What are the six words you don’t say to your mother when she’s the author of a children’s book about loving your natural hair? “Mommy, I want my hair straightened.”
Has she even met me? I was clearly having a Twilight Zone moment. I could’ve passed out! I mean, after all our conversations about loving our hair, and all the workshops I’ve held teaching parents and children to celebrate the beauty of our natural beauty, my child had the nerve to say those words to me TWO DAYS AGO!
I’ll be honest, when I first heard those words come out her mouth, I panicked. I started to frantically question myself. “Where did I go wrong? Am I a fraud?” I thought, “I wrote this book and my own child is having identity issues… Oh, God, maybe I shouldn’t have put her in this new school. She never had these issues at her neighborhood school. Did I make a mistake?” My mind was going 60 miles per hour, with question after question. And, of course, while I’m having this full discussion in my head, she—in true 5 year old fashion—was repeating in her most endearing whine, “I want my hair straightened. I want my hair straightened. I want my hair straightened….” I needed some answers before I could respond…
Seek understanding before seeking to be understood.
I stepped out of my haze, temporarily, and asked her, “Why do you want straight hair?” (There was definitely a slight hint of irritation in my voice.) She, not the least bothered by my tone, sang the praises of the tresses she longed for…. “straight hair is sooo soft and it’s sooo beautiful…” I could’ve thrown up. I’m just being honest. It’s not that I don’t believe straight hair is soft, but curly hair is soft, too. I am not one to go on a “Black is beautiful” rant, to the exclusion of other “races.” I think we’re all beautiful. With that said, I strongly believe that it is essential that my child knows her hair and all other features are just as beautiful as anyone else’s—that her classmates’ hair textures are merely different, but not better (or worse) than hers.
Think before you speak.
So many things were running through my mind, and I had heard enough. I blurted out, “Your hair is beautiful and I’m not straightening it!” Oops. Wrong move. Immediately, hysterical screaming pierced the silence her tears began to flow. My little girl was having a meltdown at 7 o’clock in the morning, blubbering and begging me to take her to Target to buy a flat iron before school. Can you imagine? Did I mention SHE IS 5 YEARS OLD?
Shift from fear to curiosity.
I took a real long, deep breath, and thought to myself, “What have I told the parents at my workshops when they ask about this?” This topic comes up all the time, but in the moment, with my own child all of it went out the window… initially. I thought about it a little harder, then remembered. I told them to celebrate the benefits of their child’s hair texture, to teach them about their own hair and the great qualities it has. And that’s what I did.
I snapped out of my moment and reminded myself that right then was really about her, and what she felt was a real need. Straightening her hair is not debatable at this age. I knew for sure that was not going to happen, and I needed to help her understand why. As she continued to chant through blubbering tears, “I want my hair straightened,” I dramatically grabbed my chest like Fred Sanford, slumped over, and pretended to pass out. lol I needed to break the tension and shift her energy. She laughed, even though she didn’t want to. This gave me my “in” to tell her how I really felt…
Tell the truth.
I said, “Your hair is beautiful.” She responded, “No, it’s not!” I said, “Your curls are so pretty.” She replied through tears, “I hate my curly hair. I want it straight!” It wasn’t working, but I kept going. I told her that her hair texture allows her the flexibility to do so many different styles. I explained to her that “natural hair” does things that straight hair doesn’t. (I told her this as a fact, without making it seem as if curly hair is better than straight.) She began to calm down. I shared stories with her of former co-workers who asked me to two- strand twist their hair, and how I told them that their hair wouldn’t be able to hold the style. She began to ask questions about other experiences like that…. I talked to her until she began to feel blessed to have her hair texture and was no longer envious of anyone else’s….
I did such a good job that she now wants me to do this style!
Although it caught me off guard initially, it is not uncommon for our children (or for ourselves) to desire to look like someone they admire, or to want to “fit in” by looking more like their peers. I believe it is our job to help our kids see value in being themselves—to teach them that “we are ALL beautiful as is.”
Author of I’m Proud to Be Natural Me!