One summer morning as the kids were getting dressed, I heard some commotion coming from upstairs so I headed up to find out what was going on.
I saw Xander first, who informed me, without waiting to be asked, "Elodie is immodest!" Sure enough, when I followed the ensuing screams of defiance to Elodie's bedroom, I saw her in her princess sundress with no shirt underneath. Immediately, I remembered an article in a recent Friend magazine called "Modest at Any Age" and asked Elodie if she wanted to come downstairs and read a story with me. This was obviously not what she was expecting me to say to her. Her defiance left, and she came with me willingly. I had recently read the story to her, so we just looked at the picture and talked about the story together. Then I turned to the Modesty Checklist that followed. I explained to her that the prophets have taught us how we can be modest to show that we respect the bodies Heavenly Father gave us. We went through each point to check if what she was wearing was modest. Does it cover your shoulders? No. Does it cover your stomach? Yes. Does it come down to your knees? Yes. Is the neckline high enough? No. And down through the list. When we got to the end, I asked her what she wanted to do. Without hesitation, she said, "Put a shirt on underneath so I can be modest." Elodie is not the type who easily takes suggestions from me regarding clothes (or many other things--she's more the strong-willed type than the compliant type). But with the help of my Friend, she was able to see the decision objectively and make her own decision. Here she is after successfully making that difficult decision for herself.
I was so grateful for that resource and for the focus on standards and absolutes in this ambiguous world. Many of you reading this post may think that it really doesn't matter how "modestly" an innocent little 3-year-old dresses. It's irrelevant because she's just a little girl! And perhaps that's true. I wore tank tops and short shorts to keep cool in the summer when I was a little kid, and I turned out just fine. But as I had kids, I started wondering, "at what age does it start mattering that my daughter dresses modestly and understands what it means to respect herself and her body?" (Or son, of course, but let's face it, this world prizes immodest dress in women way more than in men.) I thought about how I perceived modesty as a teenager. I thought that I dressed modestly because my clothes were more modest than everybody else at school. Sure, I wore sleeveless shirts, but I didn't wear strappy tank tops like so many did. No, my skirts didn't always come quite to the knee, but they were so long compared to the booty shorts most girls wore! I subscribed to relative modesty. It wasn't until I hit the clearcut standards of the BYU honor code that I reshaped my thinking about modesty. And when I did, I was converted to it and could hardly believe how recently I had seen the matter so differently. When I was preparing for a mission and got to go to the temple, I was grateful that I was already converted to the standards of modesty that temple worthiness entails.
And so I've discussed this modesty issue with my sisters and my friends and even my mom, and we do have different views on it. But as I look at the options, I can't imagine it being any easier to wait to teach my children the standards of modesty. When will she be more receptive than when she is 2 or 3 years old? Will it be easier to teach her the standards of modesty when she develops curves and the boys are flocking and Mom and Dad realize that her dress is sending the wrong message? Or when she is packing for BYU and we tell her that most of her wardrobe won't work? Or when she is about to make sacred covenants in the temple in preparation for a mission or marriage? I just can't imagine it being easier to let it go when they're young and then expect it at some indeterminable future point. So I decided from the time I had my first baby that tank tops were out. That the adorable sleeveless dresses would look just as adorable with a shirt underneath. That shorts, skirts, and dresses had been officially grown out of when they no longer reach the knees. It just seemed easier to me to be clearcut from the beginning.
Then I saw this story in the Friend, "Modest at Any Age," validating my decision. I felt grateful for the increased focus on standards in this relative world. Maybe it didn't really matter back when I was a kid, but I get the sense that it does now. As the world gets fuzzier and fuzzier, we need to get clearer and clearer. These are principles that can best be taught in the home, by example, by consistent adherence, by clear expectations, and by direct instruction with the help of great resources like The Friend and For the Strength of Youth.
This simple experience with Elodie gave me a great sense of confidence and reassurance that as a Mom, I have all of the support I need to teach my children correct principles and let them govern themselves. What a great feeling!