Maintaining My Mixed Kid's Hair Is A Nightmare

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 
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My 3-year-old son hates getting his hair brushed or combed. It’s fairly curly, but it kinks up in a few spots and so daily maintenance and detangling are absolutely necessary. But realistically, that daily maintenance is more like weekly maintenance because, well, he hates getting his hair brushed. It has always been an issue for us, but it is definitely not getting easier as he gets older. And frankly, I don’t have the energy to fight with him about it, especially in the winter when he can just wear a hat. Bonus: He looks cute with bedhead.

He got his first haircut when he was 2 1/2. He was kind of bald until he was about 18 months and then all of a sudden this mop top just appeared out of nowhere. I tried to hold out for as long as I could because I honestly love the idea of a little boy with long hair. It wasn’t as curly back then; it was mostly straight, but it would curl at the ends. But the straight part of his hair was kind of stringy and would become knotted easily, so eventually I got sick of pulling tangled mats out of his hair while he screamed in agony. That’s when I gave in and scheduled his first haircut.

I spent weeks deciding where to take him. (This was a big step for me, so back off.) My best friend kept telling me to just take him to a damn barbershop and be done with it, but I knew that wasn’t going to work. He’s mixed (his dad is white, and I’m black), and his hair is pretty soft. And since it’s also a combination of straight and curly, I knew I needed someone who was really good with scissors and styling black hair. Plus, it had to be kid-friendly or at least accommodating to a child who would be loud and squirmy.

There were a few kiddie salons near me, but they had really mixed reviews on Yelp, and I wasn’t going to take the risk that they might jack up my kid’s hair. I finally found a kiddie salon in New York City’s West Village that looked promising. It had cute little salon chairs modeled after cars and boats, and each station had a DVD player so your child could pick out a movie to watch. Plus, they’d blow bubbles to hold their attention while they got their hair cut. Bubbles! My kid loves bubbles! I was sold.

And of course he cried through the entire haircut. The stylist, bless her, was incredibly patient with him and guided me on how to hold him while an assistant blew bubbles for him and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse played on the television. (Sensory overload, perhaps.) He cried harder when I took a video to send to his dad and some pictures for Instagram. Everyone warned me that once I started cutting his hair I was going to have to keep going back for maintenance, but I told her to give it a good shape that would still look cute if it grew out. There’s no way I can go through this more than I absolutely have to. No, thanks.

Usually, most of the maintenance comes during his bath time because obviously it’s easier to detangle when it’s wet. By the time we get to washing and conditioning his hair, he’s already in a bad mood because I’ve made him stop playing to get washed up. So he screams and cries like I’m torturing him while I shampoo. Then there’s a whole set of fresh tears when I have to apply conditioner and begin to comb out the freaking tangles.

For a long time, I used a wide tooth comb, which was effective, but took far too long on a screaming toddler. Now I’ve switched to the Wet Brush, which is a godsend. He still screams while I work out the tangles and rinse, and then screams some more when I apply his leave-in conditioner (I know, more product, but like I said, tangles — so many tangles) and brush it again.

But I am truly lucky because for a kid who’s half black, his hair is really soft and generally manageable with regular conditioning. My hair is seriously coarse (I prayed throughout my pregnancy that my son wouldn’t get my hair), and I remember my mom telling me that I would scream like a banshee every time she combed it. I’m getting my comeuppance.

The biggest thing I’ve learned dealing with my mixed child’s hair is that hair product is my friend. It takes time, and trial and error, to find a product(s) that you really like. I quickly realized that regular baby shampoo would not work for us. His hair doesn’t get greasy or dry so I am able to get away with less frequent washing. Thank goodness for leave-in conditioner. It saves my sanity.

I hope that one day, like me, he outgrows the need for a loud-ass tantrum whenever we wash and comb his hair, but I also know that day isn’t coming anytime soon. Until then, I muster through until the day when I no longer have to wash his hair, and he can take care of it himself.

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