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Why Kids Rebel Against Tyranny of Socks
By Heidi Stevens
Socks wield an outsize share of power in our home.
The power to derail an otherwise pleasant morning. The power to render athletic, spirited, independent-minded children helpless. The power to make us late. (Especially the power to make us late.)
My children hate socks. Can’t find socks. Can’t put on their own socks. Can’t stand the feel of socks.
I know there is a spectrum of sensory disorders, some of which make the seams and fabric of socks practically unbearable for some children. That is not the case with my children, who are 7 and 11.
If a birthday party requires socks for climbing or bouncing, they don them without incident. They exhibit zero signs of sensory issues and every known sign of sock rebellion.
A typical morning exchange:
Me: Ready to go?
Me: Where are your socks?
Them: Can you find us some? Then can you put them on us? But in a really specific way that doesn’t make it feel like we’re wearing socks?
I’m paraphrasing, but you know what I mean. I know you know what I mean. I posted a query on Facebook last week asking parents whether socks are a source of stress, and 139 people chimed in almost immediately.
“We missed the school bus at least twice a week because THE SOCK WAS ON WRONG TAKE IT OFF TAKE IT OFF TAKE IT OFF!” wrote a man whose daughter is now in college.
“Everyday they have to wear socks,” wrote a mom of six. “Yet everyday they act completely surprised when I ask them to go get socks and put them on.”
And so on.
I ran this all by Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist and author of The Blessing of a B Minus (Scribner), whose parenting advice is wise and wonderful.
She wasn’t even a little surprised. Parents, she said, come to her with sock woes almost constantly.
“Socks are a perfect symbol of everything happening in families right now,” she said.
Children are over-scheduled, over-rushed and under constant pressure to achieve, she said. They’re almost never carefree and barefoot.
At the same time, they’re over-indulged. They have too much stuff and not enough responsibility. So the idea of tracking down their own socks strikes them as ridiculous.
“All of which manifests itself in lost socks, mismatched socks, sock refusal and lack of age-appropriate sock stewardship,” Mogel told me. “Socks have become the parolee’s ankle bracelet.”
Children need more freedom and more responsibility, she said.
“They don’t have enough ordinary responsibilities and chores,” Mogel said. “We treat them like royalty.”
Partly because we want to free them up to perform — at school, in sports, in assemblies and concerts. We’ve stripped them of chores, but we also managed to strip them of unstructured downtime.
So they’re left feeling dependent and resentful instead of independent and strong.
“Parents find themselves caught in a situation where kids are saying, ‘You can make me do a lot of things, but you can’t make me put on my socks,’” she said.
I won’t pretend to know what happens in your household. (I can barely keep up with what’s happening in mine.) But if any of what Mogel is saying sounds familiar, it could be behind some of the mini-rebellions we witness in our kids.
Her words resonate with me — especially the part about stripping our kids of chores. My kids have none, and that’s mostly because I want them to have a little downtime. But instead of saying no to one more play date, one more team, one more club at school, I say yes to it all and then give them a pass on most household responsibilities.
I’ve always figured I’d remedy this before they head to college because I don’t want them to flail about when it comes time to launder their bedding and wash their own dishes. I hadn’t thought of it as the root of our sock problems.
For an immediate fix, Mogel suggested having kids lay out their outfits — including socks — the night before.
For the longer term, she suggested having kids take on everything they’re capable of doing themselves.
“Kids can’t pay the mortgage or the rent,” she said. “They can’t drive. But they can do an awful lot of things that their parents do for them.”
Including, in my house, tracking down socks.
May 8, 2017