You’re Not Leaving the House Wearing That! Does Accepting our Kids Choices Imply Approval?

YorAreNotLeavingby Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum. 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. [AISH]

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  1. “Following God’s directive of lovingly taking care of the precious child He entrusted you with.”

    If we believe in Torah and Chazal, there are quite a few other directives that don’t seem to be mentioned here.

    Yes, we must give our children individuality and space, pick our battles and not offer counterproductive criticism. But there are also the concepts of kibbud av v’eim, morah va vei’m and “Shma beni, v’al titosh, etc.”

    It’s not driving “a wedge” when a child is raised (in a healthy way) with the knowledge that their parents must be respected, and they have the key say in the family’s path of life.

    Chazal and halacha are filled with halachos that teach us that a parent must teach a child to adhere to his/her wishes (lmaa’n asher yetzaveh, etc.), parents have the obligation to stop a child from committing an aveira (at a certain age), and children must take care not to pain or embarrass parents in any way. It is a significant halacha question when a child wants to as much as deviate from a family minhag.

    It is true that parents need more wisdom, forethought, tolerance, love and softness today than in previous years, but NOT to redesign the family structure or ignore our Torah obligations. The result of that is disastrous.

  2. Why’s wrong with not wanting to wear something because what others will say. You make it like that’s totally selfish. Please explain why, seems to me if you live in a certain community then you have to live to there standards.

  3. Thank you for your article Rabbi Kastenbaum! For those of us who have been through this with our teens, your words are the wisest.

    It may be difficult for those who have not been through this, to understand that sometimes, children have been made to suffer, earlier in their lives. It may have been bullying, it may have been a loss of a loved one, it may even have been their school closing down for financial reasons and they were not readily accepted into another local school. A child does not distinguish that this has nothing to do with them. All they know is that they are set adrift and desperately seek a life raft. If they become disenfranchised, that is not their fault. They are still children.

    As teens, they often take to dressing differently than, of course their parents would prefer. But remember this: it is out of pain. And the antidote to this child’s pain is,” love them, love them, love them as they are.” These are not my words, but the words told to me by my very well respected Rav, when I was going through this with my child.
    It woke me up and made me turn a corner with my child. I set aside my own embarrassment and embraced my child. It also helped that I have the most wonderful and understanding neighbors on earth! They did not turn their backs on my daughter. They too, embraced her because they were smart and sensitive enough to understand that a child, from a family such as mine, would not dress this way, BUT for the fact that she was in pain. G-d bless my family and friends.

    Does this child dress completely, accordingly to what is the norm around here? Not yet. But, slowly, slowly, this child is coming around. This only could have happened because, I did a 180, and took the advice of my Rav. No one knows how close we’ve become as parent and child, and no one knows how much this child wants to come back! It’s been a long road, and unless you’ve been through this with your own child (I never thought this would happen in my home, and I pray that it does not in yours), DON’T JUDGE! There but for the grace of G-d go you!

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