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To My Daughter: See, Hair’s The Thing..

I’m up early this morning, holding my breath and praying about my daughter’s hair. Why would her follicles warrant something as serious as that? Because, yesterday was a different verse of her favorite song of late, her talking about wanting to straighten her hair. The first time she talked about it I listened but gave her a firm no. The second time, I listened, then looked at the links for the non-chemical straighteners she had passed along. The third time (yesterday) admittedly, I didn’t handle it well at all.

It would be different I think has I not gone through so much hell with my own hair, chemically straightening it for more than three decades before finally, fully embracing it, and myself.  When I asked her over and over why she wanted her hair straight, something she couldn’t put into words, other than choking out, “ I just don’t like it.”

This is one of those moments I had to put my foot down. As many of you know, I’m a big believer in natural consequences but I’m also a HUGE believer in natural hair and the thought of her going through what I did for so many years, was just too painful.

I tried to explain to her that her hair is what makes her unique; it’s who she is. And maybe that’s why it was so shocking to me, it felt like, her trying to change something has fundamental and fabulous as her hair, was like rejecting who she is and to an extent, me.

We worked on her hair a bit yesterday, I took time to explain the pros and cons of having curly hair, and that no matter how she wears it there is work involved (because that’s a big part of it too, she doesn’t want to invest the time). By the end of the evening, her hair was washed, freshly twisted and the crisis had been averted. For now.

I fully expect it to rear its ugly head again and for that, I am bracing myself. I’m trying to remember what it was like to be a teenager and want to fit in, after all I was about the age she is now when I got my hair chemically-straightened for the first time. Maybe it’s time for me to back out of it, to stop looking at her hair as though it were my own or wishing it was. Maybe it’s mom who needs to get a grip, to stop digging in so much on this and let her do what she wants with her locks. Or maybe, as is my secret and fervent prayer, she wakes up one morning, thrilled with what God gave her and accepts it, and herself, just the way she is.

What do you think about this? Should I let her do what she wants with her hair, even though it involves chemicals? Should I continue to try to make her see her natural beauty? Have your kids ever wanted to do something this drastic? How did you handle it?

But wait, there’s more!

The Transformation of Rene
My “Target Moment”: How I Left TV News Behind
Hair Care: My Top 5 Hair Growth Secrets

28 Comments

  1. Ella Rucker

    January 26, 2012 at 6:44 am

    Great piece, Rene. One of the many reasons I thought a boy would be better. I thank GOD that Joelle’s hair MIGHT not be lockable because I love mine, but there is going to be a fight when she’s five and doesn’t realize she will one day want to cut them out. Yeah. I’m already thinking that thought.

    She’s not rejecting you. I don’t know what you should do, but maybe have her talk to one of her chemically altered friends to see how much work really goes into the process. Maybe a once a month trip to the hairstylist to get the dreaded but not permanent “press and curl”? Maybe you are going to have to do more work temporarily straightening it to keep a compromise in place?

    Going to stay on the fence, but her hair, her journey. Think of how many people change their course once they get to “that place” where they full accept themselves. That’s where we all our now with our hair. And it took us a while.

  2. Belinda Belle

    January 26, 2012 at 6:49 am

    …let her discover it for herself, and who knows she might never straighten her hair after this…

  3. pattyrowland

    January 26, 2012 at 7:17 am

    not being a woman of color i can’t relate to the hair issue…being a mom’s another story…gem, i have 2 grown girls – 27 and 20…your hair journey was exactly that – yours…casey knows how you feel and has seen you go thru everything that you’ve gone thru regarding your journey but she has to go down her own path…as mothers our daughters do alot of things that we don’t like…my eldest got a tongue ring fairly young and a tramp stamp…my youngest went thru all the odd piercings and has more tatoos than i care to think about but just like their bodies, their hair is their own and we have no control over it…your kids are young…you will have so many more things to fight over in the coming years…as they say, pick your battles! good luck!!!!! xoxoxooxox

  4. Michel

    January 26, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Yes Rene, here’s the thing. Keep up the good fight. Just like in so many other areas of their lives, we want our children to listen to us, and not go through the pain and consequences we went through. But, we all have to go through our own personal hair journey. If not now, when she goes off to college, that gorgeous hair will be permed and then cut off. Eventually, she will embrace her natural hair again, and say “Mom, you were right”.

