Musings + Essays


By: Jen Shoop

In business, in writing, in the administration of life, the more I do something, the easier it gets. It may not be that the actual undertaking becomes less demanding, but I learn how to lessen or accommodate the emotional or logistical toll it carries. For example, in a past career, I had to give presentations all the time. I was clammy, choked, wiry with nerves the first few times, and though I never found myself wholly comfortable in front of a crowd, I learned to comport myself with borrowed confidence. The dais anxiety dullened, then waned, and then — much to my surprise — I began to actually enjoy engaging an audience. So, too, with my limited and harrowing experience with direct sales. I maintain deep respect for salespeople to this day. That is a tough grind. Mr. Magpie, who had once led an enormous team of salespeople at Groupon using cutting-edge sales tactics and incentive programs, offered terrific coaching on the matter, and still I found it one of the most challenging activities of my professional career. But I did get better at it, or at least at accommodating its assured balance of failure, and the nastiness of so many of its interactions: people hanging up on you, people yelling at you, people furious at the gumption of your interjection into their day. I cannot fault them. I cannot stand when sidewalk activists approach me. I know it is their job, and possibly their vocation, but wow do I cringe at the cold openers and the impossible position they put me in. Still, I was building a business whose sales machinery relied on navigating my way to HR decision makers, and we were not in a position to outsource that component of the operation, and so I put my big girl britches on and did it, learning how to move past the unpleasantries as quickly as possible, or at least to shield my tender heart from its more poisoning arrows.

So why is it, then —

That in parenting, I find no commensurate analgesic emerging in my tenure?

On Sunday, I selected my children’s Church clothing (as I do every Sunday) and carried it down to the family room, where they were watching morning cartoons. My daughter took one look at the Doen dress I’d selected for her (seen above) and recoiled behind a mound of pillows. What followed was a ten-minute stand-off followed by a ten-minute tantrum.

For context, this has been an emergent and intensifying battlefield for us. She wants to wear her soccer jersey, or her bike shorts and a tshirt, and I — am trying to meet her somewhere in the middle. Perhaps the Doen dress was a bit too frilly for her and I was pushing the envelope, but it was an over $100 dress and it still had its tags on. It needed to be worn! I want to respect her self expression, and/but I also want her to look presentable at Church.

This girl bears a will of steel she inherited directly from her father. She is smart, and observant, and has the kind of lawyerly mind that will seek and expose near-diaphanous cracks in argumentation.

Here was Jean D’Arc with her plate armor and pluck, and I was the bungling Pierre Cauchon stammering through my feeble opening remarks.

This anecdote may appear to you amusing (in the grand scheme, trivial), or off-putting (geez, lady, why didn’t you just let her wear another dress?), or relatable (been there, done that), or galvanizing (you just have to put your foot down as a parent!), or any number of other things. I am aware of this panoply because I lived through each of those reactions simultaneously as I sifted for clarity. Do I give in? Is this the field I want to die on?

No matter how many times I encounter turbulence like this as a mother, it never seems to get easier. Perhaps, I thought on Sunday, I am hamstringing myself because I am constantly re-evaluating the lines I’ve drawn, even if I end up outwardly upholding them for the long haul. In this case, it does matter to me that my children are dressed well for Church. This is no capricious or temporary outlook. We talk often about good manners, of showing ourselves and others respect in our thoughts and actions, and tidy, appropriate attire is a simple and demonstrable manifestation of that ethos. I want my children to know that we do not slouch — in any capacity, sartorial or otherwise — at Church. Still. My daughter is six and newly interested in her own self-expression through clothing. Do I take my foot off the pedal? Do I relent and accommodate the occasional play dress as long as her hair is tied and her nails are clean? Standing there on Sunday, I decided I would permit her participation in Church attire moving forward, but I had already insisted she wear the Doen dress before I discovered how furious that particular article of clothing made her, and by that point, the ship had sailed.

Inwardly, though, in this matter and others, I am routinely wondering whether I’m too strict, or too lax, or couldn’t I bend the rules this one time, or does this really matter? I have observed other mothers who seem to have a simpler time sticking to their guns, leaning on mnemonics that run crisp and consistent. Perhaps this observation is unfair to them; they may be internally navigating the same question marks I am. Or perhaps they are more adept at rule-setting than I am. All this to say —

I feel that my motherhood is reborn each morning, fresh-faced and tender-footed. I find myself almost distressingly jejune in some interactions, as though I am remade anew each hour. I am a cobweb swatted away and then reformed at daybreak, an insect in continuous metamorphosis, a fawn on eternally new legs.

