“You look like a girl.”
And that was it — in a moment of uproarious father-son needling, my husband finally got my son to agree that cutting his wavy, thick head of hair would be a good idea. At that point, it was less Gregg Allman than Beatles moptop.
Harrison, 8, had asked me a few months ago if he could grow his hair long. It’s the style, he said. I agreed, telling him he had to get a regular trim to keep it neat.
Now Harrison was sitting in a chair in my kitchen, my husband with a pair of clippers at the ready, and I was snipping off large chunks of hair. We wanted to act before he changed his mind. Although the haircut turned out nice, Harrison backpedaled when he didn’t like what he saw in the mirror. “I wanted my hair long. You said I could grow it long,” he said.
Suddenly I was sitting in the barber’s chair again — 4 years old, watching a man cut off my long, curly locks. Now I understand why my parents did it — my baby hair had gotten unruly. But at the time, I didn’t understand. I thought I was being turned into a boy.
Hair issues followed me well into my teens, when a trip to the salon always meant a crying session once I got home.
I felt terrible about what I had done to Harrison as I tried to assure him he looked great, which he did.
I should have stuck with my original approach. By allowing Harrison to make a decision about his hair, I was giving him the flexibility to develop who he is and what he likes, and support him while doing it within boundaries, says Renee Clauselle, a child and family psychologist in private practice in Franklin Square, Garden City and Kings Park.
“One job as a parent is to teach kids to make decisions themselves so they are prepared to make them when they are adults,” she says.
And, maybe, telling him he looked like a girl really wasn’t the best idea, even though father and son were having fun with one another the way they do. “Now he’s nervous about a gender issue he shouldn’t worry about,” says Clauselle.
The day after the haircut, Harrison called me at work out of the blue. “Mommy, I’m starting to like my haircut,” he said. I was relieved. He asked if he could grow it out again, and I told him he could. Starting today.