A Guide to Traditional Southern Motherhood*

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I’m what I have dubbed a “first generation southerner.” I have the accent (a little bit) but not the pedigree, the values but not the traditions. One set of grandparents was from New England, the other set from Ohio. Both ended up in South Florida, and neither were “traditional southern” grandparents. My grandmothers were not fixin’ homemade biscuits in the kitchen. One chain-smoked on the porch while speaking rapid French on the phone (actual French, not cursing. Although I’m sure there was some of that too). The other served up Little Debbie honey buns and OJ for breakfast and sat us in front of Scooby-Doo while she counted down the hours to our scheduled departure and their next scheduled trip somewhere around the globe. One grandpa is the son of Italian immigrants and has the giant family and boisterous laugh to prove it. The other was a loyal and hard working midwesterner who valued long-term investments and keeping your elbows off the table during meals. 

My parents met while they were studying at the University of Florida. Go Gators. My mom was the first in her family to get a college degree. After graduation they made their way to northwest Florida, and my younger brothers and I grew up in a small town in the panhandle. My dad worked hard, but was at the beginning of his career and had a long climb. My mom stayed home with us and did volunteer work. I’d describe our culture growing up as “country with a splash of beach when we drove the 45 minutes to get to it.” Y’all know Florida is … special. We lived outside city limits in a small 3 bed, 2 bath house on 3 wooded acres surrounded by hundreds more wooded acres. There was a two-person fishing boat overturned on cinder blocks in the yard. Dogs, children, and chickens run amok. We knew which snakes were venomous and which were safe to try to catch while shouting “Crikey! What a beauty!” If we got lost in the woods, we found the creek or power lines and followed them to somewhere we recognized. Our clothes were mostly hand-me-downs, and we just had to hope that the older kid from church who outgrew them was vaguely stylish. Vacations were usually to visit the grandparents in south Florida (they both had pools!). 

Leaving my hometown and moving to Auburn for college was a culture shock. There was a mall, like, right there! And a ton of restaurants and shopping options! It was overwhelming. I also realized rather quickly that the vast majority of my classmates came from more money than my family. I was on a full academic scholarship, or would not have been there at all. Calling my dad to ask him to refill my bank account for food and basics was typically preceded by a few tears and a self pep-talk. I inherited my parents’ notions of self-sufficiency, and it physically pained me to ask for help. 

When I became a mom, my eyes were opened to a whole new Southern world that I was decidedly not a part of. I had a lot to learn, and I was already behind. Did you know you’re supposed to have a door hanger with your baby’s name on it for your hospital room?? The doctor should hand you a “southern mom” manual when you get the positive pregnancy test. As a service to my fellow outsiders, I decided to create one. Please note that this is all in good fun. My daughter has worn some absolutely adorable outfits we’ve been given as gifts, and I cherish the photos of her in them. I love Alabama and do not want to be kicked out, please and thank you. 

“Please help us.”

A Guide to Traditional Southern Motherhood*

*as interpreted by a southern peasant

Traditional Southern Kids Clothing 

    • First we must cover some basic vocabulary:
      • Smocking – A way of manipulating fabric into pleats, and can include embroidery on those pleats. Typically seen across the chest or neck in Southern clothing and accompanied by puffed sleeves in girls clothing. 
      • Bubbles – The South’s version of a onesie. Loose fitting around the body, but fitted around the legs creating a “bubble” effect. Used for both boys and girls.
      • Jon Jon – Boy’s romper, sleeveless and shorts length. The pants version is called a Longall. Can be worn with a Peter Pan collar shirt underneath. 
      • Bishop dress – a loose fitting dress with smocking at the top. 
    • All children’s clothing should be both weather and seasonally appropriate – and those are two different things because this is the South. Your Easter clothes may have long sleeves, and your Christmas clothes might have short sleeves. It’s up to you to predict all possible combinations of weather and holiday and plan accordingly because clothes have to be ordered months in advance of every major and minor holiday.
    • Tops should match bottoms for both girls and boys. That is mind-numbingly obvious for Southern moms. But not for everyone else. 
    • Bows for girls’ hair are not at all dependent on the size of the girl’s head. The bow needs to be at least 1/3 the size of her head. “Too big” does not belong in a southern mom’s vocabulary regarding hair bows.
    • Knee socks should accompany any outfit not covering legs for formal occasions. Add bows to the socks for girls. 
    • Siblings must match. Yes, the boys will end up looking like girls in all these clothes. Southern moms don’t care. At least while the boys are in grade school. 
    • Don’t forget the personalization! A name, monogram (see below), or at very least an initial (if you’re too poor for the whole name) should be embroidered on all clothing with an empty spot. Exceptions are made for outfits that have holiday designs on the smocking and no room for a name. Use your judgment. Don’t be tacky. But wait, you might be asking, aren’t we supposed to not put our kids’ names on their things for safety reasons? Technically, yes, but we’re willing to risk it. At least they’ll be adorable if they get kidnapped!
    • Be prepared to spend the GDP of a small developing nation on your child’s wardrobe from birth through grade school. 

