Chat: If Our Daughters Want to Shave Our Heads, We Will Let Them (And other parenting lessons we learned from Will Smith)

Willow Smith shaved her head recently, and when Parade Magazine asked him about it, Will Smith said this:

“We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.”

Inspired by Will Smith (a phrase I never in a million years thought I would type), Lauren and Jen talk about setting boundaries and answering tough questions.

Lauren: So, would you let Dorothy shave her head?

Jen:  I shaved my head, when I was 19.

Lauren:  Cooooool.

Jen:  My mom FREAKED OUT.

We actually just cut Dorothy’s hair for the first time.

Lauren:  Your girls have crazy hair!

My kids hair didn’t go past their ears until they were 2!

Jen:  Lucy’s is much shorter than Dorothy’s was at her age- but they both definitely have very cute, long, hair. And we get tons of compliments about it from strangers.

Lauren:  Amazing

Last summer, I kept Robin’s hair cropped in a short pixie/boy cut

It was SOOOOOO cute on her

I really love short hair on little girls and I got crazy compliments on it

But she really wanted to grow it out and I had to defer to her wishes for her own head.

Jen:  Good for you! Will Smith would applaud you.

Willow Smith tweeted this photo of herself after shaving her head.

Lauren:  It’s hard!

I’m like:

If Robin wants to be a goth or a punk

If she wants to shave her head or dye her hair or pierce certain things (maybe not things that would be permanent, but things that could grow back)? Sure! Great! Go for it!

If Holly wants to dress like a boy? Awesome.

But if she wants to get fake nails or wear a ton of makeup or dress in a super girly, borderline sexual way? I will have a real problem with that.

Jen:  Dorothy was SO EXCITED to wear make up for her ballet recital. But she hasn’t asked to wear it since.

Lauren:  Robin and Holly love makeup.

Jen:  I was terrified we were going to be in the midst of lipstick wars for the next 10 years.

Lauren:  I don’t have any but my Mom put lip gloss on them when we visited and as soon as they saw her again, the first question was “can we have some shiny stuff for our lips??”

Jen:  I have decided that lip gloss doesn’t count as make up.

But what kind of weird artificial boundary is that?

Lauren:  Right?

I paint their nails ALL the time.

Jen:  We do nail polish all the time too.

Lauren:  Why is that ok but I balk at the mini-high heels their grama gave them? Or eye shadow?

Jen:  They wear play high heels when they dress up as princesses. And sometimes they wear my shoes.

But it feels different to me when it’s play, versus when it’s part of the identity they are constructing.

Lauren:  What’s interesting is that they’re fascinated by a femininity that I don’t embody at all. I don’t wear heels, I hardly ever wear makeup.

I don’t know, Robin has a keen interest in prettiness that I think might be part of who she is.

I hear it’s because she’s a Pisces.

Jen:  Isn’t Pisces the fish? I don’t know very much about astrology.

Lauren:  Haha

Me either

This came from a teacher at her school.

I guess Pisces are very into luxury and elegance.

I guess I feel like I could make sense out of a kid who wanted to go goth or dye their hair or wear bowties. But I don’t get the pretty thing. So it may be less a feminist perspective and more a personal desire to make sense of my kids’ identities.

Jen:  D has a definite interest in pretty, girly stuff. Even the more gender neutral or boy toys we have she appropriates for more feminine play. Like, she will put the My Little Pony skirts on the dinosaurs and have a dinosaur ballet.

Lauren:  Right — R&H are very stubbornly focused on pretty things.

This is new for Holly. She used to be like “whatevs!” but now she insists on wearing a dress every. day.

Preferably “polish pink,” which is what my girls call hot pink.

We have a closet full of awesome, comfortable, and even feminine shorts and shirts that they refuse to wear.

Jen:  I love ‘polish pink’! Yes, we wear dresses or skirts almost every day.

With shorts or leggings underneath.

Lauren:  I have all these awesome geeky t-shirts that say GREAT GATSBY and RADAR LOVE and stuff

But no bites!

I guess if they were purple or pink they’d get more play

But I really don’t want a monochromatic wardrobe for my kids and their rainbow personalities.

Jen:  I totally agree. But I’ve given up trying to control their clothing choices. I don’t even worry about whether or not it matches.

Lauren:  Totally

Same here, I mean.

I went through this last fall when I got Robin all this great stuff at Old Navy and she refused to wear almost all of it.

It was becoming a serious conflict between us and I was like, I just have to let this go.

I have to hope my sister’s kids will make use of the adorable navy hoodie with white butterflies, etc.

Jen:  Right: they have a sense of who they are, what they want to look like. I just don’t see a reason to interrupt that, except on very select special occasions.

I do try and get them to be seasonally appropriate.

Lauren:  Yes

Me, too.

I will not let Robin wear her swimsuit to daycare, e.g.

