I’m awake, showered, and trying to help Daisy get dressed for the day. It’s a struggle again this morning like it always is. It’s like trying to negotiate out of a complex legal contract. Pitfalls and boobytraps every step of the way. If I pick the wrong pants, I’m dead. The pink socks on a Tuesday? Are you fucking mad? Knitwear from grandma, what planet are you on? That t-shirt Daddy? It’s got rainbows on it, they’re so 2020!
She doesn’t like long sleeves.
She doesn’t like trousers.
She doesn’t like tights.
She doesn’t like jumpers.
She doesn’t like hoodies.
She doesn’t like pants.
“Shall I leave you to get dressed by yourself?” I ask her, trying to grant her some power and independence. “Yeah…” she responds in a way that doesn’t fill me a lot of confidence. “Ok sweetheart, I’ll come back in 10 minutes. I want you to be dressed by then ok?” “Ok…” she says, trying to get rid of me.
I don’t have much faith she’s going to be dressed by the time I come back. She doesn’t have the best track record, but I give her the benefit of the doubt.
She’s made progress. Her pajamas are off and she is wearing one sock. But it’s not on her foot, it’s on her hand. “Where’s the other sock?” I ask. “It’s in the toybox,” she says, pointing to her sarcophagus of toys piled into her toybox which is bursting at the seams. Leave it, I think to myself, I’m not venturing into that toybox.
She might not have any clothes on, but she does seem pretty proud of all the toys she’s managed to delicately position around her room. They’re decoratively scattered around the floor in an arrangement akin to a piece from Picasso. Aww, my little artist…
But when are you going to get fucking dressed? Why, on the days when I have important appointments, do they insist on taking forever to do anything? And why, on the weekend, are they awake and seemingly desperate to get dressed at 5.36am?
“Daisy darling,” I say, in my best hide your frustration voice, “can you get dressed now?” There’s no way she can hear that quivering undertone of rage. “Ok Dad,” she says acceptingly. I breathe a brief sigh of relief that I didn’t snap.
She walks over to her drawers to get dressed, carrying tickle-me Elmo, a blue Thomas train, and a plastic necklace. I’m not entirely convinced these can be fashioned into suitable nursery attire, so I ask her to put the toys down and we get to work on the task at hand.
We manage to agree on the bottom half, it was a challenging part of the deal. She desperately wants to wear shorts, but there’s ice on the ground outside. It seems pretty ridiculous to me. But then I think, who am I to deny her free will to freeze to death? I attempt to strike a deal with her;
“It’s very cold today Daisy, so you can wear shorts, on the condition you wear a jumper. Deal?” I negotiate. “Ok Dad, deal”. Shorts in freezing temperatures it is. At least her top half can be saved when her lower limbs need amputating from frostbite.
But now the tricky part of the deal, the dreaded t-shirt. I try to convince her that the giraffe-come-unicorn fusion one is cool, but she doesn’t seem convinced. We commence the consideration of all 12 t-shirts in her drawers, seeking to eliminate them one by one.
This one? No
This one? No
This one? No
There are no more t-shirts left to go through. We’ve exhausted every option and the answer was a resounding no to every single one of them. I give up and tell her to pick one for herself, “Come downstairs when you’re ready”. I hold faith that she will pick a t-shirt, come down, and all will be harmonious in the family once more.
She comes down in a dress.
“Where are your shorts and t-shirt Daisy?” I ask her. “I, I, I… I just didn’t want to wear shorts” she says sheepishly. Funny that. I seem to remember you begging me to let you wear shorts just a few minutes prior. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me.
At least she’s dressed, I consider it a win. I feel emotionally exhausted. I make the girls breakfast and go about the rest of the morning on autopilot. 45 minutes to put on some clothes on a day where my mind is elsewhere. Why must it be like this? The struggle is real.
Why is getting dressed so damn hard?
Later that day, when I have some space to think, I consider the events of the morning. It’s clear to me my own stress levels were due to the sheer vast amount of time it took to pull on some clothes. In my head, it should be, pajamas off, clothes on, 5 minutes max. Why was it so hard for my daughter to get dressed? She’s perfectly capable of doing it all by herself, the problem isn’t a physical limitation. Then it hits me;
She doesn’t like any of her clothes.
I look through her drawers and realize she’s not excited by anything. She doesn’t like trousers, yet her bottom drawer is almost exclusively trousers. She doesn’t like her t-shirts that have faded from having mud and paint washed off them a thousand times. She loves dresses, but she only has two of them and they’re both in the wash. Her drawers are littered with the clothes that you hold on to in case you ever decide to redecorate the house. The trousers are all like the jeans that grow dust at the back of the closet because you insist one day, you’ll lose enough weight to be able to squeeze into them again.
I decide to go to war. I take every single item out of her drawers and ask myself, ‘does she love wearing this?’. If the answer is no, I put it in a bin bag. I decide that, if she isn’t excited about wearing it, then it’s not going in her drawers. I don’t want her mulling over clothes that don’t delight and amaze her every single morning.
The rainbow jumper? No
The knitted jumper from Grandma? No
Any jumper? No
The green trousers? No
The blue trousers? No
Any trousers? No
After I’ve finished going through her drawers I realize, there’s almost nothing left. So I go shopping and buy her a whole new wardrobe. The beauty of kids' clothing is that it’s all relatively cheap. She’s 4 years old, so she doesn’t care about brands (yet). I know the kind of thing that she likes so I splash out on some eye-catching gear. I get vibrant new t-shirts, all short sleeves just how she likes. I get a set of jazzy new dresses, bright colors to excite her. I even buy multiple sets of shorts, knowing full well how much she dislikes trousers at the minute.
When I get home, I neatly pack all her new clothes away in her drawers, proud of what I’ve done for her. I’m looking forward to her reaction.
I pick her up from nursery and on the walk home say to her, “Daisy, I’ve got you some new clothes”. She’s inquisitive, wondering what I could have got. I try explaining all the different items but tell her she can see them when she gets home. When we get back, she races upstairs to go and see what her new wardrobe looks like. “Daddy I love it” she shouts to me down the stairs. I walk up to see her reaction and she starts laying all her new clothes out across her bedroom floor. She’s so excited, she wants to have them all presented across the bedroom like a museum exhibition. She starts imagining what she could wear, “I think I’ll wear this dress tomorrow, or maybe this one”. I have a beaming smile across my face as I watch her. I feel pride, happiness, and also relief that I may end up enjoying her getting dressed after all.
The next morning she positively jumps out of bed. She gets dressed without me even having to ask. She picked out one of her new dresses, the green one with white flowers on and a pleated midriff. She comes into my bedroom to show me what she’s picked. She gives me a little twirl with a cute smile across her face and a twinkle in her eye. I tell her how beautiful she looks and how happy it makes me feel that she got dressed by herself.
For now, I love helping my daughter get dressed. She loves her new clothes and I love her reaction. I realize I was trying to force her to wear clothes she didn’t like and it was causing us all pain. The solution was clear, get the clothes that she loves. When I got the time and space to think about it, I could see the issue as clear as day. But as with all things children, getting the space to think can be a real challenge.
If only I could get her to love her vegetables as much as she loves her new clothes, I might just solve parenting once and for all.