Monograms 

    • Baby naming is serious business in the South. Not only do you have to consider what their initials will look like ‘First, Middle, Last,’ but you also have to consider what their monogram will look like ‘First, Last, Middle.’ Why? Because their monogram will be on everything they own. Onesies, diaper covers, shirts, dresses, bows, hats, socks, backpacks, blankets, lovies, jewelry, the back of their future SUVs, etc. No surface is safe from a Southern mom with a cricut.

Holidays 

    • Celebrations of major holidays last a week minimum, and there should be matching outfits for every single day.
    • Easter is the biggest holiday of the year in terms of southern children’s clothing, followed closely by Christmas, and then the 4th of July. Don’t forget the week of the Masters! But wait, the Masters? As in … golf? That’s not a holiday. WRONG. Bless your heart.
    • Minor holidays can get away with 1-2 themed outfits. 
    • Door hangers/front porch decorations should be updated frequently to reflect the current holiday season. 
    • Don’t forget St. Patrick’s Day! We don’t actually know anything about it, but the “St.” part makes us think it’s probably Christian, so we’ve adopted it. Plus, shamrocks and rainbows on clothes are so cute!

Parties 

    • Parties must have themes. No basic pizza, ice cream, and randomly strewn balloons here. Kid birthdays are an EVENT. 
    • Neutrals and tasteful pastels are preferred. Bright colors are a bit gauche, but you can get away with one dominant color if it goes with the theme. If your kid is insistent on some awful character theme (hopefully they’ll grow out of their poor taste), at least make all the colors a bit washed out. 
    • Make sure you book your blow-up or glamping rentals early. Bounce houses now come in white and beige for your convenience. Can’t have too much color in the photos of the party or it’ll throw off the aesthetics of your Insta feed
    • Same for any entertainment such as princesses, balloon artists, animal rentals, or sword swallowers.  
    • Party favors should also go with the theme and have personalized tags with a cute rhyming saying on them. 
    • Find your preferred custom cake and sugar cookie bakers early and book them way in advance. Y’all know those cakes and cookies take forever to make, and the baker may need specific cutters and stencils depending on your theme.

Preschool & School  

    • All holidays should be celebrated with treats for each classmate with personalized tags “from” your child. Etsy will be your friend, go ahead and just put that app right on your front page. Once you have kids in preschool you realize there are way more holidays than you thought there were. 
    • Keeping up with class parties and holidays can be a lot so make sure you are always checking the calendar several weeks to a month in advance to prepare.
    • Don’t forget the teacher’s gifts! Christmas, teacher appreciation week, and end of school are all gift giving times. Beginning of school also, if you really want to make sure they pay attention to your darling. 

Activities 

    • “We’ve been so busy with activities lately, and then there was the t-ball drama.”

         “Hahahaha! For a second I thought you said ‘t-ball’ drama, like the baby version of              baseball”

         “I did say t-ball.”

           “…”

    • For some southern parents, sports are their religion and kids’ church starts EARLY. Instead of getting therapy for their childhood wounds or trauma, these parents decide to funnel all that pain and hurt directly at the competition, or their child’s teammates and their parents. Beware. 
    • Make sure you get on all the lists for summer camps and swim lessons by Christmas, otherwise your kid doesn’t stand a chance. Expect to shell out the equivalent of a year of college tuition for a week of camp. 

 

 

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Sarah Savage
Sarah Savage is originally from Crestview, Florida, but has called the Auburn/Opelika area home for the last 13 years. She graduated from Auburn in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in Human Development and Family Studies. She and her husband, Jonathan, have a five year old daughter and a two year old son. Sarah works part time from home as a Communications Editor for Auburn University, but spends most of her time attempting to keep her kids from climbing—and subsequently falling off—furniture and providing an endless supply of snacks. She enjoys working out, reading, baking, listening to podcasts, and post dinner stroller walks with her family.

1 COMMENT

  1. Whew girl, I think you covered it! I have always lived in the South but have decidedly opted out of all of the Southern mama stuff. My youngest did happen to share a monogram with the daughter of one of my college friends who is a much better Southern mama and she got some cute monogram hand-me-downs that way. The underworld of online boutique shopping could be its own post!

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