The Jeans-Wearing Rule

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.

 

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Comments

    • Luana
    • July 16, 2017
    Reply

    Dear Sue, thank you very much for making this transcript!
    And yes, I would also be very interested about your blog/podcast about going to Mass together, please make it!
    I came from different parenting-style direction – when my children were little I leaned toward laissez faire style of parenting (I didn`t know what it was, but looking back I can name it) and was at some point, because of it, exhausted most of the time. And I didn`t feel the connection I longed for, I felt used, overwhelmed and felt my children were demanding endlessly. We didn`t even go to mass regularly, because my children would not want to (till my oldest two were 5 and 2, then I decided we will just go, no matter who likes it or not. For me it was very healthy to start demanding some basic respect, to show my limits and also take care of myself. Being laid-back comes naturally to me, but is not always healthy.

    I felt bad that I took my children with me to the Mass, although they rather wanted to stay home and play, but soon after we started to go regularly and I also started to make our sunday more special and beautiful – Sunday Mass became normal part of our life. And I am very happy that I made that step and we can worship God together. It is treasured time of the week for me and the most important hour, I wouldn`t want to miss it anymore.
    I would love to hear more about your experiences with Sunday Mass.

    Now my oldest is 10 and in our parish (and parishes nearby) there are no children, no teens, only older people (and less and less of them). Honestly I get afraid. Do they have any chance of growing in their faith, when there is no community to support them? Will they start to feel lonely, too different, will they want to stop going?

    I myself have become very laid-back catholic at some time (young adulthood and also some peer pressure) and was loosing my faith more and more. I am sad about it, how easily I have slipped away. Later, some hard and challenging times in my life and prayers and support of my family have brought me back to the faith of my childhood and I am very grateful for this gift. Knowing how easy and comfortable and convenient it is to loose the faith – I get worried sometimes.

    It is very comforting and inspiring to see strong and loving bonds in your family. Your family lives a healthy freedom for both children and grown ups. It is still a mystery for me how I could find this kind of balance for our family, but I guess there is no other way to learn, then trying and reflecting about it.

    I can also very much relate to problems coming from adult peer pressure. It is a very real thing and I didn`t recognize it till I read about it in your blog post few years ago.
    It is beautiful to read, how your daughters don`t mind to be different, to clothe differently and live differently.

    Thank you very very much for sharing! Sunny and salty greetings from the seaside!
    Luana

    1. Reply

      Luana,

      It can be easy to go with the flow when we are tired and feeling overwhelmed. And then, yes, we might feel guilty for not making enough effort especially when it comes to important things like our faith. Perhaps there are times when we should make ourselves do more. But there are also times when we can’t do as much as we feel we should because we have to put the needs of our children first. Going to Mass can end up being a very negative experience if our kids aren’t able to cope. We always took our children to Mass but I didn’t always sit inside the church. I didn’t make our young children sit still and be quiet when they were unable to do this. Instead, I’d take them outside or stand at the back of the church. We’d visit the statues, blow kisses to Jesus, I’d whisper to them about what was happening, we’d pick flowers from the church garden…

      I love how you made Sundays special and beautiful. Maybe that’s the best way to encourage a love of the Mass in our kids. Yes, a treasured time of the week!

      Your parish sounds very much like ours. We live in an area where a lot of older people come to retire. There are no other homeschoolers here. My kids don’t have any friends their own age in the parish. However, they still have a sense of belonging. Maybe family bonds are much more important than those with other people. If we have no one else, it doesn’t matter because we have each other.

      Your comment raises so many points for discussion. Perhaps instead of writing a very long response, I should write the promised blog post and then you can add your thoughts as well. It’s good to share ideas, isn’t it?

      I hope you had a fantastic time at the beach with your family!
      Sue Elvis recently posted…Podcasting Breaks and Unschooling BooksMy Profile

    • Alissa
    • July 17, 2017
    Reply

    Does Felicity read your blog? I wonder if some of these changes in parenting choices you have made has helped with your relationship with your oldest? If I were to read this and I was her I would feel yes now you get it mom 🙂

    1. Reply

      Alissa,

      I have discussed my parenting choices with Felicity many times. We’ve talked about how she had a ‘dragon mother’ while the younger girls are being brought up by a more gentle and understanding mother who has learnt so much since the early days of parenting. I used to wonder if Felicity felt upset because of this, but she tells me that she loves me regardless of my mistakes and, during her childhood, she wanted to be just like me. This is very comforting.

      I have written quite a few posts about Felicity and the mistakes I made. I wrote the mental illness series with her permission after we’d had some long talks about the past. Yes, I get it, but I think Felicity can now see things from my point of view too. She knows I tried hard and love her very much. Parent child relationships are very complicated. Mistakes can happen on both sides. Circumstances out of our control can affect us too.

      The good thing is that it’s never too late. We continue to parent our kids even when they are adults. These days I am a gentler mother to Felicity. I think very carefully about how I relate to her. Our older kids could very easily drift away from us. But fortunately, the bonds between us continue to be strong.
      Sue Elvis recently posted…Ideas for Starting UnschoolingMy Profile

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