Saturday, February 21, 2009

Clothes and the Homeschooler

We currently plan to homeschool our children for at least a few years. One of the criticisms of homeschoolers is that they are sheltered from the world and not like their peers. Of course, that's also one of the benefits of homeschooling. (Visit my local high school, and you'll sympathize.) While we wish to protect our children from feeling like they must assimilate to the many destructive trends in public school student bodies, we don't want them to end up socially awkward. Well, at least no more than they would be with us two introverts for parents....

One of the most obvious reasons for which children are judged wanting by their peers and society at large is their appearance, specifically their clothes. At present, my children are perfectly happy wearing whatever gifts or castoffs relatives and friends send. The four year old would just as soon wear the same outfit for a week, and everyone else is just fine with that. However, this pleasant state of affairs will not last. Based on my own experience, regular vicious insults about clothes will begin around fifth grade and possibly continue all the way through high school. I feel I would be an unkind parent to cause--either on purpose or ignorantly--my children to wear clothing that will result in their being singled out for ridicule when they interact outside the home.

As an aside, I have been so disappointed with the inordinate focus on clothes I've seen by some teenagers in my extended family and at church. When you move from a poverty-stricken country to the USA, it seems so trivial and cruel that teenagers here mock and discount others based on whether they dress according to some fickle standard. Americans in general have a variety of clean clothes, right? How much luckier are they than half the world!

Contrasting approaches to clothing children were showcased recently in the Jones-Martinson episode of "Wife Swap" (I posted about that here.). The public school employee mother dressed her daughters in designer clothes (not exactly modest ones, either); the unschooling mother looked like she let her boys wear whatever suited them. The boys looked inappropriately dressed for their family's publicity photo; yes, they are boys, but they still could have worn something better than T-shirts. Where on the spectrum of clothing awareness and appearance do I want our family to be?

I take my primary guidance from scripture and wise leaders and authors:
Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim. ~Jane Austen

If one's life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements. And finally there is an intense delight in abandoning faulty states of mind and in cultivating helpful ones in meditation. ~Dalai Lama
For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?...If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. ~James 2:2-4,8-9

And I did cause that the women should spin, and toil, and work, and work all manner of fine linen, yea, and cloth of every kind, that we might clothe our nakedness; and thus we did prosper in the land—thus we did have continual peace in the land for the space of twenty and two years. ~Mosiah 10:5

They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up. ~2 Nephi 28:13
My goal will be to have our family dressed attractively, modestly and simply. I want to avoid extremes of faddishness, sloppiness, and antiquatedness (there's nothing inherently more modest about a skirt than a pair of pants, and we're not Amish :) ). The people whose appearance I have most admired dressed nicely but with only moderate attention to fashion's vagaries. Their clothes were generally clean, well-matched, flattering, and yet not a focus of their lives; instead these people tended to use their valuable time to learn and to serve. This approach to clothing is what I choose to emulate and teach our children. I hope it will help my children find acceptance and appreciation for what lies inside them when they venture outside our homeschool environment.

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