  5. Jacki Marie

    January 26, 2012 at 7:29 am

    My daughter came to me a few years after she begged me to cut her hair and told me of her regrets. Your daughter needs to talk to my daughter who now thinks her mommy is wise. 🙂
    Unfortunately, this is her (hair) journey and the best and most sure way to learn something is to make a mistake. (I know that makes you cringe because that’s exactly what I’m doing now) In the last year, I stopped relaxing my hair, and then stopped straightening it and had it cut, wore the tiny afro for a while and then when it started to get too long…. I straightened it and not knowing about heat protectors, I ruined my natural curl.
    The major thing I realized thru all of this is that hair is work. The longer it is, the more work it requires. Keeping it straight (relaxer or with heat) is even more work, because the slightest bit of humidity can cause hours of work to disappear in an instant. Present her with the info, maybe even give her an age restriction, but ultimately, it’s her decision. The hardest lesson in parenting is learning when to let go.

  6. Taqwaa F. Saleem

    January 26, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Natural hair was my best gift to myself in 2010 after 15 years of relaxers and turning my “long hair don’t care” nose up at natural women. She has too, hopefully, find the beauty and comfort of her naturalness on her own. That’s the only way she’ll have peace with her hair. (it’s still work but that peace makes it worth it.) I wish I knew at age nine not to ask for and celebrate the “perm” Ma had put it my hair but I know better now. It’s a big girl decision, one your daughter ultimately has to make for herself. I hope she decides to remain on team natural and embrace her gift. You, Mommy, keep trying to intercede in the meantime. It’s not about you though or her hair really….all about her and her finding herself.

  7. Smac

    January 26, 2012 at 7:31 am

    She can actually have it blown out with a hair dryer and a brush WITHOUT chemicals to see what it looks like. Tell her to try that for a while before adding chemicals.

  8. Rene Syler

    January 26, 2012 at 7:43 am

    @Smac: Yeah we’ve done that too.. her hair is so curly that when she sweats or it’s too hot.. well, you know what happens..

  9. DebbieBFly

    January 26, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Dearest Gem, We are not our hair? Tell me, who believes that?Your daughter looks to have surpassed the threshold most little gems throw in the towel (10-14). It’s usually for manageability, versatility, and a healthier option than 400 degree flat irons. Little gem’s hair is so plentiful (she’s a regular hair farmer, looks like to me), that she could experiment, doo straight and flowy, decide she wants the natural curls back, cut it and still have plenty of hair! Leggo, big gem. Our little gems have to find what makes them unique and feeling beautiful. Love conquers all.

    Sincerely,
    Big gem Debbie B…whose 22-year old son, who is in a 5-inch fro at this writing, in his quest for individuality and creativity in a preppy world, has done mowhawk, blond, fro, (I mean frooooolicious!), baldhead, high top fade…twists, locs, BREATHE. Woo sa!

  10. LaShan

    January 26, 2012 at 8:49 am

    If she wants a relaxer let her do it. It is her hair. I understand that you are big on natural hair. There’s nothing wrong with that. It seems to be that is no longer your daughter’s thing. There’s nothing wrong with that either. Whether her hair is relaxed or natural it is not going to change who “she” is.

  11. Rene Syler

    January 26, 2012 at 8:54 am

    @LaShan: Yes, it’s not that it’s no longer her thing. But you know how kids are. They want one thing today something else tomorrow. A few weeks ago when she wanted her hair straight, we talked about it then and the following day, she came to e (unprompted) and said, “Mom, i don’t know what I was thinking. My hair makes me different from everyone else. I like it.” Okay fast forward to yesterday. Do you see my dilemma? Using chemicals to permanently change (and potentially damage) is a tough pill to choke down, especially since she doesn’t really seem that sold on it.. only in certain moments. Not to mention a bad hair cut will grow out, bad chemicals is a whole different ballgame.

  12. DebbieB.Smith

    January 26, 2012 at 8:54 am

    And gem.. Hair can be healthy and relaxed. Don’t do Brazilian Keratin! It shields the hair and does not allow penetration of conditioning. Don’t do excessive heat! Well, we all know what that does…burns. Rather, if you do leggo, go to a stylist and ask for the healthiest possible relaxer AND maintenance, conditioning, styling items with plenty of conditioning and moisture!! We can offer hair care armchair coaching and Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil basket of goodies when you’re ready. It is a great healthy hair at-home relaxer brand. (And we have Curls Unleashed for curly girls, coming in February at Sally Beauty Supply). So, here’s to hair and self-love, no matter the hair style choice!

