Last month we let our seven year old daughter get her hair chemically straightened. As you can imagine this caused some serious debate, and even name calling, among our family and friends. I didn't choose to address it right away because I was far too stung by the actions and words of people who love us, but now that I'm calmed down I'd like to take a second to express how and why this happened.
My daughter had some serious curly hair. Picture Shirley Temple without the personal hairdresser. It caused her to scream in pain every morning when we brushed it. It frizzed straight out from her head and defied every shampoo, conditioner, leave in conditioner, anti-frizz oil, detangler spray and curl gel that man has made. She spent every second she could with a blanket tied tightly around her head, ashamed. She hated herself. I saw her in the mirror, more than once, poke at her hair, pull on it, and then tear up. Everywhere we went strangers would compliment her hair. At the mention of her curls, her head would drop and she'd go silent. All smiles were gone, all rays of sunshiny happiness disappeared.
She had been asking me for well over a year if I would straighten her hair. We started using a flat iron and doing it on the weekends, but I told her that without a doubt she would never have chemicals dumped on her head when she was still so little. Then one day, it happened. She came to me and said, "Momma, why do my brother and sister get to pick their own haircut and do whatever they want to their hair and I don't? That's not fair." Well, what could I say to that? I tried explaining chemicals, toxicity and brain function. I even went so far as to tell her that when you put chemicals on your head it burns and stings and hurts you. But in the end she knew that that wasn't an answer to her question. I discussed it with my husband and I told him how I felt about the dangers of dousing her virgin scalp in dangerous chemicals and do you know what he did? He put his arm around me and said, "I agree. It's far better to dump five chemicals on it every morning instead." Well, what the hell, man? Now I was stuck and I was quite obviously the odd man out in this situation.
I still didn't cave right away. I am nothing if not stubborn, especially when I think I'm right. I'll stand up against everyone I've ever met and never back down if I'm sure of myself. So I said no and that was that.
The next few months I started looking at my parenting. I think I'm doing a stellar job of it, by the way, but here's the thing. In my regular day to day parenting, I don't tell my kids what to do. I know, right! You're thinking that I must, that's my job. You're wrong. I don't feel that is my job at all. I feel that I am most effective at my job when I view it as a partnership- like helping with homework. I don't sit there and tell them the answer. I ask questions. I guide and lead, but I never tell the answer or the equation needed to find it. I make them remember that on their own and then I become a reassuring presence. "I have to take 5 away from 7 right? Cause there was 7 and then they gave 5 away?".. "Yes, honey, I think that's right." Or, "Why is your sister crying? Did something hurt her?.. How did that happen?.. Do we want to hurt each other?.. What could we change next time? What should we do now?" I am not where my kids go to find answers, I am where they come to double check the answers they already have. They seek confirmation, they seek acceptance of their decisions, but they never seek answers. And quite frankly, that's how I want it. I am here behind them as a support, but they walk on their own, and someday I'll be gone and they'll fly solo without my support, without my reassuring smile.
So, why then, was this whole hair situation so different??
I still don't know, but I knew there was only one thing to do. I had to help her find information. I asked her what she thought about it, if she had any concerns or questions and what information she already had. The only information she already had was that it used dangerous chemicals and would make her hair straight. That is certainly not enough knowledge to make an informed decision and I had to fix that. We headed to the salon for a consultation and sat down with the hairdresser and my daughter asked a million questions. On the way home I asked her what she thought and she said that, although it had been interesting, she wanted to mull it over for a little while before she finalized anything. I thought to myself, 'Way to go, kiddo!!' and I still foolishly thought that she'd see how very right I was and make the decision that I deemed to be correct. I was wrong.
Two weeks later she came to me and said that she still wanted it done. I couldn't back out now. Not without being a liar, not without showing my child that I didn't believe in her ability to know what was best for her and I do trust her, she does make good decisions and so I made the call and scheduled her appointment and off I went, debit card in hand, to smile through my disdain.
It's been a month and I have no doubt that I was wrong. My daughter is a beam of sunshine again. A giggly, happy, carefree little girl. She doesn't hide under blankets, she doesn't tear up in the mirror and she doesn't miss the compliments. What I failed to realize is that she wasn't doing this out of a thought that she had to be something else, she was doing this only for herself. If it had been for everyone else, she would've kept the curls that strangers coveted.
My children fly higher when I don't hover over them, hogging their air space. They're happiest when they do things for themselves, just like they were when they were toddlers and I let them get the juice out of the refrigerator. My outlook on parenting may not be yours, it might not even work in your house, but it's the only thing that works in mine and that's ok. And yours is ok, even if it isn't mine. There's no need to be displeased, no need to call names, only a need to love and support each other. I'm ok, you're ok, our kids are ok and everything's gonna turn out for the best in the end, even if we don't take the same paths to get there.
So, if you see one of your friends doing something with their kids that you don't agree with this week- step back, take a deep breath, and just love them through it. If you are right, there will be plenty of time for I-told-you-so when they fall and come to you. Alienate them now and you won't be their first call in times of need, robbing yourself of that ego boost you apparently so desperately need.