You’re not the only mother who returns home in tears after an aborted shopping attempt with your teens. I’m a mom of teenaged daughters myself, but nothing helped me better understand the dynamic between mothers and daughters clothing shopping than my summer job at a frum clothing store.
I quickly learned to spot the groups of teenage girls shopping together after school, iced coffees in hand and cell phones ringing in their purses. The girls looked at everything in the store, chattering away, gushing over many, many pieces of clothing. As they stood back and eyed the colorful displays of clothing, I’d hear comments like, “I need new skirts.” “I like these ¾-sleeve T-shirts.” “I’d love a new Shabbos dress.” “Where are the shells?”
But on Sundays, in the very same store, when these same young women came in with their mothers, the formerly garrulous teens’ passion for shopping vanished; the girls’ lips snapped shut like a flesh-eating plant. Anytime one of the exhausted looking mothers would hold up a slinky skirt or a Shabbos outfit, the previously bubbly and expressive girls’ faces would now move not one muscle. In response to their mothers’ eagerness to please, the girls’ eyes would betray no affect whatsoever, their lips would barely move, and without fail, again and again, they would simply and quietly enunciate the word “No.”
The poor mothers would then race around the store, sweating, breathing heavily, looking for different styles and colors and sizes that might curry favor with their daughters, who would continue to stand in one place, not budging, rejecting suggestion after suggestion.
Perhaps because I wasn’t their mother, I could sometimes pull out skirts and dresses that I found stylish or popular and persuade the girls to try on some pieces of clothing. One crowning accomplishment of the summer was when I sold 12 new camp skirts to a girl who’d refused to consider any of her mother’s helpful suggestions. (But I’d never dare to dream of having such a productive shopping trip with my own daughters!)
After watching mothers and daughters get increasingly frustrated with each other over and over again last summer, I decided to give monthly clothing allowances to each of my teen daughters, appreciating that teenagers need to shop without their mothers constantly pointing out what they think is “cute.”
Even the most fabulous among us have no way of understanding the subtle trends of our girls’ schools. I realized this when my younger teenage girls coined the term “Teacher-Mom” to describe (and dismiss within any realm of possibility) the style of the clothing I pointed out to them in a catalogue and during online searches. In the nicest possible way, my girls were telling me that what I was pointing out to them wasn’t age-appropriate.
I get it. No 14-year-old wants to dress exactly like her mom, not even a stylish one. But it’s more than that, too. While they may not be able to articulate certain nuances in style that they’d prefer, after years of uniforms and restrictions, with even colors for tights and sweaters dictated, our girls desperately want the empowering freedom to choose what they wear. They want to know that we trust them to select tzanuah, tasteful clothing that expresses their own individuality.
To save time, and the dreaded and inevitable trips back to stores to return their purchases, I now only take my daughters shopping when they express interest in my coming along. While in stores, I don’t try to serve as my daughters’ personal shopper. I hang back, stay out of their way, and hold up as few pieces of clothing as possible for their rejection. I look for clothing for myself. I even bring a book. And mostly I tell my daughters to please choose what they like, what they feel best expresses themselves, and to always politely verbalize what it is that they want.
So, if you’re also stuck in the never-ending cycle of shopping, complaints, and returns, just know that your daughters are normal, that you are not alone, and that giving your daughters trusted opportunities to express themselves through tzanuah clothing is a beautiful and empowering gift. Just bring a book along.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 628)
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