Monday, March 12, 2012

On boundaries, from the Target dressing room

Good morning, friends.

Good morning, new week. You arrived really extra early today, didn't you?

Last night, I shut off my computer earlier than I wanted to, knowing waking up today would be painful. So I postponed writing this till now, as a strategy to force my eyes to stay open.

Yesterday, my daughter and I went to Target. She had a gift card {lucky}. And what she wanted was one of their new swim suits for spring. It is a bit of a dance every year for us, as I figure out where my boundaries lie in terms of swim suits and modesty for her. What's out there for young girls can go vastly beyond what I deem appropriate for a child. She is only nine, but because she shops in the "big girl" section now, the choices range in size up to 16.

Like me, she is long waisted, the tallest in her class, and has the same difficulty I did as a child in finding a suit. Few one-pieces fit her long torso without pulling and gaping awkwardly. But I'm certainly not feeling she's ready for a bikini either (will I ever? I don't know). So she grabbed about 7 choices, most from among the two pieces with longer tops, in the "tankini" range.

What's funny is that each time I said "Nope, not that one," (like to the one-piece that was cut exactly like a sexy swimsuit for a woman), she never once argued. She tried one that she "LOVED" (because of the print) but once it was on, the V-neck was cut so low you could see the top of her ribcage. I offered, "Hm. Let's see what's next." She knew it wasn't my favorite, and she didn't push back. A beautiful ruffled suit also had to be eliminated. It looked like a tankini on the hanger, but once on, it was a lot skimpier. She really liked it, and I thought it was a really pretty suit too. But there was just way too much exposed skin in between the pieces. Again, I said it wasn't my favorite, and she was perfectly content to move on.

For a girl who is usually headstrong and opinionated, particularly when it comes to making decisions with her mother (and I'm talking about my daughter, not me :), she was incredibly agreeable.

Which got me thinking.

Maybe, because of our culture, because of her peers, and because of what retailers put on the rack subtly implying what she should prefer, maybe she feels a bit of pressure to like certain things. Maybe my daughter feels carried along by the current of needing to grow up too fast. I mean, I certainly give her those messages in other areas - I put pressure on her to act more responsibly, or more grown-up than she is at times.

And maybe, my setting boundaries in her clothing choices, saying, "No, not yet" is delightfully freeing for her.

Maybe her little spirit breathes a sigh of relief when I allow her to remain a child for yet another summer.

Maybe she feels safer within the boundaries set by a loving parent, versus being left to roam freely in a world of grown up expectations.

Have you heard of the study social scientists performed on children in a schoolyard? They removed the fences, and instead of the children running free beyond the boundaries of the schoolyard, they remained huddled towards its center, fearful and insecure. When they replaced the fences, the children were free to run all over the yard without concern. It was the visible boundaries which made them feel safe.

I could not help think about that study as I was putting the rejected swimsuits back on the hangers. We narrowed the suits down to two well-covering tankinis, and she was allowed to choose her favorite (remember, giving a choice let's a child feel powerful?) It was a great experience overall. And to top if off, we found a darling polka dotted dress on the clearance rack for $11.

On the way home, we talked about how darling her body is. I shared that even though no one feels hers is perfect, we should be proud of what God's given us, remembering our ultimate beauty is inside. Though I strive to teach modesty, I also want my daughter to appreciate her femininity. That takes effort on my part. It's a very fine line between using words that encourage modesty but don't sound like I'm saying her body is "bad." I don't want her to have any shameful feelings about her looks, particularly as she enters her teen years just around the corner. And talk about swimming upstream - that is a current I will certainly have to fight against, as her mother.

But hey, in these kinds of cultural waters, I'm a pretty strong swimmer.



  1. Wow, this was incredibly encouraging - and I am nowhere near being a mother! Thank you for sharing your experience. I am currently single, but am looking so forward to the day that I become a wife and a mother. I love reading stories like yours, because I was not raised in a family with morals, values and God was nowhere in the mix either. I want to raise my family differently, but sometimes I am afraid, because of how hard it will be since it's something I never learned as a child. I believe God uses people like you to remind me that it will be okay, and that I can learn from other people's experiences as well.

    I hope your daughter grows in confidence that she has been designed so perfectly in the eyes of the Lord, and that modesty is absolutely gorgeous.


  2. Way to go mama!! Embrace those teachable moments! My mama sure did and while I was headstrong (and didn't always take it as gracefully as your daughter) I am oh-so thankful for it now! We always had to buy Land's End swimsuits because I'm very long in the torso too - and my mama didn't want the swimsuit hiked up to my hip bone, as she used to say. :)

    So proud of you, really - I pray God will bless you for your faithfulness to Him!!

  3. I love this!! We are like minded when it comes to dressing our girls. I love how mine are fine with jeans or capris and t's. They are not so consumed(yet, I hope never) with the latest "grown" up looking items on the market today!! Bravo to you for standing your ground and giving your girl some room. It is hard now, but I love how our girls stand tall and remain true to who they are!

  4. It is so hard to teach modesty to our girls, especially when they're headstrong. But they will do far better because they know they are protected, think of the girls who don't have parents fighting for them this way! Your daughter is blessed to have a mom who is concerned with her modesty but still works with her to give her choices.

    And we've just had the bikini discussion at our house, complete with comments of "but my cousin wears one!" ugh, it's frustrating but I'm standing my ground on this just like my parents did for me-I hated it at the time but I am so grateful for it now!

  5. My parents set a lot of boundaries. I knew it was because they loved me so much. Sometimes they were hard, but I was grateful for them. It allowed me to say "no" to boys who asked me out before I was really old enough. And my mom always wanted me to be lovely and pretty instead of sexy. I'm glad she protected me that way even if we sometimes had fights about clothes.

    I own a string bikini. I never wear it in public. Ever. It's far too powerful... just ask my husband. :)

  6. you did a good job, mama! and are doing a good job as a mommy, giving her boundaries because you love her and want her to be lead in truth.

    "and because of what retailers put on the rack subtly implying what she should prefer, maybe she feels a bit of pressure to like certain things."

    why does the clothing rack get to dictate what myself and my girls feel pretty in?!? need a post it with that question on it for every time i enter a clothing retailer.

    it is hard to train my daughters to delight in themselves "wonderfully and beautifully made," when i have such a difficult time embracing that myself. i say it, but struggle to model it. satan is a liar. but as i delight in them and tell them they are beauties and speak truth into their lives, i pray his sting will not affect them as it has me.

    p.s. i do not own a string bikini (linda is funny!)

  7. Just found your blog and am in love with it already. It is so raw and real and I love hearing a woman of faith talk about Jesus especially in the context of family (our biggest and closest ministry).

    Thanks for the stories.

    xo Taylor

  8. I loved this post. SOmething I've found helpful with my children is to say to them that those bits of their body are for only sharing when they're married. I hope that makes them know that they're not dirty in any way- quite the opposite. Some parts of us are a special gift from God - and who wants to be sharing those with all and sundry?