Care and Feeding

My Kids Have Heinous Taste in Fashion

Am I allowed to do something about the ugly clothing they apparently like?

An elegant couple looking upset at their child wearing a cowboy outfit.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have always been fairly fashionable and work in fields that reflect that. (I am an interior decorator; he has spent 20 years in the skate/surf fashion industry.) Our children, however, are drawn toward the most heinous clothing: socks pulled up to their knees, glittery bedazzled appliqué shirts, patterns on patterns on patterns.

Where do you draw the line between self-expression and bad taste? I feel like they know that we’re bummed about their clothes selections and I’m afraid we’re going to give them a complex. But I also don’t want my 6-year-old daughter to look like she dressed herself by running through a Salvation Army. Should we draw the line somewhere or keep letting them dress like “the Dude” from The Big Lebowski?

—Hiding Our Kids From the Fashion Police?

Dear HOKFtFP,

What a rich and timeless part of the human experience you are getting to take part in! You do not like the clothes your kids are wearing, and in some way believe that this is qualitatively different from the way in which every previous set of parents hasn’t liked the clothes their kids wear.

It is not. You are just old now. Embrace it. Your husband’s 20 years in the “skate/surf fashion industry” mean nothing to the young. Maybe they look stupid, maybe they look great, it honestly doesn’t matter.

As for your 6-year-old daughter, surely you are still purchasing her clothes? If you are sending her off with a fistful of pennies to fend for herself, stop doing that and enjoy a few more years of clothing-based tyranny. With older kids, as long as their genitals are covered and their clothes are clean, practice acceptance.

You have made my day.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I are planning our son’s fourth birthday. He’s asked that certain friends from school be there, and based on our experiences with his classmates, it’s not expected that all students in his class receive an invite. However, my son wants to invite a student whose influence is less than ideal. He acts out at school, is less mature, and when my son has made poor choices or received negative feedback from his teachers, the other child is often involved. My son isn’t shy about telling us how the student misbehaves, but they remain friends.

I’m curious: Can I opt not to invite this child to my son’s party, or is it wrong to do so against his wishes? If it’s OK, at what age or point is it no longer OK?

—Bad Influence

Dear Bad Influence,

The kid gets an invite. He’s 4! He’s not teaching your son how to cook meth behind the swing set, it doesn’t sound like he’s violent or dangerous, and your son likes him enough to want to extend him an invite. Expect that he will behave appropriately at your party, and intervene if he does not, as you would for any other child guest.

A child who gets into trouble at school at the age of 4 has not purchased a one-way ticket to Boys Town. Let your son’s friendships evolve. Stocking your kid’s social circle with the Right Kind of Boys is a) pointless and b) trying to exercise more control over his life than desirable. If this kid becomes mean to your son, if he breaks your property, if he ties a bottle rocket to your cat, you can re-evaluate. For now, try to get to know him.

More Care and Feeding:

My Kid Doesn’t Want to Volunteer. Is She Hopelessly Selfish?

My Kid Hates Gymnastics Now That It’s Hard Work. Is She Hopelessly Lazy?

My Kid Won’t Stop Biting Her Nails. Is She Hopelessly Autocannibalistic?

Slate Plus bonus: Mean Girls

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have a 7-month-old baby, and have been trying to get our wills finalized. Unfortunately, we find ourselves unable to agree on a guardian for our son, in case something were to happen to us. I want to choose my cousin and his wife, who are responsible adults in their early 30s. My husband would prefer to name his sister, who is engaged and in her late 20s. My reservation is that she and her fiancé have made a number of bad decisions in the past year: getting fired from a job, driving under the influence, and getting hurt. They are motorcycle enthusiasts, love to party, and carry concealed weapons. This is not the environment or lifestyle I would choose for my son.

I do not feel like they would be good guardians at this point in their lives. I’ve mentioned to my husband that we can reassess guardianship in five years or so, in hopes that they will have matured. I would love to hear your opinion, and if you agree with me, I need advice on how to get my husband to agree with me?

—Guardianship of the Galaxy

Dear GofG,

Let me first encourage you to loop a legal professional into this process; not only will they have a wealth of experience in approaching this question, they will also confirm this brutal truth: Your guardianship recommendations are just that, recommendations. The court will decide who is best suited to take custody of your children in this terrible (and highly unlikely) eventuality, and although your wishes will be paramount, they are not final. This is why I cannot request that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson be given our children in the event of our untimely deaths.

A very common mistake people make in these conversations is to act as though guardianship is like a medal you give to signify who you like best, or to whom you are closest. With the aid of your legal professional or in counseling, try to focus on who seems most responsible and able to raise orphaned kids. It’s not a popularity contest. And you don’t have to make a final decision right now.

If I were in charge, I’d give them to your cousin, if he wanted to take on the job, but I’m not. Ask your husband why he prefers his sister, and try to listen to what he has to say—not just to know how to dissuade him but in case you’re missing something. Honestly, I would throw an absolute shit fit over the DUI aspect, but it’s best to be as genuinely open to his perspective as you hope he will be to your own.

I hope you have a long and full life and your children are grandparents themselves before you kick the can.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 9-year-old son is suddenly extremely interested in the game “all the other kids” are playing (which is apparently Fortnite, at this time). It’s a first-person shooter, and although I’ve been fine with him playing video games in general at home, they’ve been more cartoony and not “shooting other humans” based. Will I be a jerk if I tell him not to play it?

—I Miss Throwing Barrels at Donkey Kong

Dear IMTBaDK,

You will not be a jerk! And if you are a jerk about this, who cares? When it comes to video games, I think you get to be God Emperor of Dune in your own home, and if you draw the line at realistic first-person shooters, you draw that line. Trust me when I say that you will not be the only jerk-ass parents in his class.

When it comes to playing games elsewhere, I encourage you to adopt a bit more of a blind spot. He’s going to play Fortnite at the house of some of his friends, and it’s inappropriate to ask other parents to enforce rules on your kid they do not think necessary for their own (barring life-risking issues like allergies and seat belts). I think that’s OK. Your job is to explain why you don’t like these kinds of video games (you do not have to explain, but it’s a good opportunity to share your values) and then uphold the rule in your own home.

I promise that your house is the place some kids with even squarer parents come in order to freely play video games that depict animal shirtlessness or mustachioed plumbers.

—Nicole