“Mum, can I wear jeans?” my teenage daughter Felicity looks at me with pleading eyes. She must know what I’m going to say. I‘ve said it so many times before: “Jeans are unfeminine. You’re a girl. You should wear a skirt.”
When Felicity was a little younger, clothes weren’t an issue. She had dresses and pants and jeans, and she wore whatever suited the occasion. I didn’t think too much about it. Then we moved house and I made some new friends. They introduced me to some new ideas.
Girls are different to boys. They should look like girls and act like girls.
Yes, girls are different to boys. I agree. I listened some more and observed. Other mothers were dressing their girls in skirts and dresses. Some weren’t allowing their girls to participate in boyish activities like soccer. I really liked these women. I wanted to belong to their group. I wanted them to like me in return, to approve of me and to accept my family. So I adopted their way of doing things.
So Felicity wasn’t allowed to wear jeans or join in with soccer games with the boys. Instead she stood on the sidelines, yearning to kick the ball with all the other kids.
Occasionally Felicity would defy me. She’d sneak off when I wasn’t watching and play soccer anyway.
“Hey, your daughter Felicity is a powerful kicker!” someone would later tell me, not realising his words would get her into trouble.
“What were you doing playing soccer?” I’d angrily ask my daughter.
Soccer? Jeans? Did it really matter if Felicity pulled on a pair of jeans and kicked a ball with the boys?
I have to admit jeans and soccer weren’t the real issue, though I pretended they were. I only adopted the standards of the other mothers in order to be accepted into the group. I bowed to adult peer pressure, instead of listening to my own child, and making decisions more appropriate for my own family.
If I’d encouraged Felicity to participate in sporting activities she enjoyed, would this have prevented her inactive lifestyle of later years? If I hadn’t had constant battles with her over her clothes would she have felt better about her appearance? Would she never have written the following words?
“I also took my rising desire to prove myself as individual, to have different looks and hobbies and interests to my mum’s, as a very bad thing. I felt guilty about wanting to be different, so I would take any criticism of my appearance or interests very badly.”
Would I have made the life of my child, who was suffering from undiagnosed mental illness just a little bit easier? Maybe a healthy child would have felt resentment because of my rules. It seems my child ended up feeling bad.
I don’t really think it matters whether a teenager is ‘normal’ or special needs, we should avoid battling with them over unimportant things. What were those words of a recent Mass reading?
“Parents do not lead your children to resentment.”
Perhaps we should be prepared to trust and accept, rather than constantly control our young people. We should value their own opinions and who they are. They don’t have to be just like us. And they certainly don’t have to conform to the ideas of our friends.
These days I try not to let adult peer pressure affect what is best for my family. But I admit, it’s not always easy. I wonder why. Why are we so influenced by the opinions of others?
btw, every family has their own opinions about such things as dress. I can accept that. This isn’t meant to be an argument for unisex dressing. Nor is it a criticism of my friends’ ideas. I just used this issue as an example because it is one of the things Felicity and I battled over.
If you’re interested in this topic though, you might like to read The Jeans-Wearing Rule and I Am a Skirt Girl
Next time… Are you willing to share my memories of losing a daughter to the enclosed life?
I have a few lighter post ideas in mind too. I could write a story about Disney princesses and teenage daughters… or a young adult son, a father and muscles… or even a mother, a daughter and some extra hard laps of running. I hope you’ll stick around.