Why I don’t let my 4-year-old daughter wear spaghetti-straps
My four-year-old daughter Ella received a doll from a relative for Christmas that was wearing a fluffy pink skirt and a spaghetti strap tank-top covered by a sweater. To my daughter’s wild surprise, she also received the same outfit as her doll, in her own size. She put on her new outfit immediately to match her doll. I call them “the twinsy-bops,” since my daughter proceeded to try to wear the same outfit as her doll for the few days following Christmas.
Although I love the doll’s and my daughter’s outfits in their completion, I don’t allow my daughter or her dolls to wear spaghetti straps without something covering the tank-top. Some may think I go overboard or even call me a prude, but I am parenting with an advantage. I have inside knowledge of the working relationships between parents and their teenage daughters. Since I have been speaking to teenagers and their parents for the past 15 years, I have gained an extensive knowledge of the kind of drop-down-drag-out battles parents have with their teenage girls and their wardrobes.
Fathers are by far the ones who cringe the most when they speak to me. They know teen-age boys. Every father was a teenage boy once. They cringe at the way their daughters are dressing, but the fight is so big, they often back down and let their girls wear what they want.
One of those battles is over spaghetti strap tank-tops being worn without something else covering them. Now, I’ll admit, when my four-year-old attempts to wear the new spaghetti strap tank-top, she doesn’t look immodest. She still manages to look innocent and dignified. So, why won’t I allow my daughter to begin wearing these types of tank-tops at age four? Because the battle she and I will inevitably have over tank tops will be a lot easier to win if the standard never changes. The same rings true for two-piece bathing suits and other clothes that will not protect her dignity and mystery when she is at a more womanly stage in her life.
Although it is winter and cold out, even at age four, Ella has been testing the waters by trying to wear the tank-top. She has begged me to wear it without the sweater. She has gone behind my back and asked her dad and grandma if she can. It’s actually quite amusing to watch as I can already envision her as a teenager. I sat her down and said, “Ella, we do not wear spaghetti-strap tank-tops without a sweater over them because we are so beautiful and they do not protect our incredible mystery. Mom does not wear them without something over them, and it’s not something you will be allowed to do, now or when you are older.” We chatted a bit more about it and she said, “Okay mom, I want to protect my mystery, so I’ll wear the sweater.” No tears, no fight, just an innocent understanding and a respect for mom. How do I know she understood?
A couple days later, we went to enjoy taco Tuesday at a locally owned restaurant in town. We were sitting at our table waiting for our food when Ella grabbed my arm and pulled me close to her. She was pointing to the hostess with the very womanly figure wearing a spaghetti strap tank-top that kept sliding up to reveal her stomach and was accentuating and revealing her large chest. Ella whispered in my ear, “Mom, her mystery isn’t protected. She is wearing a spaghetti-strap and it’s not modest.”
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Ella saw it for herself. It clicked for my four-year-old. She began to have a small amount of judgment in her voice as she continued to talk about this woman. I explained gently, “Ella, we can’t judge her or talk about her behind her back. She may not know her beautiful mystery and why she should protect it. Instead, we should pray that God may reveal it to her, so she knows just how special she is.” Ella was satisfied with my answer and agreed to pray for her.
I know the effects immodesty can have on young girl’s self-esteem and their choices. I have heard it in tears and brokenness as they have shared their stories with me of heartache and pain. I don’t judge women who dress immodestly; I know them too well. I was one of them once. I ache for them. I can’t speak for every immodestly dressed woman, but the thousands I have met have revealed to me in raw honesty that they dressed that way not really because it was cute or popular, but because it was a way to get noticed. They, like most of us, longed to feel like they mattered and longed to feel loved. Even if it meant doing something that went against the deepest desires of their hearts, they were willing to drop their standards at the chance to feel desired, even if it didn’t last long. But, they also revealed that although it felt good in the moments they felt desired or noticed, it felt worse when they realized the person whose attention they were seeking had no interest in who they really were.
My goal with Ella isn’t to restrict her, but to free her. When she is a teenager, if we do have another spaghetti-strap tank-top conversation, I don’t think it will be a long one. I won’t have to explain why modesty is important or why all of a sudden these kinds of tank-tops are no longer allowed. She will have built a habit of virtue since she was four-years-old. She will have practised modesty for years under my guidance.
Parents have knock-down-drag-out clothing wars with their teenage daughters because (in my opinion) many of them spring something new upon their daughters who have not had practice or made a habit in building up the virtue of modesty. Like all virtues, it becomes stronger with practice.
I meet many parents who have allowed their daughters to wear spaghetti-straps, tube tops, leggings as pants, two-piece swim suits, and other clothing when they were young when their figures hadn’t emerged, only to find out there comes a time when they become extremely uncomfortable with their beautiful, womanly, innocent, teenage daughters wearing them in public. Fathers are by far the ones who cringe the most when they speak to me. They know teen-age boys. Every father was a teenage boy once. They cringe at the way their daughters are dressing, but the fight is so big, they often back down and let their girls wear what they want.
And to all the teenage girls whose parents caught you off guard with the new rules about modesty, when you had never heard the word before or had no idea why it is important, I feel for you. You have gone your whole lives thinking it was just fine to dress in clothing that has now become restricted and deemed inappropriate. Although it is for good reason and for your protection, I can imagine this is very confusing as you look back at the many years during which you wore clothes that your parents once bought for you and that you have found comfort in.
It must be hard to find out they are no longer acceptable for you to wear. Although I don’t agree with you, I see why you attempt to fight your parents. It is confusing. Although this may be new for some of you, your parents have a job to protect you, and modesty will protect your chastity and your dignity. It offers protection against being the lustful object in someone’s gazing eye. It offers you freedom. Protecting your beautiful mystery will say to others that you demand to be noticed for who you are as a whole person: body, mind, heart, and soul. It will demand others notice the unrepeatable, irreplaceable person you are. It has the ability to free you from use and objectification, which does not speak to the deepest desires of your feminine hearts. It frees you to be noticed and loved rightly.
As I mentioned above, I have the advantage of having seen into the relationships of teenage girls and their parents. I have had the advantage of hearing from the hearts of teenage girls for many years. Many of my parenting ideas have come from this perspective, which is why I am trying to help my children build good habits, because I see the many challenges that lay ahead. I applaud any parent for their attempts at helping their daughters at any age discover the virtue of modesty.
I make many mistakes as a parent and I learn many lessons daily. It is humbling to be a parent. I feel knowledgeable about how to build virtue in children because I have dedicated my life’s work to this topic; but there are many other areas in parenting where I am weak in knowledge and where I feel like a failure. But, I don’t beat myself up. I have a motto I live by which helps me re-prioritize my parenting goals. It is, “It’s never too late to set things straight.”
There are areas I let slide, with the result that my children have built bad habits. And sometimes it would be easier to just let them continue to slide, because to change their behavior would be extremely difficult and time consuming. I have to constantly remind myself that my husband and I are the biggest influences our children will have. We have the ability to influence their character and the life-long habits they build. When I see areas where I have not been the best mom, I set things straight. In these cases, it has sometimes been a challenge to get my children to understand why things are changing, but it has always been worth the challenge as I see them growing in character, motivation, and virtue.
If you are a parent and you have failed to help your child build habits of modesty, virtue, or character, know that you are not alone. Don’t beat yourself up. Today is a new day. It is NEVER too late to set things straight. May you and I find strength and resolve in our parenting goals and never forget that we are the greatest influences our children will have.
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