  13. Danielle

    January 26, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Let her do what she wants, and one day she WILL wake up one morning, thrilled with what God gave her and accept it, and herself, just the way she is! But until you give her the freedom to find it out for herself, she’ll never REALLY know it. It’s just hair, when she has fried it to death she can BC it and start all over. That’s the cool thing. At least she isn’t harrassing you for a tatoo or oddly placed piercing.

  14. Nichole

    January 26, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Casey hair is beautiful. I wish I could get my hair to twist the way hers does. I’ve always thought both she and her hair are absolutely gorgeous. However, I do understand the need to fit in during those adolescent years. She probably can’t quite grasp the whole “this is what makes you beautiful and unique concept” because her peers are sporting a different look. I would let her straighten her hair using a hot comb or flat iron but definetly not a chemical straightener. In this case Mommy does know best and Casey will probably end up spending the rest of her life trying to un-do the damage of a chemical straightener. I hope she comes to realize one day just how lucky she is to have that curly poofy hair that she hates. I would give my right arm for it.

  15. Nichole

    January 26, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Also, thanks Rene for letting sisters know that it’s ok to explore the natural hair journey. I’ve been on that journey for almost 2 years now…Thanks to You! I never knew my hair was so wavy and soft because it’s been fried for the last 30 years. Although, its a work in process I do love my hair.

  16. Cozy Friedman

    January 26, 2012 at 11:17 am

    This is an age old battle for sure. I can speak from 3 vantage points- the first as a woman with naturally curly hair that spent my entire teenage life trying to make it straight. The 2nd view I have is as the owner of children’s hair salons. Lastly, as a mom.

    When I was a teenager, i was desperate to have straight hair, and I really don’t think my mother could have said anything that would have changed my mind. I needed to go through what I went through to finally embrace my own curly hair.

    As a salon owner that caters to kids, I often see the struggle between parents and their kids and its never easy. The negotiation can be tricky but in the end, i think it’s important for parents to recognize that a person’s hair is an expression of themselves and at some point, they do need to let go and let their child express themselves the way they want. That doesn’t mean you should completely let go and not try to help, but perhaps you can help to research other options that may work out better for her.
    Last view point worth mentioning- as a mom. A few summers ago i refused to let my boys get buzz cuts before camp. I didn’t want to part with their beautiful curls. When I arrived at camp on visiting day, they both had fresh buzz cuts! And guess what, they both looked great 🙂
    Good luck!

  17. Gloria

    January 26, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Hi, Rene, Like you and your daughter, I’ve had lots of drama around my hair. And, like you, I’ve relaxed it at different times in my life for different reasons. I like to wear it ‘natural’ during the summer so I don’t have to fight with the humidity in Georgia. However, my summer do has lasted all the way into the winter this time! I may relax it again in the future, I may not. Everyone needs options, so I suggest you get Casey to a hair stylist that specializes in natural hair… let her work some magic on it to give her more style options. You can always cut it for another style option and easy care (it WILL grow back!). Lastly, both of you will be inspired by the 33K women sharing techniques, products and pride at Natural Hair on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2205218963/

  18. Cozy Friedman

    January 26, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    oh and here’s a link to my blog post giving advice on the hair negotiation process!
    http://www.cozyscutsforkids.com/blog/index.php/2011/06/negotiations-and-hairdos/

  19. sue

    January 26, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Have you introduced her to some of the better natural hair care resources online? http://www.curlynikki.com/2012/01/honey-badger-gia.html is one of the best sites of info around. Perhaps connecting with other curly girls would help?

  20. Lashell

    January 26, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Ms. Rene, I have long relaxed hair…that’s super thick, too. I tried to transition from the relaxed to natural. I have my long relaxed hair with about 3-4 inches of new-growth because I really want my hair back to its original state. I don’t think Casey understand how much women (black women at that) who are wants to what she has NOW. Women get their hair weaved in to get the look that your Casey has. What Casey isn’t understanding, also, is that with relaxed hair, she will have to work with it, too, or it will break. There’s the wrapping my hair every day so I don’t have to curl it, getting the split ends trimmed off once a month, gently combing it, drying it (mine hair takes an hour to blow dry), the flat iron. Rene, you’re right….it’s WORK. It takes me so much time to straighten my relaxed hair, but I don’t have the patience to start all over again, nor to I want to deal with two different hair textures!! SUCKS! I hope Casey doesn’t relax her pretty hair! Why not straighten her hair professionally…with a FLAT IRON. You know how you showed a pic of your hair from Nappiology…someone did it, right? No perm! And see how Casey fares with it? How she takes care of it? Maybe it’s a happy small compromise?

