Dear Care and Feeding,
My mom is really inflexible about my clothes. The problem isn’t really about modesty; my family is both Indian and practicing Catholic (aka a modesty double whammy), and I can accept and understand that my parents are going to control things like the length of my clothes. I’m fine with that.
My problem is that my mom won’t let me wear the clothes I like. I have a very different style from her. When we go shopping, I might show my mom a shirt I like, and she will tell me that it looks boring and plain, and then show me a shirt she likes instead. I feel like I should say that my style isn’t really too provocative or strange or anything; think along the lines of a pink shirt that says “New York” with leggings or a skirt. Sometimes, I try to tell her I don’t like the clothes she picks out for me, but I hate arguing, so I normally just back down and buy the clothes she likes just to stop her from getting mad, even if I feel uncomfortable in the clothes she picks.
The other part of the problem is that I have a really short torso, so I can still fit into clothes from fifth grade. I tried to explain to my parents that just because I fit into certain clothing doesn’t mean I like the “wild child” shirt with neon flowers I picked out four years ago, but my parents don’t really get the sentiment. Or when I recently explained to my mom that I don’t like my clothes, she just tells me I should have told her sooner, or that I was the one that picked them out (four years ago!).
My question is, how do I explain that I have my own style and that it’s changed in the last four years to my parents? I hate any and all conflict, so most of the time, I just suck it up and wear the clothes. I don’t know how to break it to my mom that she’s a bigger fan of my clothes than I ever will be. I know this seems like a small problem, but it’s really bothering me, and every time I try to talk about it, I just end up getting shut down. I really want to wear clothes I like, but do I have a right to feel mad, or is this a “my house, my rules” thing? I should also mention that I need permission to spend money on anything, my parents can see my money and what I spend it on, and wouldn’t (I know because I asked) approve of spending it on clothes.
First, thank you for this good reminder that it is easy for those of us parents who love shopping for our kids’ clothes to be so focused on what we want to see them in that we don’t give them the space to let them figure out what they want to wear for themselves.
I have some advice, but I want you to know there’s a good chance it might not work. Parents, like all humans, are not always reasonable. Sometimes, we make unfair choices and subject our children to them. It doesn’t mean we’re all-around bad people, or that we don’t love our kids. Sometimes, we’re simply reflecting our cultural backgrounds or our own experiences growing up when we do this, but we can also attempt to go against the grain in ways that leave our kids feeling just as trapped.
While I truly hope your mom can really hear you out, respect your wishes, and adjust accordingly, there is the possibility that she will be unwavering in her choice to rule your clothing. I think your best course of action is to speak with her in the way you outlined your concerns here: clearly, politely, and with respect. From the note about your torso, to the point about outgrowing your interest in clothes that are years old, I think you have a very reasonable argument for additional input with regard to your wardrobe.
Offer some compromise. For your next shopping trip, suggest choosing a couple of pieces she recommends and a few that you have picked out yourself. Explain to her what it is that attracts you about the clothing you like, and hopefully she will begin to start seeking out those qualities when she’s left to try and choose something for you on her own.
I can give you a million tips about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar, or how important it is that your mom feels respected in this conversation, but I want to again make it clear: There’s a good chance that she just brushes all this off and continues doing what she’s been doing. It’s not your fault if that happens. For your part, just focus on being kind and clear. Imagine yourself the outfits you want and tell yourself that you will be able to dress as you please very soon. Hopefully, she’ll get it, and your parents will allow you to finally show off your style. Fingers crossed!
Help! How can I support Slate so I can keep reading all the advice from Dear Prudence, Care and Feeding, Ask a Teacher, and How to Do It? Answer: Join Slate Plus.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I was hoping for your perspective on something I have been mulling over recently regarding my mother’s parenting. I had terrible stomach problems as a kid, inevitably triggered by even a small amount of ice cream, pizza, or mac and cheese. Two or three times a month I’d end up screaming and crying in the bathroom while my mother rubbed my back, trying to help me go. I had a pretty shitty childhood in a lot of ways, but I always saw that as a deeply loving act on her part—it can’t have been a pleasant olfactory experience. However, the other day it hit me that my mother could easily have prevented those painful episodes by simply not giving me triggering foods. She did all the food shopping and cooking in our family, and we were adventurous eaters who would not have missed the monthly pizza night or bowl of ice cream. She was aware of what foods triggered me and would breezily refer to me as lactose intolerant from time to time … so what gives? It’s not normal to give your kids food you know will hurt them, right? Am I right to be as disturbed by this realization as I am?
Without speaking to your mother, I’d guess that she made these choices based on the assumption that you and/or other household members really liked these dishes and may have thought that she was doing you a favor by not denying you foods that are very popular with children. It is entirely possible, likely even, that she was both well-intentioned and made a decision that was not in your best interest.