Although to be honest, this winter it was such a struggle to get them to wear coats that half the time I was like, fuck it.

I bought crocs with liners and we wore those most of the time. And as long as we CARRIED coats in, I didn’t always insist they wear them (and often they would ask).

Jen:  So, we’re not worried about coats or matching, but we are worried about make up and excessive femininity?

(I’m also not worried about tattoos or piercings.)

Lauren:  Yes, I am worried about that.

Robin wanted to watch this Bratz Babies thing on Netflix the other day and initially, I refused to allow it.

I used some language from Pigtail Pals and talked about how I don’t like the unhealthy bodies I see, or the way they dress.

Jen:  Bratz are the only toy I have told them they can’t have.

Lauren:  She was like, “Yeah, Mom, but I DO like it.”

(It was babies, so it wasn’t totally sexed up.)

How do I argue against that?

Isn’t she allowed to like something that I think sucks? Shouldn’t I use it as a chance to talk?

Jen:  Right. I mean, from a cultural studies perspective, it’s not like there’s a direct path from tv to brain/identity: what matters is how we make meaning out of what we see/hear.

Lauren:  I wonder if I create more mystique around this by being so clearly conflicted about it. You know?

Jen:  Yup. I have tried hard to be really disinvested in their toy and tv choices, as long as it’s age appropriates, because I don’t want to set up some kind of weird power/identity struggle that I’m not really prepared for because of my ambivalence.

Lauren:  Robin gets so exasperated with my hedging about unhealthy bodies and behaviors. She’s like UGH MOM I KNOWWWWWW

She sounds exactly like a 13 year old. I’m not sure if that bodes well.

Jen:  Dorothy does that MOM I KNNNOOOOOOOWWWW thing too.

Sometimes it drives me crazy, and sometimes it just cracks me up.

Lauren:  Ultimately, I want my daughters to feel good about themselves — to feel powerful, joyful, happy in their bodies.

I have to be ok with the possibility that makeup and frilly stuff will work in that way for them

Even though, to me, it seems really problematic because it’s predicated on such traditional notions of femininity.

Jen:  One of the commentators at feministe pointed out that the reason Will Smith is awesome for encouraging Willow to make her own choices is that there is so much cultural pressure for girls/women to look a particular way for the male gaze. so when parents say, you must look a certain (pretty) way, our demands are backed up by all these cultural pressures.

Lauren:  Plus her whole hit song was focused on her HAIR

So it was like, a huge symbol for her to shave it off.

Right.

Brian has been working to change the way he responds to the girls when they dance for him or show them their clothes or hair

Jen:  I think/hope creating the space to talk about their choices, even if they are frilly or whatever, gives them more strength to navigate the cultural bullshit about girls and women’s appearances.

Lauren:  He’s like “Wow — you look so……. COMFORTABLE!”

“Your hair is so…. FUN!”

Jen:  AWESOME!!!!

Lauren:  It’s hard, though — because they really are very pretty!

Jen:  Mine too!!! I often say, “Gorgeous” or “Fabulous” or “Stylish” instead of pretty.

Lauren:  I mean, they will hear that a LOT from others, even if they don’t hear it from us.

Jen:  Right. And I don’t want them to feel defined by it — but I also want them to feel beautiful.

And I want them to feel ownership of that beauty.

Not feel like they’re beautiful because some other person said so and that beauty might go away if they cut their hair or whatever.

Willow Smith with her family.

Lauren:  I try to focus on how they feel in their bodies when they do beautiful things — the joy it brings, or pride, or strength.

Right, it has to be an INTERNAL thing, not external.

Jen:  Yes.

And I love how Will Smith says he wants his kids to be able to hold the full weight of their lives. What a fantastic way to think about parenthood.

Lauren:  It’s a great notion, to sort of transfer that load to them as they mature.

Jen:  Yes- and to intentionally think about preparing them for that shift.

Lauren:  So, what if our daughters hit 13 and want to wear super short skirts, or push up bras?

Jen:  I am sure I will freak out. But I hope I can talk to them about why: what those clothes mean for them, why they are drawn to them, what they think that will signify to other people.

Lauren:  Yeah.

It all goes back to communication, doesn’t it?

And TRUST.

I feel like everything I do right now is building towards a positive relationship with them as teenagers.

I’m really focused on that.

Jen:  So what kinds of things do you do?

Lauren:  I acknowledge their feelings as legit.

I say sorry when I screw up.

I am completely honest and do my best to answer all questions directly and honestly, even the really hard ones

(Like “what’s war?” and “what happens when you die?” and “where do babies come from?”)

Jen:  That’s awesome. You are an awesome mom!!

I feel like I do relatively well with those kind of things until about 6 pm, and then my parenting goes to hell.

Lauren:  But I screw up soooooo much.

Most of Robin’s intense questioning happens during bedtime.

