I’m an easily chilled sort of person. I like to feel warm and cozy, and being cold upsets me. In any given weather conditions, I’m usually wearing at least as many garments as the average person, often more.
My son Nicholas seems to feel warm most of the time. He’s often quite calm and comfortable in very cold temperatures. He has a decent sense of modesty and won’t run around undressed in public–he doesn’t even like to go shirtless–but he’ll happily wear a light jacket or no jacket, bare feet or flip-flops, one layer of short-sleeved shirt, in conditions where I think that isn’t nearly enough.
I decided a long time ago not to fight about this. I do advise him when the weather has gotten colder since the last time he was outside, or when the forecast calls for a 20-degree drop during the day. I occasionally insist that he bring along appropriate garments in case he wants them later. But I don’t force him to wear a coat, or zip it up, or keep the hood on.
Nicholas started teaching me about this a few days after he was born. Everything I had read about baby care said that your baby should wear as many layers as you are wearing yourself, plus a hat. He was born in December, so on our first day home from the hospital, I was wearing a flannel shirt over a long-sleeved thermal top over a nursing bra, jeans over cotton leggings, and three pairs of socks. It was a bit confusing to extrapolate the equivalent from his wardrobe, but I swaddled him in a flannel blanket over a long-sleeved knit jumpsuit over a T-shirt and diaper, knitted booties over socks, plus a knitted hat.
His face seemed very pink. He was grouchy.
“I think he’s hot,” said his grandmother.
I explained that he was appropriately dressed according to the instruction manual, and that I was a bit chilly myself.
His grandmother felt his neck. “He’s very sweaty,” she said.
I skeptically agreed to experiment with adjusting his layers. Nicholas sighed with relief. He liked being swaddled in a blanket, but he was much happier when he was wearing just the T-shirt and diaper under it, and no hat. He liked a hat when we went outside, and I fastened my coat around the outside of the baby carrier, but he didn’t need his own coat. Even the next winter, when he was bigger and rode outside my coat, he just wore a hooded wool sweater. He didn’t have a winter coat until he was walking on his own. Most winters, he has chosen to wear a hooded sweatshirt most days, choosing the “puffy coat” only for sub-zero days and snowstorms.
He also doesn’t mind having wet shoes. It’s incomprehensible to me–not only do wet shoes make your feet cold, but they chafe and just feel yucky! When he was a toddler and preschooler, I routinely said, “I advise you not to step in the puddles. We didn’t bring any dry clothes.” He usually stepped in the puddles anyway.
The crucial thing is: He doesn’t complain. If he chose to wear short sleeves and a light jacket and then whined about being cold, that would be a problem. If he chose to soak his sneakers and socks in a puddle and then refused to walk on wet feet, that would be a problem. But these things hardly ever happen. When they do–like the day last November when he insisted on wearing flip-flops to church but realized his feet were too cold when we were half a block from home–I let him correct the situation if at all possible, like by letting him run back to the house to change shoes. The few times we have been caught far from home with inadequate clothing for his comfort, I’ve restrained myself to saying once, “You’d be warmer in long pants,” or whatever. Haranguing on and on about how he should’ve had the basic common sense to wear long pants in February is not going to make either of us feel better. I can see that he learns from these experiences, and the next time I say, “There’s snow on the ground. This is not good weather for shorts,” he pays more attention!
The other crucial thing is: He’s not hurting himself. He may be allowing himself to get colder and wetter than I would like to be, but he’s not getting frostbite or severe blisters. He does seem to have enough sense to avoid putting himself at serious risk.
So, if you see me in my knee-length down parka, fleece ear-warmer, heavy jeans, and fuzz-lined boots, accompanied by a happy nine-year-old dressed in an unzipped cotton hoodie, T-shirt, thin pants, and wet sneakers, it’s not because I’m a negligent mother. It’s because we are two people who are each being responsible for our own comfort.
It works for me!