As a child, I was never allowed to wear a new pair of shoes home from the store.
On some shoe-shopping adventures, my mother and I spent hours (I’m not exaggerating) in stores trying on multiple pairs of shoes in various styles and sizes. I was strongly encouraged to walk numerous laps around the shop just to make sure they were comfortable and the right size. We were those people in the store that had stacks upon stacks of shoeboxes surrounding us, and we rarely left the store with just one pair. In fact, we usually left with at least two or three pairs. I was informed I had a “hard to fit” foot because of it being narrow and one foot being slightly longer than the other, and you only really know if the shoe fits just right once you’ve gone home and walked around in those same pairs of shoes…on the carpet, of course. We would then eventually return the ones that didn’t make the cut.
Oh, how I envied the other children who ran right out of the store, onto the pavement nonetheless, in their new kicks! They had it SO easy! Meanwhile, our poor shoe salesperson was practically sweating from running back and forth from the storeroom to get more and more pairs of shoes for me to try on. It was pretty exhausting for everyone involved.
I should insert the fact that my mom was, and is to this day, an extremely practical and particular woman. She doesn’t buy something unless she loves it and it fits just right, and she supports keeping your options open and always leaving room for changing your mind.
This isn’t necessarily a bad or incorrect approach to shopping or making decisions in general; however, I have learned from personal experience that analysis can lead to paralysis. In other words, over-analyzing things can literally cause you to feel incapable of making any decision at all, which can be a vicious and exhausting cycle to get caught in, especially for a child. The truth is, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I sometimes catch myself having the tendency to behave similarly.
Fast forward to this past month in the shoe aisles of Target.
This wasn’t any normal trip to Target, as my mom happened to be with us on this particular shopping outing. We decided to do some back-to-school shoe shopping, and my almost-four-year-old daughter quickly spotted some red Mary Janes. We all enthusiastically voiced how much we liked them, but she quickly spotted some black ones with a bow. She was immediately sold on the black pair, but the rest of us weren’t (seriously – the red ones were pretty adorable and the black ones looked slightly orthopedic). She begged for us to get her those black shoes. Without waiting for a response, she packed her old shoes into the new shoe box (obviously not something I taught her) and started shuffling her way towards the check-out area with her feet bound together by the elastic band and the tag dragging the ground along the way.
Just as we approached the checkout line, I did something that would immediately fill me with regret.
I leaned over and whispered into my daughter’s ear, “Mommy really liked the red shoes.” She looked down at the black ones on her feet, paused for a moment, and then slowly said, “I think I want…the red ones.” My heart leapt and sank all at the same moment.
The two of us walked, by ourselves, back to the shoe section where she replaced the black shoes on her feet with the red ones. I quickly sensed her disappointment, so I asked her to tell me how she was feeling. She then looked down at the red shoes on her feet and said, “It’s just that…I really liked the black ones with the bows.”
This was one of those pivotal moments in parenting, the kind where you actually have the clarity that how you choose to respond to your child could impact them for better or for worse.
I knew that I had been manipulative and was causing her to feel unsure about her choice. I needed to empower her – STAT! I kneeled down, looked my precious daughter in her eyes, took a deep breath and said, “I want YOU to pick the ones that YOU like, and if it’s the black ones, then we’re getting them – and you can even wear them out of the store.” At that moment she ripped off the red ones, replaced them with the black ones and began joyfully shuffling her way back towards the cash register with the tag still dragging the ground.
Maybe she would change her mind. Maybe she would later tell me that the shoes hurt her feet. It didn’t matter. I caught myself stifling my child’s freedom of opinion and choice because of my own indecisive tendencies about something that shouldn’t have been such a big deal. Of course, there are times when I need to be the ultimate decision-maker, but this didn’t need to be one of those times.