This is part 2 of a transcript of Episode 102 of my unschooling podcast: Sharing Our Values and Beliefs With Our Unschooled Children. I ended part 1 with the words: “At this point in my podcast, I shared a story, The Jeans-Wearing Rule, from one of my older blogs to illustrate a few of the points I was talking about. It’s a story about clothes, values, adult peer pressure and rules.”
So here’s that story:
The Jeans-Wearing Rule
I’m going to write about something a little controversial – which is very unlike me – but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. No doubt, some readers will disagree with my opinions but that’s okay. We can have a friendly discussion, can’t we?
I want to talk about jeans. I guess that will lead us into the whole modesty issue. Am I brave enough to continue? Here goes…
I have seen a few articles online that have titles such as Rules for Modest Dressing. The rules consist of a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts that are aimed at teenage daughters in particular. I admire a mother who takes the time to ponder carefully what she wants for her daughters. It’s a mother’s responsibility to pass onto her children what she believes is right. And writing rules is a reflection of a very caring mother. Obviously, there are many mothers who agree because the number of congratulatory comments for such posts is enormous: You care, so you make rules. I admire that!
I used to have a set of similar dress rules for my daughters. Well, actually the rules really only applied to my eldest daughter Felicity as she is seven years older than my second daughter Imogen. Dress codes don’t seem to affect little girls as much as teenage ones.
I decided that jeans were not appropriate dress and so I wouldn’t let Felicity wear them. I told her my reasons: they were immodest and unfeminine. She was a girl, therefore she couldn’t wear pants. Nice and simple. No arguments allowed.
Actually, I wasn’t being entirely truthful. The reason I didn’t want Felicity to wear jeans was because none of my friends let their daughters wear them. I wanted to be accepted by these women and so I adopted their standards. I let myself be swayed by others’ opinions – adult peer pressure- but when I thought about it, they were right, weren’t they?
Felicity did not think I was right. I spent a lot of time trying to make her abide by the rules, rules she couldn’t see the value of. Rules can be made, but they need to be policed, and that can result in a lot of time and energy and conflict. And rules can lead to deception and loss of trust. I have heard of young girls changing into their jeans when away from home, hoping their mothers will never find out.
But rules are worth the trouble, you might say. They were made in the best interest of your child. She needed to be guided in what is right and what is wrong. A parent has to be strong enough to make unpopular decisions and stand by them.
Or does she? I suppose it depends on whether the reason behind the rule is valid. And are rules the only way of ensuring our children act in an appropriate manner?
Jeans…When I was a teenager and young mother I wore them all the time. Are they immodest? I guess it depends on the cut. Perfectly modest jeans can be found, I’m sure. Are they unfeminine? I don’t think they are as feminine as a pretty skirt. Is it a crime to be unfeminine? I don’t suppose it is. Is the issue of jeans worth fighting over? No.
I haven’t worn jeans for a very long time. These days I am a skirt girl. I like the soft feel of them and the comfort. I always felt rather restricted inside my stiff denim jeans. And yes, I do like to feel feminine.
Do I want my girls to be feminine? I guess I do. But they have free choice in the matter. As long as my children are doing nothing wrong, I can’t force my preferences on them. I don’t have the right to control them. To me, jeans-wearing is not an issue worthy of a rule. It’s not like it has been written into the Code of Canon Law or anything. And it’s not as if skirt-wearing makes us better people.
So we have no rules about jeans. Actually, we have no rules about modesty either. I have never seen the need to write any. (Dare I confess I generally don’t make rules about anything?) All children, boys included, have always dressed modestly. Why make rules? Instead, we have always talked about dressing appropriately:
“Do you think this skirt is good enough for Mass?”
“You might be more comfortable in cargo pants. You’ll be climbing off and on equipment all day.”
“Have you seen my track pants? I need them for running.”
“I want to look special. It’s an important occasion.”
“I need to find my swim shorts. I don’t feel right wearing my swimmers without them.”
So what do my girls choose to wear? The daughter who was not allowed to wear jeans prefers jeans (as far as I know!) The girls who never experienced ‘the jeans rule’ wear skirts. They won’t go anywhere near a pair of jeans.
Isn’t that funny?
The other day a friend gave me a bag of odds and ends she thought might come in handy for the younger girls. Included in the bag was a pair of jeans.
