Why I Don’t Make My Kids Dress Up For Church (Anymore)

My oldest son appeared in the kitchen, “ready to go.” He was wearing a too-small pair of shorts, mismatched holiday socks (one Halloween and one Christmas), and his shirt was on inside out and backwards. I’m not even kidding; I can’t make this stuff up.

Milo's shirt

I paused, trying to disguise my shock and concern, trying to decide if this was a battle worth fighting. He looked at me, his blue eyes tender and sincere, and waited for me to respond.

I inhaled deeply, smiled, and said, “Ok, let’s go!”

I decided to leave him be because it didn’t matter. His outfit was harmless. We were going to the park and he had followed the only two rules I’ve given my kids for dressing themselves: It must cover your private parts and it must be clean. (Truthfully, I give them wiggle room on cleanliness. We have THREE categories at our house: clean, dirty, and clirty.)

The other reason I left him alone is because it wasn’t worth diminishing the light in his tender, sincere eyes. He cares ZERO AMOUNT about his appearance; he is too busy playing baseball games in his head and keeping baseball statistics on the refrigerator.

My daughter, on the other hand, cares VERY MUCH about her outfits, and her top priorities are comfort and color. She has opinions on EVERYTHING–from how tight her pants are to how well her shades of pink match. (She wore the same hot pink dinosaur shirt to preschool EVERY SINGLE DAY last year. Even on picture day and Christmas concert day.)

sophia dinosaur shirt

My kids wear what they want when we are headed to the park or to school.

But to church?

Church is a different story.

I choose their clothes FOR them and lay them out on their beds. (67% of my children wear what I choose without complaint—I’ll let you infer which one is the defector.)


Because I grew up in a family that dressed up for church.

My friends who “knew me when” tease me about wearing white gloves to Sunday School, and, even though I have no memory of said white gloves, the story is plausible. I remember being encouraged to “look presentable” on Sunday morning.

I allow my kids to be their funny, quirky selves everywhere we go EXCEPT CHURCH.

At church, we make ourselves “presentable.”

Or at least we did until a few weeks ago.

One recent Sunday morning my computer stopped working. I had to screen shot parts of my sermon with my phone, take it to work, and retype it on my office computer before printing off my manuscript.

I was too panicked and distracted to perform my Sunday morning ritual of helping my kids find clothes for Sunday morning so David supervised instead.

David did a great job (as he always does) getting them to church, but the experience provided an opportunity for me to reflect:

Why did I make myself crazy trying to dress them for church?

Of what was I afraid?

In her book Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans writes, “We think church is for taking spiritual Instagrams and putting on our best performances. We think church is for the healthy, even though Jesus told us time and again he came to minister to the sick. We think church is for good people, not resurrected people.

“So we fake it. We pretend we don’t need help and we act like we aren’t afraid, even though no decent AA meeting ever began with, ‘Hi, my name is Rachel, and I totally have my act together.”

Why was I forcing my kids to look “presentable” in the only place it should be safe to be themselves?

Was I allowing their church to be a sanctuary where they could bring their WHOLE selves?

A refuge from the noisy world that tells them they are not enough?

Was I modeling for them how to be vulnerable in community? How to let others SEE them?

Or was I teaching them that some outfits (and behaviors and feelings and topics of conversation) are best left OUTSIDE the church’s doors?

There are two places I want my kids to belong: at home and at their church.

Making my kids dress up for church didn’t align with my values, so I decided to stop.

So, yes. If you see my family on Sunday mornings, you’re welcome to chuckle to yourself. (Last week Sophia wore a pajama shirt to church.)

But I hope you’ll also let yourself exhale because here’s the truth: however you and your family show up to Grace is okay.

You’re safe here.

Let’s relax our expectations a bit and show up as we are, without apology.

I promise if I see your child’s mismatched socks, I will fist bump you in the hallway.