a fit about how “uncomfortable” they were and how he didn’t want to wear them. All it took was a quick reminder that most things feel uncomfortable compared to pajamas every day and  if he couldn’t stick to our deal, he would need to practice wearing uncomfortable clothes more often so he didn’t have a fit when he was supposed to wear them for important events. He quickly figured out how to wear them with a smile.

So, a lot of times they look like this (one of our scarier moments)


But when it counts they look like this


They win the battle, I win the war!

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12 thoughts on “Boys and Clothes: They win the battle, I win the war

  1. They are so cute and I think this is a problem a lot of moms struggle with! This reminds me of a time a few months ago, when my niece said to her mom, "when are we leaving for school?" And my sister said, "Oh, today is a snow day." Then my niece (who's 9) said, "You mean, I put pants on for NOTHING?!" I am with her on that – I'd rather no pants than any pants any day! Ha! (I call pants "leg prisons.")

  2. It's funny that you post this, because we just had the EXACT same discussion last week. Ours ended a little differently. They were literally trying to wear the same clothes to school that they had just worn to bed. We agreed that Fridays can be dress down days. Additionally, I've been trying to use adult phrases like "business casual" and "best dress", so they learn those concepts. It's nice, because they still get to puck their own clothes, but they understand the level of dressiness expected.

  3. Jenny, I love this idea. I need to do that with my boys too. That is one of the reasons why I care what they wear and how they look, because whether we like it or not, the world cares and judges.

  4. I have 1 daughter, 3 boys. Imagine my dissapointment when it's an out and out battle of wills to get her to wear something than her legging/keg goings and a Tshirt. I bought the leggings for her cute skirts and sweater dresses which she will not wear… 🙁 So I hear you.

  5. I hate athletic wear for school and I totally agree that kids should look "presentable". Most of our clothes is given to us, so I don't actually get a ton of choice in what my boys have, but there are times I have taken them out (solo outing, not all 4 at once!) and said, "You need new shorts for school. Let's pick out some that you would like". We found some denim that are gray with a little bit darker gray skulls. I talked them into khaki shorts. And cargo anything has been a lifesaver. I do allow them to wear atheltic wear on PE days (I have written up who has what Special on what day) or sometimes if just nothing else is clean. When they come home from school, they are allowed to immediately change into "play" clothes (not the nice school clothes) and I don't care if it matches or whatever simply because they are out in the neighborhood, riding bikes, playing with friends, and getting dirty. Their school clothes tend to stay nicer for school and we both feel like we get what we want.

  6. Children get told what to do a lot! Letting them choose their own clothes is a great way to allow them to make choices and feel good about having power over something. We let our kids pick their clothes (with modest guidelines). Sometimes the outfits are silly or mismatching, but it is not life or death! The only time we pick their clothes or override outfits is for family pictures or special events.

  7. I like that idea too, but I hate washing two sets of clothes every day. I feel like with #1 and #2 the battle was worth it, and actually #2 still always looks nice, by choice and #1 does about half the time. With #3 all the rules changed. I do like the idea of shopping together too, they do seem to like what they pick out more than what I pick out.

  8. Good call. Seems like that is about where we are now too, although every now and then I have to exercise my right to tell them what they are wearing just does not work.

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