Saturday, December 18, 2010

On Autonomy and Coats

It's definitely winter in our neck of the woods. Cold, snowy, icy winter. Even so, this is Ryann on the way to her winter concert the other day.

I guess she doesn't mind the cold because that girl does not wear a coat.

She will wear a coat when she's playing outside. But between the house and the car? Not going to happen. She gets hot in the car. And safely navigating a coat and her car seat is complicated business. I don't blame her for choosing to be cold for a short amount of time to avoid the mess entirely.

Sometimes I feel invisible (or visible) pressure from others to make her wear a coat. And it makes me doubt her ability to make this decision. If it is cold, is it my responsibility to make sure she is warm? What do people think when they see her running around in a sweatshirt and me wearing a warm coat (carrying hers)? Is this bad parenting?

I realize there is a certain point where it could be dangerous, you don't want to freeze your child over some silly coat issue. I always suggest she wear her coat, I remind her that I have it when we get in and out of the car. But is it my responsibility to make her wear it?

I was struggling with this the other day when I realized I was greatly overthinking it and so was anyone who looks at me sideways when she jumps out of the car.

Why would I be in control of her coat? Only she knows if she's cold. I can think she's cold. I can assume she's cold based on temperature or how cold I am, but I don't really know. And being cold is not some abstract concept with far-reaching consequences that children don't understand, like eating your vegetables. It's immediate. It's right now. Even babies know if they are cold.

And what's worse is if you don't trust children to regulate their own body temperature, you've just turned something as simple as how warm they are into a battle of wills. Suddenly your child actually is cold, but doesn't want to admit it because they only way he was able to practice any autonomy was after arguing about it for 10 minutes. Wearing a coat should never be about pride, it should be able being warm.

So Ryann doesn't wear a coat when she doesn't want to. Even if it's really cold. Even if I feel weird seeing her without a coat on. I make sure she doesn't freeze by dressing her warmly and prewarming the car on very cold days. But for the most part, she knows when she needs a coat. And I don't spend half my morning arguing about something as silly as someone else's body temperature.


  1. Great post and timely - I fight the same battle with my 3 year old son and always think people must think I am the worst parent ever for not making him put on a coat. He can't stand being "trapped" in his car seat as it is and with a big coat on that feeling is multiplied! Thanks for making me realize first that I am not alone and second that it is not something that I can control- no matter how much I want to! If he is cold, he will tell me and he can have his coat (and hat and gloves!)

  2. Tricia, it is so hard to take the stares of other people when making choices about parenting in public, isn't it? You are definitely not alone in coat, hat and glove struggles, that is for sure.

  3. My children are exactly the same. Although I really, really hate being cold, I hate being "tied up" by a bulky coat even more. My children seem to have inherited this also. I do not wear them in the car and I don't insist either (I do the same 'suggestion'). I also get looks and remarks from others. Although as you mentioned before, if it is dangerously cold, I do insist, but otherwise, I leave them be.

  4. Oh, I hate coats too! It takes a lot of cold weather for me to pull out a coat in the fall and even more for me to pull out a warm one :) No wonder my child avoids them like the plague...

  5. My exact philosophy when raising you. I wanted you to know if you were warm or cold, not how to win or lose a battle of wills.

  6. Oh yes, I get all my best values from my mama :)

  7. I'm glad I came across this post. My mom insists it's my job to make her wear a coat, and that she is not a reliable source on whether she's cold or not.