I don’t think I’m doing this right

The method we’ve landed on when it comes to G and clothes is that he can wear what he wants, and we’ll support him. Being a shy kid, this really hasn’t been a problem. He doesn’t want anyone to make fun of him. He has a few close friends with whom he can dress however he likes, but he tends to stick to small accessories in public.

I like this method because G gets constant acceptance from us. He gets to lead, while we offer guidance. It’s not unusual for us to say, “We’re going to a place where people don’t understand about boys who like dolls. We’ll defend you if you want to bring Lennie, but I want you to know they probably won’t understand.”

It took us, particularly my husband, a long time to get here, but I felt solid in our approach. Completely solid… until yesterday.

After a brief plea at the skate shop for a skating costume, I made a deal with G. The next time I was at Value World (our favorite resale), I’d pick him up a pink skirt.

For $20 I got 4 t-shirts, a skirt, jeans and a hat for me, and 3 complete pink outfits, shirts and skirts, for G. Much better than a $70 skating dress. At home, he gave me a huge hug and kiss, immediately put on his favorite set, and turned on Sponge Bob.

Later in the evening his best friend (next door) came home, and G ran out the door to see if he could play. G showed off his new clothes. They played for a bit, and then I said it was time to take the dog for a walk before we got ready for bed. G protested majorly, but he didn’t have a choice. The neighbor was also walking their dog, and G couldn’t stay home alone.

I suggested that he might want to leave his new clothes home though. I gave my usual speech, “You can do whatever you want. I’ve got your back, but some of your school friends might be out.”

He decided to leave the pink at home.

We weren’t out of the house for 5 minutes when we ran into the first set of school friends. We stopped and chatted for a bit, and then tried to continue our walk. I say ‘tried’ because at this point G refused to take a single step and broke into an I-need-a-glass-of-water mantra. “I need water! Get me a glass of water–now!”

Obviously that wasn’t going to work. Insert bad parenting moment here–I think I threatened to take away TV for a month if he didn’t suck it up and finish the walk. I think I said something about if I heard the word water one more time he’d only get water to drink for a week. No milk. No juice. No hot chocolate at the ice rink. Water.

He continued complaining about the water anyway, inserting “You don’t even care about my survival!”

That’s when I had my “duh!” moment and realized G wasn’t just being stubborn about wanting water. It was a short walk after all, and we don’t live in a desert. “I think maybe something else is going on,” I said, probably still in my angry mom voice, but trying hard to give him some grace despite all his outbursts and bossy attitude. Obviously something else was going on, and I had an idea what it was.

He blurted out that he was mad I didn’t let him wear the skirt. I was mean. I was an idiot. I was the worst mom ever. He put on a very good show for the neighborhood.

Of course I pointed out that it was his decision. Yes, he even admitted he was glad he didn’t wear it when his friends were out. But, he was so angry, there wasn’t any reasoning with him. “I can’t even trust you!” he added.

I know enough to know he wasn’t mad at me. He’s mad at the whole situation, which has me asking, would it have been better just to state up front, “No dresses outside”? Or, maybe it would have been better never to buy the clothes in the first place. I’m not worried about what other people think. I’m not worried about how to handle the situation if someone makes fun of him. Been there. I’m not worried about any of that. I am worried now though that we’ve given him decision-making power that he’s not yet mature enough to handle. But then, I don’t know that he’d be any less angry about the situation if we set the limits. Maybe we could take away the anxiety of decision, but then we’d go back to the anxiety of not feeling accepted by Mom and Dad… something we’re finally getting past.

It’s not easy. It’s not clear-cut, this sparkle-boy parenting thing. I wouldn’t trade it though. My boys challenge me in ways previously unimaginable. They’ve taught me how to handle other peoples’ perceptions in areas of my life that have nothing to do with parenting. Through standing up for them, they’re teaching me how to stand up for myself. Seeing their progress, and mine, gives me confidence. But I’m only 100% confident 70% of the time. This weekend overhearing some parents at an picnic for adoptive families talk about their parenting challenges, I began to feel uneasy. I still haven’t finished G’s adoption lifebook. I haven’t even started O’s. I didn’t know any of the recent adoption books they were discussing. Tourette Syndrome and gender and fluid in the ears (that’s O’s latest issue) have taken all my attention. After last night’s adventure, with gender once again taking my energy, I laid in bed thinking, “I don’t think I’m doing this right.”

Perhaps we’ll have to change our stance on clothing. Maybe not. We’ll talk about it. I’ll run it past our support group. I’ll talk to G’s therapist. I’ll get my confidence back. We’ll keep doing what we think is right based on the information we have. Most importantly, we’ll keep giving our boys a lot of grace because someday, when they’re thinking back on their childhoods, they’re going to need to give it back to us.

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