By Jennifer Gregory of The Runaway Mama
I absolutely love reading news articles about boys who don’t like to wear pants. The images that accompany these stories of smiling tweens in athletic shorts and hoodies standing in front of snow banks in frigid cities like Buffalo, NY or Pittsburgh, PA are spectacularly odd and comical.
The viewpoints from the moms entrenched in the battle epitomize 21st century parenting wars: Let them be. If they’re cold, they’ll put pants on! or They need to follow the rules. Make them wear pants or they’ll grow up to be jerks!
The expert medical opinions add drama and tension to an already weighty situation: Testosterone and body hair can make young boys’ bodies feel warmer, or It’s dangerous. Frostbite and hypothermia can develop quickly in young children.
The debate over boys and pants (or lack thereof) fascinates me, but I don’t enjoy it purely for the spectacle. It’s also because I totally and completely get it. Those boys in Buffalo and Pittsburgh are my boys, those rattled moms are me, and those experts are the voices in my head trying to figure out what’s best.
I am the mother of two boys who do not, under any circumstances, like to wear pants.
I have no clue what the right answer is. Actually, I do. It’s pants. Obviously. When it’s 11 degrees outside, pants are the right answer every. single. time. But I also know from personal experience that boys and pants are complicated (sometimes).
The thing about the struggle – and believe me, the struggle is real – is that it’s not always about the pants. For some boys, it is a status thing or a fashion statement, but for others, it’s not remotely about popularity or style. It’s not even about comfort. It’s about discomfort. It’s about fabric that makes their skin ache. It’s about tags that feel like daggers, seams that feel like pinching needles, and hems that feel like shards of glass. It’s about a sensory irritant that physically hurts and causes anxiety, frustration, or worse. For some boys (and girls), it’s sensory processing disorder (SPD), a condition that, in layman’s terms, makes it hard for the brain and the senses to communicate properly.
Interestingly, it was my older son’s refusal to wear pants when he was four years old that eventually led us to diagnose him with SPD. That diagnosis – when we finally figured it out – was liquid gold. It gave us hope. It gave us options. It gave us crap loads of occupational therapy.
These days, when it’s twenty-eight degrees and the wind chill makes it feel like thirteen, he wears pants. He doesn’t particularly like it, but he’s learned how to tolerate it. His younger brother isn’t as accommodating (yet), but we’re working on it. No matter how hard it is for my boys to get dressed, and it’s still a battle on many days, I feel a colossal sense of relief when either one of them leaves the house wearing appropriate clothing for the weather or the occasion, because there was once a time when neither one of them could.
It’s frustrating that there’s so little awareness about SPD. It was baffling five years ago when we sought help for our child, and it’s discouraging now to see so much attention paid to boys who don’t like to wear pants (or kids who are severe picky eaters or students who have a hard time sitting still at school, etc.) without any useful dialogue about sensory differences, how to identify symptoms, and where to find resources for help. It’s not that I think every kid with a quirk has SPD. It’s just that some of them could. A few of them might.
My boys do.
When my son hid under his bed, sobbing and shaking because of the pants I wanted him wear on those cold mornings so many years ago, I craved information. I had no idea what was happening, and I felt utterly alone. Reading about other families facing a similar challenge and gaining insight and clues about possible causes would’ve made a huge difference in my journey to understand and treat him. If I’d known more about SPD, I would’ve been a better, stronger, and more persistent advocate for my child when he desperately needed help but I didn’t know what was wrong. Today, I know, and I’m grateful.
With winter in full swing, there’s a good chance that I’ll run across a few more must-read articles about the fuss over boys and pants. I just hope whoever pens the next story has the courage and consideration to dig a little bit deeper and raise some much-needed awareness about why some of those boys might hate their pants so much.
I’m certain there are at least a few moms out there who would greatly appreciate it.
About Jennifer Gregory
Jennifer Gregory is a stay-at-home mom of two young boys and the writer behind the blog, The Runaway Mama. She wouldn’t want to be anywhere else except home raising her two boys, but like the little bunny in Margaret Wise Brown’s classic book, she sometimes wants to run away. Read more at The Runaway Mama, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.