My daycare provider and I have a pretty amazing relationship, which means that I get to have honest and insightful conversations about her perspective on modern motherhood.¬† Annie is in her¬†sixties with¬†three grown children and¬†four beautiful grandchildren.¬† Being a mother and someone who deals with mothers all day long, she’s formed some pretty strong opinions about how parenting has evolved and changed.¬† Last week, we discussed one of her very biggest pet peeves.
A toddler who goes to our daycare comes in every day with a huge mess of tangles in the back of her hair.¬† It constantly looks as if the child has never seen a comb.¬† Everyday, Annie sits down and patiently brushes out the little girl’s hair.¬† Even though this frustrates her, she never mentions anything to the mother, never suggesting that the child’s hair be brushed before she comes to daycare.¬† One particularly busy day, Annie didn’t get a chance to fix the girl’s hair.¬† It stayed tangled and ratted all day long.¬† At 5pm, the mother shows up and says, “Hunnie, why isn’t your hair done?¬† We have someplace to be tonight!¬† We’re going to be seeing our friends.¬† You can’t look like this if we’re going out!”¬†
Annie was incensed.¬† “You’re child has been out all day.¬† She was out when you dropped her off this¬† morning.¬† But apparently, my opinion of your daughter isn’t worthy of concern.¬† By all means, do her hair for once so that your friends don’t realize that you only worry about your daughter’s appearance when she’s out with you.”¬†
I’m not advocating either person’s actions.¬† The mother should realize that her daycare¬†isn’t responsible for grooming her child.¬† And Annie, admittedly, should have addressed the issue before it got out of hand.¬† But was this situation any different from my mother putting me in “Church clothes” whenever we had¬†a big event to attend?¬† Or, ya know, Church.¬† Where is the line between dressing your child up for a special occasion and only worrying about their appearance when it broadcasts your parenting skills to your friends?¬†
Annie¬†believes that the highs and lows have gotten more extreme.¬† And it’s very easy to demonize that mother.¬† Of course your child’s hair should be combed before you leave the house!¬† Of course I want my daughter to look as adorable on a day-to-day basis as she does for our family portraits.¬†
Realistically,¬†I have¬†a toddler.¬† Some evenings, we don’t get home until bedtime and she doesn’t get a bath.¬† Every once in a while, I oversleep and struggle to get clothes on her back and breakfast in her tummy before we leave.¬† Once winter hits, forget her hair looking well-kept.¬† After 10 seconds in a hat, it’s a mess of fly-aways and sagging barrettes.¬† But as women, we really do judge each other based on our children’s appearance.¬†
A male¬†co-worker of mine¬†is quite distressed about his daughter’s appearance lately.¬†¬†He’s a single parent¬†and has a hard time shopping for or picking out the little girl’s clothes.¬† My co-worker doesn’t particularly care about fashion and lets his five year-old pick out all her own outfits, no matter how mis-matching the get-up might be.¬† He never cared much until well-meaning mothers at school asked if he needed someone to take the girl shopping.¬† His mother-in-law stopped him on the street during an afternoon walk and told him that he had to take his daughter home immediately.¬† She couldn’t be seen in public is purple sweat pants and a turquoise shirt.¬† The whole thing left him defensive and angry.¬† His daughter was loved and well-cared-for, if not particularly well-dressed.
So how much does our children’s appearance matter?¬† Is it really a reflection of our parenting abilities?¬† Personally, I would say cleanliness is the important part, as opposed to trendiness.¬†¬†Annie would tell us that everyday, your child’s appearance and behavior tell a little about you to the rest of the world.¬† It’s a growing picture of me as a mother that she gets everytime¬†my little girl¬†walks through her door.¬† And for good or bad, every perfect set of pigtails or breakfast-stained shirt communicates my style and skill as a parent.¬† I’m not sure if that’s fair, but its a message that I’ll remember long after¬†my daughter¬†stops going to daycare.