My 9-Year-Old Daughter Wanted to Shave Her Head . . . So I Let Her
There’s a piece of advice out there that’s easy to give and hard to live, if you’re a parent. Let your kids discover for themselves who they are, and by extension: let them make mistakes, and let them do things that allow them to stand out, within reasonable bounds.
For many of us, with our kids, our first instinct is to hold tighter. When they’re toddlers, we go to catch them when they’re falling, and hurriedly reassure them they’re okay. But 99% of the time, they aren’t hurt or even bothered by falling. If anything, it’s us adults overreacting that causes them to freak out.
And so it is with kids who are beginning to discover who they are. We can’t make those decisions for them. We can’t answer those questions. What are their likes and dislikes? What parts of their personality are they proud of? What makes them mad? How do they make choices?
These things are so important for allowing our kids to form who they are . . . but how many of us actually let them do these things?
It’s taken me two years to loosen the reins as a parent, and only then because I finally began to see the damage I was doing by trying to control everything. Sophie basically didn’t have control over anything . . . so she lost control over everything.
As Luke and I began to blend our family together, we found what worked for the kids. Giving them control over their bedtime meant that if they abused it by, say, staying up too late on a school night and not doing well on a test, then they would have a consequence: a week of a bed time we chose. (This never happened, by the way. They often put themselves to bed at 9pm).
We put a TV and DVD player in their bedroom, something I used to be adamantly against. However, like everything else, I discovered that once the sheen wore off the concept, they never abused the privilege. In fact, my daughter asked me one night when it was just her, “Do I have to turn the TV on?” And P.S. - if you think it’s not a miracle for four children to agree on a movie at bedtime every night, you’ve never seen the miracle in action. Not one time have they ever fought over what movie they are watching. If anyone disagrees . . . rock, paper, scissors – done.
It was a slow process of undoing the damage I had caused from me trying to be in control. I had to understand that there was a difference between parenting . . . and dictating. I had to learn that when you give kids reasonable choices within boundaries, they learn to make choices, and work things out. I don’t have to walk around with the constant worry, the time schedule, or the endless task list anymore.
And yet, sometimes, there’s still things that happen that freak me out. When Sophie mentioned a while back that she’d like her hair cut like Daddy’s, I never really believed she’d go through with it. But Sophie is Sophie: a stubborn, bossy, smart child full of attitude. And I wouldn’t want her any other way.
So the call came on a Thursday afternoon as I was picking up some groceries. Luke had taken his son Jake and Sophie to his brother’s house for haircuts. Jake got his head shaved. Luke said Sophie was next and she was pumped. I spazzed out right there in Walmart, as I envisioned street punks or cancer victims. “How short? Are the sides going to be (gasp!) shaved? Like actually shaved? Will she look sick? Will people think she needs a fundraiser? And . . . how short?”
Luke assured me that I would see it when it was done (thanks) and that Sophie was still all in. He called again after the cut to let me know they were on their way home. I was still panicked with images in my head. But I knew I needed to accept that this was what she wanted. So I asked one question, “What does Sophie think of it?” The answer: “She absolutely loves it.”
For some reason, that’s all I needed to hear. It didn’t matter what it looked like. Hair grows back, and it's something she can experiment freely with. It didn’t matter if she shaved her head forever, or dyed it blue (which I would do myself anyway if I could), or if she 80’s permed it. She loved it. And that was good enough for me.
She more than loved it. In fact, she cut off her own ponytail gleefully and giggled on the video Luke took as her sides were – yes – shaved.
Later, when Sophie got home, I had to come out on the porch with my eyes closed for the unveiling. The hair on top of her head was an inch, maybe. The sides and back were shaved. You could feel her soft little vulnerable head. But it was totally badass. Just like her - she is a Gemini after all. Soft and vulnerable, but totally badass to cover it all up.
So, my nine-year-old daughter shaved her head. She spikes it up with mousse and sprays it blue. It’s totally awesome and totally her. As the night wore on after she cut it, I found myself feeling incredibly proud of her. She didn’t care what anyone else thought of her decision. She wanted to try this haircut, and she had the courage to go for it. It’s that go-get-it attitude I wish I had. She has it, at nine.
When we tell our kids we accept them as they are, we have to mean it. We have to accept that this is actually who they are, and love them for all of it. Help them when they need help, and set them straight when they want to act like an ass. But love them for all of it.
I love my daughter and her spiky blue shaved head. But more importantly, I love that her hair represents the courage she has to be herself, no apologies. It’s a hell of a thing for a nine-year-old to teach her mom.