I have been a mother for 17 years. I have three children, and between three different souls, I feel I’ve been exposed to every parenting situation in the book. However, with my middle daughter, Gianna, I received a lesson for the books. She taught me one of the biggest lessons I’ve had as a mother thus far.
As a parent, it’s my job to teach my kids right from wrong, to respect others, and to think before they speak. I hope that my children are confident, empathetic, independent thinkers who learn through my positive example not to judge others based on their looks, beliefs, race, or gender.
Judgment and gender have played a major role in my family. It’s something that I have struggled with for a few years. When my kids were young, I dressed them how I wanted them to look. I followed the stereotypical gender norms to a T; from clothing to toys, books and bikes, I was all for pink and blue.
When my daughter entered first grade, I noticed a shift. She was no longer interested in pink dresses and headbands; she made it abundantly clear that she wanted to dress like her brother—Hanes white T-shirt and all. We fought constantly and I was always coming up with reasons why she couldn’t wear that white T-shirt. I hated that shirt.
One trying morning, picture day, we both completely lost it. She wanted to wear the white T-shirt she loved so dearly. I was adamant that she wore a dress, or something, in my mind, “more appropriate” for picture day.
“You can’t wear that T-shirt to school. It’s picture day, and you’re wearing this dress—end of discussion!”
Enter the tears and tantrum. It was at that moment that I realized I was tired. She was tired. I remember thinking I could either continue fighting over her choice of clothing, or I could pick and choose my battles. If this was any indication of what life with her was going to be like, I was certain there would be many battles ahead of us. I looked down at her and instantly saw the sadness in her eyes. I quickly realized that she was begging me to allow her to explore her individuality. This was not easy for me, but I did let her explore.
As the years went by, as much as I loved her uniqueness, I also struggled with it. I was envious of her, yet I was scared for her. I witnessed kids teasing her because she was the little girl wearing “boy” clothes and playing basketball with the boys instead of playing house at recess like many of the girls did. I also saw my little girl become more and more comfortable in her own skin. I saw my little girl beam with confidence, strength, bravery, and overall happiness with who she was. She didn’t care what others said or thought about her—which, when you think about it, is something that most adults struggle to achieve in their lifetime.
Then it happened. For a couple years, she had been making comments about wanting to cut her hair. She didn’t want just a regular haircut, she wanted, as she called it, a “boy” haircut. She had long, beautiful hair, and I was not at all ready to let her cut it. I kept thinking that if I ignored her, she would change her mind. However, she was determined, and she had her mind set on cutting her hair like a boy.
I absolutely hated the idea of her having a “boy” hair cut. I knew what she had encountered in elementary school and feared what would come as she entered middle school. She already dressed like a boy and to eliminate her long hair would only add fuel to a fire that I didn’t know how to extinguish. I am her mom, her ultimate protector, how could I let her do this knowing what she could potentially encounter as she prepared to enter a new school, with new kids and new teachers?
I was afraid. I didn’t know how I would handle seeing her with short hair. I know it’s only hair and that it grows back. Logically, I understood that part, but emotionally I just was not ready. To me, her hair was the only thing that I had left, the only thing that made her look like a little girl. However, I kept thinking, if I don’t let her do this, I might wake up to see that she took the scissors to her hair herself.
I realized that I had to let go. I had to allow her to make this choice for herself; I had to have as much confidence in her as she already had in herself. She was trying to express herself and the only way that she knew how to do that was through her clothing and her hair. I knew in my heart that she would be happier with short hair, but I had been mentally resisting it.
Together my daughter and I drove to Sport Clips. I looked over at her sitting next to me and saw the excitement in her eyes as she looked back at me. When we arrived at the salon, our stylist, Jackie, was there, and to be honest, I’m not sure I could have made it through that haircut without her. She made my daughter feel so special by mentioning how “cool” she thought she was for being such a confident young woman.
As each clump of hair hit the floor, I watched as my daughter shed her skin and slid perfectly into the one she was meant to be in. By the time the last strand was cut, I could tell that it was the happiest moment of her life and one that we would both cherish. I watched as she looked at herself in the mirror; she had the biggest smile on her face, a smile I had never seen before. What I witnessed was not only a life-changing moment for her, but also one for me.
Looking back, I understand that it had nothing to do with the length of her hair and everything to do with me wanting to protect her. But I can’t. We can’t. We can’t protect our children from everything, especially themselves. My daughter is happy, she is proud of who she is, and she ended up teaching me one of the greatest life lessons: Sometimes we need to allow our children to pave their own path, so they can create their own identity.