It doesn’t seem like you’re concerned that your mom was feeding you milk to keep you on the toilet purposefully, but that you’re now coming to the conclusion that she could have saved you a lot of discomfort had she simply stopped giving you foods that didn’t agree with you. I am agreeing with your conclusion, but next the question is, now what? Do you want to talk to her about this? Are you hoping for an apology? Or is this simply something you want to understand on your own?
During childhood, it may be hard to notice just how human and thus fallible our parents are. When we grow up, the highlight reel in our memories can make that reality very plain. Also, as those of us who are parents get older, we also can find ourselves looking back with greater clarity, which may force a reckoning with how we fell short. If talking this out with your mom seems like it could bring you some peace, then you should address it with her. I’d suggest taking a polite, non-accusatory approach: “I was thinking back to those really bad stomachaches I got as a kid. Out of curiosity, did you ever think about cutting dairy out my diet all together?”
Wishing you all the best, and encouraging you to release any anger you may have for your mom. You can’t get that time back, and it won’t ease the pain of the past to lash out at her about it now.
• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!
Dear Care and Feeding,
I recognize that it’s weird for me to send this to a parenting advice columnist, but I’m not sure exactly where else to go. My parents split up when I was a toddler, and my dad is only sometimes in touch. I’m a man in my early 20s, and my mom is great, but I often wish I had a father figure to reach out to for advice and support on specific things. The internet has taught me how to use a condom, trim my beard, and change a tire, but I wish I had a real person. Is there a mentoring program or other opportunities for adults? I feel pathetic, but I wish I had a dad more now than when I was a kid. My professional career is nearly all women, and so is my friend circle, so I’m not sure where I could look for a mentoring relationship on my own.
Your question is not weird for this space at all! And there’s nothing pathetic about you desiring something that you should have had throughout your childhood, which was the presence of a man (or men) who could have stepped up in your dad’s absence and helped you with some of the coming-of-age moments that can be easier to manage in a same-gendered adult’s presence.
I wasn’t able to find a program designed for situations like this, though maybe one of our kind readers could share if they are aware of one that exists. But don’t let that deter you. There are sure to be men out there who’d be happy to take you under their wing or to, at the very least, be there for you when you need the advice of an older man.
Most of your friends may be women, but have you considered talking to any of them about meeting their fathers? Are there any men in your apartment building or neighborhood whom you might start chatting up on a regular basis in hopes that they may be a good fit for you? A class or group activity, such as volunteering (I know, hard to do right now), would also be a great place to connect with someone like-minded as well. A senior center or assisted living residence might be a great place for you to forge a relationship that could be mutually beneficial.
Sending you lots of love and wishing you the best in finding someone who feels like home.
For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting
Dear Care and Feeding,
As a 13-year-old with Type 1 diabetes and ADHD, this year has been very hard on me, especially as I go to a private school, and this is the year when they decide whether to invite you back for high school or not. My parents are in their 50s and are often very tired from staying up late (helping me manage my diabetes), plus my dad works crazy hours. They are starting to snap on me a lot more, and I feel our relationship is slipping through the cracks. Because of my ADHD, I struggle to focus on my schoolwork, which caused them to make a point to watch me do it. This leads to arguments and a lot of crankiness on their part. Am I the problem?
—Stressed Out in School
No, no, a million times no, you are NOT the problem. Most schools have not embraced ways to serve kids with ADHD, who are expected to perform at the same level as their peers despite having a serious challenge before them. That is a problem. Government response to the COVID-19 pandemic has made school and work much harder than they need to be for most of us—that is a problem.
You, my dear, are a very young person trying to navigate a very complicated set of circumstances, and even if you are not doing everything you can to focus on your studies, that doesn’t make you a problem by any stretch of the imagination.
I urge you to be as honest as possible with your parents (and teachers, if needed) about why you are having such a rough time right now and what they may be able to do to help you out. What sort of steps can be taken to get you on track with your homework so that you can complete it alone instead of under the eye of Mom or Dad? What sort of support do you need that you may not be getting?
Also, if your parents’ tendency to “snap” is causing you grief, that’s something you should speak to them about as well. Explain that you know how much stress they are under, that you want to make things go more smoothly for the entire household, and that it would mean a lot to you if they were to think about how their words have made you feel.
No matter the outcome, please remember that you are not, and could never be, “a problem.” ADHD and diabetes are not things that you did or caused, nor are they a reflection on who you are as a person; they are simply health issues that you have to manage. You needn’t feel any guilt whatsoever, and don’t you forget that!
More Advice From Slate
My daughter, age 3½, has suddenly become afraid of the usual cabal of monsters/the dark/her room/going to bed in general. We just welcomed a new baby into the family five weeks ago, and although I’m sure she is genuinely experiencing some typical toddler fears, my husband and I are also pretty sure she’s milking this for attention. How do we (lovingly) convince her she’s safe and needs to go to sleep? We just can’t spend two-plus exhausting hours dealing with tears and negotiating every night!
Get more Care and Feeding
Slate Plus members get more parenting advice every week. They also help support Slate’s journalism.