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You’re Not Leaving the House Wearing That!

January 23, 2014 | by Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum

Does accepting our kids choices imply approval?

There it was, a plastic sparkly blue hat, and my two year old son found his treasure. He just loves hats.

My wife was away and I am getting my children ready to go to the pizza shop for supper and my son insists on wearing his new blue hat. His two older brothers would have nothing to do with it. We are not going if he wears that hat. I, on the other hand, was completely at peace with it. There was no reason to be embarrassed for no one could suspect me of choosing his getup.

When your child is two it’s relatively easy not to be embarrassed by their choice of attire, but what about when he or she is 12 or older? Then it’s not as simple.

Clothing is a common source of tension in many homes. Parents and their teens often bicker over acceptable mode of dress. We really have to take a moment and ask ourselves: Is it worth the fight?

The first thing I suggest we do is introspect into the true motivation behind our battle. Are we fighting because we feel it is unhealthy for the child to dress this way or is it because we are embarrassed about what our neighbors and friend will say? This takes a great deal of self honesty but if we do come to the recognition that it is really our pride that we are worried about, then we are probably better off forgoing our pride for the sake of our relationship with our child.

If we are not prepared to forgo our honor, then I suggest we at least be honest with our child and tell him that we feel uncomfortable when he or she dresses this way and not hide behind another agenda. When parents preach that which is not in line with their true motivation, their children can sense the falsehood and it hurts their ability to trust and listen to their parents down the road.

Now let say you allow your child to dress in a way that bothers you, (or he doesn’t give you much of a choice) how are we going to deal with this situation going forward?

We can make disparaging comments every time our child comes down the stairs – You’re not really going to go out like that? – but what will be accomplished? We are just creating a wedge between ourselves and our child. Remember, the number one asset parents have towards helping their children develop is a close relationship and constant criticism and disapproval will only hurt that asset. They know already we don’t like their taste in clothing, so why constantly rehash it?

Embrace your child as he is.

We have to learn – probably the most difficult aspect of parenting – to embrace our child as he is. Parents commonly confuse the following two words - acceptance and approval. We fear that if we accept our child for who he is he will think we approve of everything he is doing.

But the two are clearly not the same. I can hate the blue hat you are wearing, but love you to death. I can even disapprove of your behavior and still love you to death. The two should never be confused and when they are – serious problems begin. When we confuse the two and show our child less love because we don’t like what he is doing, then we will have hurt him deeply and only weakened our chance of helping him down the road.

I think most of us would be great at helping the neighbor’s child if he was assigned to us for help. We would find a way to embrace him despite his current challenges and shortcomings. We would show him love and patience and do a masterful job of helping him grow. It is our own child where our anxiety and frustrations take us over, leading us to unhealthy reactions and behavior. The neighbor’s child I can happily walk down the street with my arm around him – even in his funny blue hat, but with my own I could never bear.

This is something we need to overcome if we want to help our child. We have to realize he is not our child that we own and outfit as we please – he is God’s and we were the ones assigned the holy task of holding his hand and guiding him with grace and pride.

Don’t worry about the neighbors; be confident and happy knowing that you are following God’s directive of lovingly taking care of the precious child He entrusted you with. Ultimately your child will give you so much to be proud of.

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