I don’t know how long it has been since my son Jake had a haircut – long enough to lose track. At the moment, he looks like a strawberry blonde version of the mischievous children’s book character Dirty Bertie. His refusal to get a trim seems to be less about the way his hair looks and more about the process of getting it cut. He has always found having his hair cut uncomfortable, wincing and grimacing with each tug of his hair, snip of the scissors or buzz of the clippers.
For a while there, I was desperate to get his hair cut. Between his favourite clothes, covered in stains (because he wears them all the time) and his overgrown hair, I thought he looked a bit of a mess. My mother’s heart longed to see his handsome good looks. My mother’s ego felt embarrassed that his appearance may make others think he’s not very well cared for – what kind of mother is she?
I started making comments to Jake like, “Don’t you want to look smart for the birthday party/school disco/family meal out?” I gently teased him, calling him “Scruff” and “Shaggy Bear”. As his hair grew longer, I started putting pressure on him to get it cut, pointing out photos in which his hair was freshly cut and saying, “Look how handsome you are in this picture. I can see your lovely eyes”. One day, I even bribed him – if he’d get his hair cut, I’d take him out for morning tea at a café afterwards. He refused! Jake, who NEVER turns down the opportunity for a piece of cake! I realised then just how serious he was about not getting his hair cut.
Then, I caught myself. I caught myself niggling at, criticising and harassing my son. I immediately felt regretful and ashamed of the way I’d been treating him. I hadn’t been living by one of my essential soulful parenting principles – to accept my children as they are, scraggly hair and all.
To feel unconditionally loved is the greatest gift we can give our children and accepting every part of them is essential to this. Our resistance to any part of our child causes us to behave in ways that separate us from them (such as my name-calling and pressuring). I had been creating a wedge between Jake and I over something as inconsequential as his hair.
And, I asked myself, if I couldn’t find a way to accept his hair, what might I struggle to accept about him in future? He was bound to do many other more significant things I wouldn’t agree with. I wouldn’t be able to respond helpful to any of these things if I resisted them.
Let’s briefly step away from the story to clarify an important point – to accept something is not to do nothing about it. When we accept our children as they are, we are able to see what’s really going on in a situation and work with them to solve the real issues together. And we can do this in a way that empowers them to make good choices. It doesn’t have to be all judgement, disapproval and control.
After accepting the state of Jake’s hair, I realised that, this time, there is no issue to solve. It’s just hair. As parents, we don’t get to project our personal preferences (for short hair) or our insecurities (that we may be perceived as a neglectful parent) onto our children. I can’t name one valid reason why Jake’s hair is a real problem.
For me, acceptance turned out to be just a decision away. I only had to remind myself of my commitment to loving my children unconditionally and to make a better choice. I’ve stopped commenting on Jake’s hair. The tension between us has eased. I still look forward to the day when something motivates him to get a haircut but I can wait until he’s ready.
Much love to you and your little souls,
Update: Since writing this essay, Jake decided it was time to get a haircut – because he couldn’t see the ball while playing cricket.