All nine-year-old Cady wanted to do was to wear a pantsuit to her first communion.
Her mother, Chris Mansell, says before her daughter’s scheduled communion on Oct. 1, her husband was told by the school’s church that Cady would not be allowed to wear a pantsuit to the event.
Writing her story on Facebook, the Indiana-based parents were told they were raising their daughter “wrong.”
“And that we should make her dress feminine because she doesn’t have the brain development and maturity to make decisions about how to dress,” the mom-of-three wrote on Facebook. “Cady also has a love for suits. It started when she was [four] when she asked for a bow tie. Now she’s nine and her suit and tie collection has grown.”
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According to Mansell, she bought Cady’s all-white pantsuit over the summer and posted a photo on social media of her daughter wearing it in a changing room. Typically with communions, she adds, a dress code policy would have been sent out weeks or months prior to the event, but after a photo of her daughter was shared on social media, she received an email late September about the dress code — just two weeks before the ceremony.
“The school never had problems before. She’s worn [suits] to church and school functions,” she tells Global News. “I’m always worried about her self-esteem. She felt beautiful and gorgeous [in her pantsuit] and that was important to me. To take that away from her was heartbreaking.”
Finding a new school
On Sept. 27, Mansell’s husband met with the school’s priest who told him Cady would not be allowed to come to communion in a pantsuit.
As a couple, the Mansells decided to take two of their daughters out of the school and church.
“We are leaving because he chose to say my daughter doesn’t have the mental capacity to make her own decisions. We are leaving because this man is a bully in the purest form. And I refuse to deny it any longer,” Mansell wrote on Facebook following the priest’s meeting with her husband.
“When I told Cady the priest had said he doesn’t think she should wear a suit, I told her — mom and dad are different,” Mansell says, adding she allows her daughters to wear whatever they want to express themselves.
Raised by a former Catholic nun herself, Mansell says her own mother was quite relaxed when it came to dress codes. When Mansell had her own children, she didn’t make a big deal about it either.
“Their clothes are not important. I don’t care what they wear, I have more important things to worry about,” she says. “[The pantsuit] is a way she expresses herself. They go to a Catholic school and wear uniforms, they don’t get to do this a whole lot.
Following Cady’s story, Mansell says she received hundreds of messages of support.
“Some of them from parents who say, ‘my daughter is just like Cady,’ to grown women who are telling me, ‘I was just like Cady when I was younger and I wish my mom would’ve stuck up for me or didn’t make me wear dresses,'” she says. “It’s been great.”
Let kids wear what they want
Dr. Jillian Roberts, child psychologist of Family Sparks, says children should be allowed to wear whatever they want, as long as the clothing is clean and respectful.
“There will be so many bigger issues throughout a child’s development [and] parents should save their energy for the issues that really matter,” she tells Global News. “Also, I believe it is important for kids to become aware of their own sense of agency. Giving them choice over the things that they can reasonably control, helps them to develop a sense of self-determination over time.”
And when it comes to the idea of children being “confused” about their identity at a young age, Roberts says parents should banish all of these concerns.
“Kids will become who they are meant to be, in terms of their sexual/gender identity, regardless of how they dress as a child,” she says. “Showing your child that you accept their authentic self no matter what, sets up a family to be strong, resilient and to have a kind of teflon-coating over time. It is the child’s self-worth and the parent-child relationship that really matters.”