It’s Not Just A Shirt

Considering Our Clothing Choices for Our Children

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and, as any first time mom does, I feel the (self-imposed) pressure to dress my son in the Pinterest-perfect outfit. As I started looking for toddler t-shirts, I was bombarded with shirts sporting slogans like, “Single and ready to flamingle” or “I’m not a player, I just crush a lot.” Then there were the more common shirts that advertise, “Heart Breaker” or “Man of your dreams.” This got me thinking, do I really want to put my innocent toddler in a shirt that makes him out to be some kind of romantic deviant? At the ripe old age of fourteen-months, Cillian has no romantic notions whatsoever. He’ll give kisses to just about anyone and anything he is told to. Today I found him kissing the oven while dinner was cooking. We tell him to “give love” when we are leaving family and he usually leans in with an open mouth because he doesn’t know any better. He is far too young to grasp the idea of love or even the meaning of affection so why, on a Hallmark-created holiday would I put him in a shirt that tells others he knows how to break hearts or fulfill dreams?

At school, Cillian has a classmate that he is quite obsessed with (the same way he is obsessed with dogs and hats). Her name was one of his first clear words. On school mornings, my husband tells him that it is time to go see this little girl and C runs to his car seat shouting her name. If we ask him where this little girl is, he looks around calling for her. It really is quite adorable. Unfortunately, this has led to the decision that C and his little friend are going to be married. At school, they are called boyfriend and girlfriend. The teachers joke with my husband and me that she will be our daughter-in-law one day. So cute, right?

Actually, my husband and I agree that it is a little inappropriate and unfair to both children. It highlights the fact that, despite it being 2018, a boy and a girl still can’t be close friends without being assigned a romantic relationship, even if it is in jest. This was going on when my husband and I were children and I’m sure it was not new at that time. If I was friends with a boy, I was teased that I liked him. If I was friendly towards a boy, I was told I was flirting. My husband was told repeatedly that he was going to marry his best friend just because his best friend happened to be a girl. It actually made the two of them stop being as close because they were sick of the berating. This type of thinking can be so damaging to fragile adolescence and it is unfair. It is severely limiting in the friends we are allow to keep if we can only be friends with our gender. But how can we combat this way of thinking when even our babies are expected to be assigned the role of “Heartthrob” as early as their first or second Valentine’s Day?

I love the Message that Free To Be Kids is sharing. Valentine’s Day (especially for children) can celebrate love without broadcasting romantic or sexual ideas. Valentines day can celebrate the love of friends, siblings, and parents, rather than just boyfriends, wives, and lovers. I want my child to know he is allow to express feelings, and even love towards others without it meaning something more than friendship and caring. I want him to grow up knowing his best friend can be a girl, or a boy, depending on what life presents him. And I hope someday he does have a best friend that he decides to marry. One day. Far away from now. After he decided he wants to marry mama! But that marriage does not need to be assigned to him in the infant room.

For Cillian’s Valentine’s outfit, I bought this shirt from Primary.com and with my fancy new Christmas present, I’m going to jazz it up with some Philia-style love that I have not quite decided on yet. We considered sending him to school in a passive aggressive shirt that said something along the lines of, “No, babies don’t have girlfriends” to reiterate the fact that he and his friend-that-is-a-girl just happen to be two small people with the same taste in toys and daycare sanctioned activities, but I will probably steer clear of that fight all together. Pick your battles, and all that. But whatever we choose, you can be sure it will not assign our tiny man any romantic ideals.

So this Valentine’s Day, Parents, before you dress your children, think about the message you are sending and the sentiments you are placing upon the next generation.

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