Today I sit here and realize I will do something different next Sunday by including her in the day’s outfit selection, and that feels like progress. And yet I know that tomorrow or next Tuesday or some time the following week, I will again find myself tumbling down an avenue of ambivalence about my own parenting, reverting to a nymph-like state, and that maybe this is what we mean when we talk about motherhood as a process, not a place or a condition. That my own matrescence started the day my daughter came screaming into the world, and that I’m still very much in the early phases of my own development. That I’m still spinning my way into becoming the mother I want to be, or that my children need me to be. That I am the mother in The Runaway Bunny, evolving to meet my children wherever they go:

“If you become a rock on the mountain high above me,”
said his mother, “I will become a mountain climber,
and I will climb to where you are.”

Perhaps that book is as much about the constancy of a mother’s love as it is about the way mothers transform themselves as they pass through each new frame of matrescence. Perhaps I am Cerridwen, the Welsh goddess of transformation, who changes herself into a greyhound, and an otter, and a hawk, and a high-crested black hen, in pursuit of her son. One section of the epic poem “Hanes Taliesin” in which she appears begins: “And she went forth after him, running.”

My motherhood feels that way, too — not so much that I am in a breathless pursuit but that I am learning to run on new feet each morning, transforming myself to meet what the day asks of me.


+I am change.

+Motherhood is a surfeit.

+3 a.m. parties. (Not what you think they are.)

Shopping Break.

+Tuckernuck has some very Agua Bendita-esque dresses on offer via their house label, including this midi and this mini.

+Super chic knot leather sandals.

+Adore this midi skirt!

+Been looking for a roomy, zip-top tote for my daughter when she’s schlepping sports gear or changes of clothing around — I found this Stoney Clover-inspired tote (under $40 vs $168 for the real deal) which I can then customize with my own patches to her liking.

+These Kleenex flat packs are such a great innovation for women. They fit so much more easily in small bags/clutches/etc.

+These hand towels are so gorgeous for a powder bathroom.

+Adore this little dress in the sunshine yellow color.

+A bold but FABULOUS pant/shirt set.

+I’d been looking for a little bin or dish to hold my son’s Tonies collection, and I found this cute rope style one — perfect since it can’t be broken.

+My dream outdoor lounge chair.

+Gorgeous $59 scalloped cake stand.

+I continue to lust after this best-selling sweater.

+Fun ric-rac trim dress.

+This Prada bag is fabulous.

+Adore this rainbow tote.

+Love these rope bins for small collections of toys in a play room.

+Scandi-chic $50 stepstool.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

23 thoughts on “Cerridwen.

  1. I’ve been thinking about this since you posted it. Specifically, I was thinking of attending my uncle’s wedding at age 9. I had to wear a pink flower girl dress that I absolutely hated and fought my mom for weeks then insisted on changing into a tee shirt and pants later in night when all formal photos were over and everyone was hitting the dance floor. My best friend was there in a simple dress that I was so jealous of and remember wishing I had something like her dress to wear. I hated my dress, I was embarrassed to change out of it later, and still remember how uncomfortable I was and how badly I wanted to feel good. Looking back I think I just didn’t have the vocabulary for describing exactly why I hated the dress and what would have made me feel good and confident — I just knew I hated it. Today I STILL can’t always articulate why sometimes I put on a dress and hate it, then maybe the next weekend I feel great in it? Personal style is tough and often so abstract and easier to ~feel~ than articulate. I wish my mom had just talked to me more and taken my opinions and preferences with more seriousness, trusting that I just wanted to feel like myself. I actually needed her as a guide in how you figure that out! All this to say — I think if you continue to hear and validate your girl as she figures it out for herself, you’re doing it right! Also, I was recently complaining to a friend that I was struggling with hating *everything* in my closet and how to get re-inspired and similarly couched it “I know this is trivial” and she responded with, “anything we do every day (listen to music, get dressed, eat) is worth consideration. the very least I think we can take ourselves seriously and not diminish the feeling as vain or silly!” I think this sentiment absolutely applies here.

