My oldest has been expressing herself with clothing, shoes, costumes, hats, jewelry, gloves and bows (lots of bows) for two years now, and I don't see it slowing down any time soon. She's five, but her love for styling herself independently began around age three. She loves colors and patterns and prints. (Especially when there are lots of different ones together in one outfit.) Mixing and matching and over-accessorizing is her love language.
She will come out of her room and declare herself ready to go—in the MOST creative concoctions I have ever seen. Truly. Lady Gaga's got nothin' on this 5-year-old fashionista.
There was the time she wore her green frog dance recital costume (including the hat and gloves) with a Christmas Rudolph sweater over it and mermaid leggings under it—to the grocery store.
There was the time she wore a furry unicorn onesie with heart-shaped sunglasses that looked like they came straight out of Elton John's closet and clip-on earrings—to music class.
And then there was the time—oh wait, it's most of the time—when she layers (there are always so many layers). Because, honey, a t-shirt and leggings are just the base layer! After that, you need to add jean shorts over the leggings, a dress over the t-shirt, a cardigan over the dress and you must always remember to pack a small carry-on size back of backup outfits anywhere you go.
Then, and only then, will you be ready for the day.
This place we are now—where my kids dress (mostly) however they want—took some time to get to. I have not always been comfortable with the layering (is that tank top really necessary over that long-sleeved shirt?!) and the mixing of colors and patterns makes my inner-perfectionist want to shout, "THAT DOESN'T MATCH! NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT!"
But, over time, I've trained myself to say instead, "You look awesome! Nice outfit!" as long as it's weather appropriate.
It's their way of expressing themselves—not mine.
It affects their mood—it should not affect mine.
I don't have control over their bodies and choices, and I don't want that. I aim to be their guide, helping and assisting when necessary. I have let go of aiming for or wanting control.
If it's good for them. It's good for me. They are learning how to make their own choices, how to dress and get ready for the day independently, and it takes one thing off of my very long to-do list. It's a win-win for everyone, really. (Let's skip the topic of dealing with meltdowns over not being able to wear your swimsuit and flip flops when it's snowing out for another essay… )
So to the mother who has let their child dress themselves today—I FEEL you. I see you. I am you.
I see that your child also has 5+ bows in their hair and a layer of leggings, shorts and a skirt on.
I see that your child has a Spiderman costume on with a shark sweatshirt over it and a PJ Mask cape attached to the back.
And I see that your child has every color of the rainbow on, plus their shoes on the wrong feet.
My friend, I salute you.
I know that your kiddo dressed themselves and I want to give you both a big high five. I know this life well. And I know you too might wonder, What are people going to think with this outfit on? That I'm not teaching my kids to look presentable? That I don't care enough to tell them that their shoes are on the wrong feet?
I know that's not the case.
I know you're showing your child what having control over their own body looks like.
I know you're allowing them to feel free creatively in their expression of themselves.
I know you're helping to shape them into confident humans.
I know you're choosing your battles wisely.
And I know you told them that their feet may be more comfortable if they switched their shoes around, but they swear they like how it feels that way.
We've learned over the past few years from my kid's favorite movie soundtracks, Annie, that "you're never fully dressed without a smile"—but little did those lyricists know they should have added, "and also at least three layers of various items of clothing, three bows and three additional accessories of your choosing!" (That doesn't have quite the same ring to it though, now does it?)