  21. Lashell

    January 26, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I just read your reply to Smac. My relaxed hair gets frizzy and half curly after workouts…kind of the plight on relaxed hair, especially when you’re due for a touch-up. For real, I look a hot mess when I sweat it out (from showering to working out). I still have wash it out, blow it up, and flat iron it!! I wish my hair was curly again so I wouldn’t have to worry about all that. :/

  22. dianthe

    January 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    i vote no! when she goes off to college, she can do whatever she wants with it – she can relax it, color it orange, whatever – but right now, mama knows best! if she wants it straight, go the blow out route – and when it curls up and gets frizzy, remind her that it won’t be that much different with a relaxer – it’ll still frizz when it;s humid and she’ll still have to avoid the rain – plus, she’ll still have to “do” her hair every day – she’s got a LOT of hair – taking a flat iron to it every day is no joke – trust me, i know!!

  23. m.e. johnson

    January 26, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Rene, you are into your hair a lot. A lot. Do you know this argument happened way back when straightening combs first came out? Young women went nuts – no more trying to get a comb thru the naps (lets call them what they are; naps not ‘curls’). An actual style, waves, real curls. Any trouble was worth it to them. Their moms were against it for some of the same reasons you have mentioned plus more; “appreciate your natural beauty”, “all your hair will fall out”, “You’ll be sorry”, etc. Well, those old folks died off and nobody wore a ‘natural’ til the 60s. I jumped in, went natural with hair 6-7 inches long, It was powerful! Since then I have hot-combed it, fried it, short-‘froed it, fried it, oh everything. My hair is still thick and heathy even tho as an old I keep it short and natural now. But she is still very young so it’s YOUR choice.

  24. Nisa

    January 26, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    This is and will always be a tough subject matter, but instead of focusing soo much on how the hair makes us..we need to focus more on teaching our young ladies how to care for their hair. We all use chemicals, unless you are squeezing a fruit or vegetable directly on your head their are chemicals in all our shampoos and conditioners that changes the ph and condition of our hair. Educating our young ladies about using ph balanced products and properly combing and detangling their hair is the first step. It will make it soo much easier to work with. Properly straightening the hair with heat will also give her the flexibilty to wear it straight or curly. Not a blow out….black hair is a very thin strand with a low amount of the protective layer known as cuticle, and hair is at its weakest point when wet so bending it around a brush and applying heat will actually cause extreme damage. Blowdry with a comb after applying s heat protectant and take the time and hot comb her hair. If done correctly it should last her till she shampoos it again. There’s nothing wrong with relaxers…I have a 12 year old and her hair is natural. But you do want to help her wait as long as you can till you are both able to commit to going to a professional stylist regularily

  25. Avery

    January 27, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    I have had 3 perms in my entire life I am almost 25. I did go through the stages of oh I want to be like everyone else and I am still going through the I wanna cut my hair stage but at the end of the day I love my hair all the curls and waves and all. Let her decide and if she decides wrong she will learn from it.

  26. Ellen @Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms

    January 27, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    So what about thinking about this from a different angle.

    Adolescence is hard. What if your daughter feeling good about herself and her hair gave her the courage to stand up against peer pressure on a really important issue like drinking?

    Confidence for teens is an ethereal thing. One minute they have it, one minute they don’t. I’m all for removing things that might damage it like misery over hair.

    But I feel your pain; her hair is beautiful.

  27. Whitney Eiland

    February 28, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Rene, I know I’m late….my oldest daughter has hair like your daughter. I have been relaxing her hair since she was 10, she’s 16 now. After researching about chemical relaxers and what the reports and studies have been saying, I made an executive decision for all 3 of us that we are all going natural. My youngest daughter started by default last year because her hair was extremely damaged from relaxing it. I took them both to get their hair done every two weeks and my youngest hair just didn’t make it. She was probably too young at 11, but really wanted to wear her hair straight. Trust me, I’m kicking my butt everyday for that decision. My oldest has found YouTube videos on natural hair and has embraced what her natural hair will be once the relaxer grows out. This is a tough time for all of us that have transitioned but I made the best decision for my girls and I think you did the best for your daughter. I’m sorry but sodium hydroxide is NOT healthy…

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