    1. Hi Katherine! Thanks so much for marinating and sharing your thoughts here!

      I love your friend’s response — “Anything we do every day is worth consideration.” Amen to this! Yes! Also – “to a great mind, nothing is small.”


  2. Just wanted to chime in in solidarity! I understand that feeling well, vacillating between wanting to remain consistent by holding the line and asking myself if this is the hill I want to die on. I wouldn’t say I’m naturally authoritative, and parenting a fellow strong-willed child has forced me to exercise that muscle. It’s hard!

    1. Hi Sarah! Thank you so much! Really appreciate the encouragement/solidarity. I am definitely the same way — tend to be accommodating/understanding/sometimes people-pleasing — and having a strong-willed daughter has pushed me in ways I didn’t expect. xx

  3. I had sort of the opposite experience – my daughter rejected my tomboy styles somewhere between the ages of 2 and 3, in favor of dresses only (and the tackier the better). I learned to shop for dresses that were appropriate for play and an active lifestyle.

    As for church – I respect the insistence on maintaining a reverent attitude at church. I also can see the danger of suggesting that a child has to wear an inauthentic costume to be welcomed there. Perhaps a helpful way of framing the question is — is there a difference between “being presentable” and “how I would choose to present my own self”?

    1. Great food for thought! I was thinking about the importance of framing this / language the other night, before we had a family discussion about clothing. Thanks for this provocation.


  4. I had the same battle with my children. They declared our annual Christmas card photo shoot as the most miserable day of the year! I always supported and encouraged them to make decisions and express their own sense of style, but also wanted them to understand the importance of sacrifice and discipline. It was important to me that they were dressed appropriately for church and holidays to show respect even if this meant they may not have been as comfortable. Maybe it was because growing up that was what was required of me and wanted to instill the same. Not sure what is the right or wrong answer here or if there is one, but did what felt right at the time. Hope it gets easier. Maybe providing your daughter with options will help.

    1. Hi Anne – Thank you for writing in here. I am wading through the quandary you capture – trying to suss out what feels right and fair relative to my own upbringing (similar to yours it seems), my own values, my observations about my daughter, my aspirations for her. It certainly feels nuanced to me. I am moving forward with the options route you’ve mentioned.

      Onward! Thanks for the ecnouragement!


  5. Pretty sure God doesn’t care what you wear to church.

    My 3 children are now in their 20’s and I decided when they could dress themselves to let them choose what to wear. I found other hills to die on. They turned out pretty well.

    1. Thank you for sharing this perspective! Your comments here and those of a few others have made me pause and reflect. Thank you for chiming in.


  6. It’s funny, I feel similarly about dressing for church. Luckily (and so far) my daughter mostly agrees, and is happy to wear what I choose for the most part. But recently our Episcopal priest held up a little boy in a Superman shirt and cowboy boots and said that he was so thrilled that we were a congregation that allows our children to show up as their authentic selves. If my daughter ever does decide my dress picks are no longer acceptable, I at least know she’ll be loved no matter how she shows up.

  7. I feel so confident in my decision to always let my kids dress themselves. Rather than face the battle you describe above, I delight in the quirky outfits they pull together every Sunday morning. They look like a pair of goofs almost every week at mass – sometimes in pajamas, yesterday in shorts over their pants. But i like to bring them to mass as their whole selves. I borrowed Glennon Doyle’s wisdom to help me get to this place – she wrote once that “Acting perfect at church is like dressing up for an x-ray.” It doesn’t matter to me what my daughter is wearing when she sings an Alleluia so sweetly under her breath. My son waves frantically at the priest at the end of every mass, so it doesn’t matter to me that he’s wearing a batman costume. They both feel like they belong at church as themselves, and that is such a gift. I don’t want anything to change that comfort, and certainly not my own notions about presentable outfits. It also really seems to delight several of the elderly parishioners, and I like the idea of someone else’s grandma relaying some nutty outfit my kids chose for church as part of their story for the day. I certainly appreciate the sentiment of this post and agree there are times when my kids need to look more presentable, but I don’t see church as one of those places. I trust that God is near us every minute of our days (so He certainly knows that we’re not perfect). I don’t worry that God thinks any less of us for showing up as our mismatched, semi-rumpled selves in His house.

