“What should I wear on the first day of school?” I’m sure this is a question nearly every kid thinks about as the new school year draws near. For children whose parents don’t live together but who see both sets of parents and stepparents this question can have an additional layer of stress. I recently witnessed first hand the potential anxiety that this question can pose when both sets of parents purchase new clothes for their child for the new school year.
Every August, I take the oldest two girls (my eighth grade stepdaughter and my seventh grade daughter) shopping for school clothes. I typically buy the younger four their clothes as they don’t care what style, brand, etc…. I purchase for them and they prefer not to be “dragged” to a store. This year, we had some unforseen time crunches as we neared the school year so my husband took his daugther shopping and I took my daughter shopping for their new school wardrobe.
I treasured the alone time that my daughter and I shared and the wonderful conversations that we had. It was truly a positive experience for both so when she seemed tense as she was trying to decide what to wear the first day, I was initially baffled.
I never thought much about the question “what should I wear on the first day of school? until I really stopped to examine it through my child’s eyes and through the lense of divorce and co-parenting.
My daughter spent one week with my parents and with her dad’s parents (they live five minutes from each other and we all get along) earlier in August. They both took her school shopping. This year, she also went shopping with her dad and he bought her a few shirts. She and I went shopping last and we had so much fun checking out new stores and trying on outfits.
I am a bargain shopper and have taught my “skills” to my kids. It was so much fun to watch her pick out clothes and make good decisions. She had a budget from which to shop and she did a great job staying in her budget while purchasing some great quality clothes. She has an incredible eye and we came home with some great deals on some great looking clothes. I felt like it was our most successful back to school shopping spree to date both from a clothing perspective and also from a bonding perspective.
Then this afternoon she says to me “mom I don’t know what to wear on the first day of school. I know you took me shopping for most of my stuff but are you okay if I wear something that someone else bought? I don’t want to hurt your feelings but I also don’t want to hurt anyone else’s feelings if they ask what I wore on the first day of school.”
“My feelings,” I thought to myself. “How could you ever hurt my feelings based on what you wear to school?,” popped in my head and then I remembered how for the first year, she had new clothes from a variety of important people in her life. I looked into the sweet face of my wonderful daughter and said “whatever you choose will look great on you! I’m so thankful that so many that love you gave you some new clothes for school. You wear what you want and you can never hurt my feelings.”
“I didn’t think you’d care but I really appreciate you getting me all my stuff and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings,” she answered. She seemed to look relieved with what I shared with her.
These types of conversations are continual reminders of the loyalty “wars” that are always alive in the heads and hearts of our kids even when we never “force them to choose.” While I can honestly say I’ve never made my kids pick between their father and I, I know they think about our feelings.
After this conversation, I spent some time processing the event and recalled many times when the kids and I had done something that we all really enjoyed and when we would get home and they called their dad, I would hear them say things like “it was okay,” or “yeah, we did that but we’re home now.” While I never said anything, I would think “did I miss something? I think we just had a great time.” Then one time my son said to me that he never wanted to hurt his dad’s feelings so he doesn’t like to talk about his fun times with me and his stepdad and I can personally attest to the fact that I know they have a great time when they are with their dad however, they never boast and brag about the fun things he does with them. The kids want to protect both parents feelings.
So I sit in wonder of my kids tonight.
And I sit in wonder of all the kids who live between two homes.
How they balance so many emotions and feelings. Sometimes they balance it inside. Sometimes they try and balance it on the outside and often that can go so smooth that we don’t even notice or it can be incredibly painful and frustrating for them and present itself in anger, detachment, and sometimes dishonesty.
My kids have never come right and asked for “permission” to enjoy their dad and what he does with them. And I would venture to say that no kid asks for it outright. However, I would venture to say that all kids who live between two homes want and need to know that they can enjoy both parents without hurting the other parents’ feelings.
Every time my kids go to their dads or to his parents house, I tell them to have a great time. I tell them to enjoy their time with their dad and/or their grandparents. They don’t need my permission but I believe it takes an emotional load off of their backs to know that I’m not going to give them the third degree when they get home and that I’m behind a positive relationship with their father.
If I can take away one ounce of worry, guilt, frustration or challenge by giving them “my blessing” then I will do it.
School starts tomorrow. As of 8pm tonight, my daughter had tried on five outfits for me. Two I bought her and one from each of the other people who love her. I told her they all looked great. She asked me what was my favorite and I said I loved the smile she wore as she modeled each one. I suggested she wear what she was most comfortable in. As of tuck in time tongiht, she had still not decided.
No matter what outfit she chooses, I hope she goes to school wearing the confidence that she is loved by all her parents and grandparents and in the knowledge that she will never be asked to choose between parents because we are all her family – we just don’t live in the same house.
So I’m curious. What ways do you see “loyalty wars” played out in your kids/stepkids? Do you ever feel like your kids and/or stepkids are made to choose sides? What impact do you see it having on your kids and/or stepkids?
Together we can learn and grow from one another’s life experiences and insights. Thanks for sharing.