“Hey, Sophie! These might fit you,” I said, handing the jeans to my second youngest daughter.
“But Mum! They’re jeans. I hate jeans,” said Sophie screwing up her face.
“Just try them on,” I encouraged. “You never know when a pair of jeans might come in handy.”
Sophie went off to her bedroom, obviously under protest, trailing the jeans behind her. A few minutes later she appeared with jeans-clad legs and a tortured look on her face.
“They fit perfectly!” I smiled.
“I hate them!”
I guess there’s no rule that says a girl has to wear jeans!
These days many of my girls’ friends wear jeans. My daughters in their pretty skirts are the odd ones out.
“Wouldn’t you like to dress like everyone else?” I ask.
“No! Not if it means wearing jeans,” four feminine voices reply.
There are probably people who look at my daughters and feel sorry for them. Poor girls! Their mother insists on being old fashioned and doesn’t allow them to wear jeans! Others might congratulate me on being a caring mother who insists on her girls dressing as girls. I told you this was a controversial topic.
The truth of the matter is my girls love wearing skirts, and really I see no reason to dissuade them from their preference. As I said, I’m a skirt girl too.
Would Felicity have been a skirt girl as well if I hadn’t made any dress rules? What if I hadn’t banned jeans? Can rules actually push children in the direction we don’t want them to go?
Not that it matters. I love all my five daughters, whatever they choose to wear.
Imogen walks by and I say, “Would you like to read my latest post?”
When she finishes reading, I’m struck by a funny thought: “Do you realise I’ve written a defence for jeans-wearing and none of you wears jeans?” We both laugh.
“You should have written a post about how jeans-wearing is wrong,” says Imogen. “You could have pointed at your daughters: They know they have to follow the rules!” We both laugh again.
It’s good to laugh. Why fight over something that really isn’t very important at all?
After I’d read the story, I made a few comments about it:
Some Thoughts on the Jeans-Wearing Rule
The words I’m going to write about something a bit controversial struck me. These days, I’m always writing about things which are a little controversial – unschooling. Hopefully, I write about it in such a way that doesn’t get people all upset.
If you listened to last week’s episode 101, you will know that my daughter Sophie does wear jeans these days even though she was horrified a few years ago at the thought of wearing them. She has to wear them because she works in a cafe where jeans are part of the uniform. It’s a country cafe. They have a country look: jeans and a blue and white checked shirt. If Sophie wants to work, she wears the clothes. I don’t think she minds them anymore though she doesn’t choose to wear them as her everyday clothing.
You will also remember that my girls now wear jeggings as I do. They wear them under their dresses and tunics. So I guess they have taken what’s comfortable about jeans-wearing and made it into a feminine outfit. Yes, jeans are comfortable. You don’t really have to think about what you’re going to wear when you have a pair. Pull on your jeans and a t-shirt and you’re set to go.
As I said earlier, I don’t think making rules about such things actually works. A lot of children who were brought up with the no jeans-wearing rule now wear jeans. Rules might stop children wearing what they want to wear when they’re at home where we can see them, but as soon as they’re away from us, they do what they want.
Perhaps, rather than make rules, it’s much better to build up connections with our kids in a loving and accepting way. Often when we do this, our children will end up adopting the values and choices we desire for them. They’re willing to listen to us because they regard us as the most important people in their lives. They trust us.
And when our kids don’t end up doing what we hope, perhaps we can examine the issue carefully. Is it really that important? Why fight over something that really isn’t very important at all?
After reading The Jeans-Wearing Rule, I was thinking that some people would indeed consider jeans-wearing a big issue. If you do, I don’t mean to stamp all over your beliefs. We are all different. We’re bringing up our children in different families with different beliefs which we’re hoping to pass on to them. I think we have to accept each other. This is my story and I hope it doesn’t offend anyone who doesn’t share my beliefs because that wasn’t my intention. My intention was to illustrate the point that rules don’t usually work.
I have transcribed all my podcast words about sharing values and beliefs with our unschooled children. However, I’ve been pondering the question: Why haven’t any of my kids ever grumbled about going to Mass? Even though I don’t have any definite answers, I could share some thoughts in another post. I could write a third part to this short series if anyone is interested.