    1. Hi Elizabeth! I love this note: “I trust that God is near us every minute of our days so He certainly knows that we’re not perfect.” What a beautiful thought. Thank you. Paradoxically makes me feel better about the browbeating I’ve been enduring since the situation I described here, where I did not feel I was at my best as a mother — and yet I am sure God was present and understanding.

      I also admire that you’ve found such firm footing on this issue. Hoping one day to find myself in a similar place — clearly I have a ways to go.


    2. I’d be delighted to see a Batman or pajama-clad kid in church! My kids haven’t asked for that yet and are still somewhat agreeable to what I set out for them on Sunday mornings (though perhaps that is because I let them choose what to wear for most situations), but I hope to be like you if they do!

  8. May I offer some (unrequested) advice? Choose 2 or 3 options you find acceptable and lay them on her bed (this keeps her from seeing her favorite play dress hanging in her closet) and let her choose from those. If there are still issues, let her wear the play dress. EVERY mother has been through this and as you said, this is probably not the hill you want to die on. Best wishes!!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I landed in a similar place. Going to lay out a few options for her on Sundays moving forward!


  9. I was just thinking the other day about a similar battle I had with my daughter on Easter when she was that age. I was getting her dressed in a pretty outfit to go to her grandmother’s house and she was not having it. I now cringe at how upset I was, even though of course I had spent time, energy, money and my reaction was somewhat understandable. But now she is an unbelievable young woman who has her own wonderful way of expressing herself through her clothing choices and I realize that was the beginning. It’s hard when they want to become their own person, but of course that’s exactly what we’re raising them to do. Just one in many many moments of recalibration in the parent/child relationship.

    1. “It’s hard when the want to become their own person, but of course that’s exactly what we’re raising them to do.” I love this! Thanks for the reminder. “Recalibration” is a really good way to describe these moments of ajdustment/accommodation/etc.


  10. Oh gosh, I am right there with you. Dressing for church is a weekly battle in our house (very stubborn nearly 5 year old) and has been for quite some time. My new refrain is that she gets to pick to her play clothes, but that I get to pick church and “fancy” clothes (going out to dinner, events, etc.). She gets two options, but I choose the options. This approach sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, and we’re nearly always late for Sunday School. But at least we’re there, each of us being reminded of God’s grace and love for us.

    Your comments about the daily mental struggle between being too firm and too lax are a constant conversation among my friends. Thank you for framing it the way you did – that it’s part of the journey of not only being mothers but also of becoming mothers. We are both already mothers and becoming mothers; I love that.

    Hang in there 🙂

    1. I second this! I choose Church clothes for my four. They complain about this 50% of the time and don’t care 50% of the time. I do try to let them choose their own clothes the rest of the time. This is still painful for me 🙂 I get around it by a ton of upfront buying where the whole wardrobe matches (only stripes on tops/dresses, only polka dots on bottoms, matching tones throughout) and my kids aren’t as able to pair together true clashes. It’s hard though! I loved to dress my babies and they don’t like that anymore

      1. Hi! Thank you so much for the solidarity. As I commented to Kirkland, it’s the “50% of the time they care, 50% they don’t” that is mad-making! AH! Sometimes my daughter will just jump right into what I’ve laid out and other times…well, the situation above unfolds. I like your workaround of buying a wardrobe that matches. Thank you for sharing! xx

    2. Thanks for writing in, and for the solidarity! I like the line you’ve drawn — very clear — and also appreciate your note that “sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.” There have been so many other realms of parenting where we think we’ve found a good, healthful solution for everyone, but then there are the oddball times where that solution just DOESN’T work. For example, we used to have a really hard time getting our daughter out the door to school when we lived in NYC. Sometimes it helped for me to send her little photos of her stuffed animals doing silly things around the house that she could look at while her dad took her to the subway. Sometimes it helped to distract her with a tiny sticker book on the train. Sometimes it helped to sing a song allll the way down 86th street. Sometimes none of those things helped. The same with getting dressed for Church in our parts. She has been increasingly vocal about what she likes/what she doesn’t, but sometimes she’ll say “I don’t want that” but then jump into it all the same without any further commentary. It is just a day to day think and this particular incident caught me completely off guard! Ahhh!

      Anyhow, thanks for the note, for your candor, for your honesty in this matter! Right there with ya!


Previous Article

Next Article