We  have these intense discussions in the dark while I nurse Holly on the bottom bunk.

And Robin is in the top bunk crying because she doesn’t want me to die.

It’s really hard to not rescue her from that, because she’s freakin’ 4 years old.

Jen:  Dorothy sometimes asks, How many days until we are all in heaven?

Lauren:  See, we don’t do the heaven thing.

So there’s not even that backup plan for comfort.

me:  We’ve told her heaven is where our souls go when we die. But we haven’t talked about Jesus, so I’m not sure she actually thinks of heaven as a comfort. More like a final destination.

But yeah, it’s intense.

Lauren:  We just say, When people die they go away forever. And it is very sad.

There’s an ep of the TV show Parenthood

(do you watch?) about this. On the show, though, the parents get out of the discomfort by being like “heaven yayyyyy” even though they don’t really believe in heaven.

I’m not opposed to some kind of final destination, I just don’t want to tell her something that I don’t really think is true, and Robin is so attuned to bullshit. I think it would really undermine our relationship if later on she was like “hey heaven is BS MOM!”

Jen:  YES!!! I love Parenthood!

Lauren:  I haven’t watched since S3 I think (whatever the latest was on Netflix).

Jen:  We conceived of the Jesus-less heaven when Tyler’s grandfather passed a couple years ago.

Lauren:  It makes sense. I mean, heaven can be secular, or at least, pan-religious and non-specific.

Brian is very sensitive to heaven/hell discourses so we are just avoiding the whole pitfall by being secular and agnostic and talking about how people cope with grief, mostly.

Jen:  Right. And Tyler and I have slightly different beliefs, and we knew other cousins and family members would be talking about heaven.

But: they don’t know what cemeteries are.

D calls them statue parks, and she loves that they have flowers and she points them out when we drive by.

I just can’t bring myself to talk about dead bodies.

Lauren:  Oh, Robin does. We live near a cemetery so she has seen baby graves.

(Robin is a sort of Edward Gorey-esque child. She’s into the macabre.)

Our cats also keep bringing us dead mice and birds.

So much circle of life chat at our place right now!

Jen:  We have somehow managed to have a mostly death-free existence.

Lauren:  The long way back to our original point is: to me, being totally honest and straightforward about topics like death is a foundation of trust and honesty between me and the girls.

Which hopefully will mean they will converse openly and comfortably about their desire for a skimpy bikini or whatever.

Jen:  Like, it would make sense to me to explain a cemetery if I were burying a pet. But I just can’t say, “Actually, that statue park is full of dead people!” as we go whizzing by.

But maybe I am setting myself up for failure in the teen years.

Lauren:  Haha

No, I wouldn’t have brought it up if Robin hadn’t asked about it.

I try to follow her lead.

She’s just, as I said, interested in tough questions at a young age.

Jen:  Right. And I know some people parent by setting absolute boundaries and expectations. But I tend to be more responsive.

Lauren:  I think if Robin wasn’t such a critically minded and intelligent little girl, I’d be softer on some of these issues.

But I think she’s going to be one of those kids who is really insulted by condescension from adults, or lying/hypocrisy.

I want to stay out of that category as much as possible.

Jen:  That makes total sense to me.

Mostly, when I think about the teen years, I want them to know that I love them, I trust them, and I believe in them. If we have that in place, lipstick is negotiable.

Lauren:  Exactly.

And head shaving!

Which I might enthusiastically support, actually.

Jen:  I don’t understand why people freak out about hair at all. IT GROWS BACK.

Lauren:  Totally

I mean, anything impermanent I can get behind.

Hair dye, certain piercings. Fine.

Jen:  I feel okay about tattoos too. I mean, I wouldn’t them to get a Mike Tyson style tattoo on their face. But other than that? I’m down with tattoos.

They are totally going to find this chat in the internet archives and hold it against us later.

Lauren:  OMG.

I know.

We may have to… I don’t even know what we’ll do when our kids are old enough to read and smart enough to google.

Which, by my calculations, is in about two years.

It would depend on the tattoo and how long they wanted that specific tattoo and all that.

Jen:  HA!

Lauren:  I might make them hold off until they were old enough to make the call and pay for it themselves.

Jen:  Yes. I think 18 is a reasonable age for tattoos and piercings.

Lauren:  How much of mothering is swallowing hard and letting our kids do things that we think are wrong or foolish?

I thought that would start later, but it’s like that right out of the gate.

Jen:  They have to be strong enough to take risks and come back from disappointments. And they won’t get there if we’re always carrying them.

Lauren:  A lot of my talk with Robin lately has been about practice and hard work and trying again.

I want her to be braver than I was!

But it’s sooooo scary to send her out there alone!

Jen:  YES. I feel the same way!

Jen:  I just keep trying to offer a little more room for them to run, and making sure they can hear me cheering for them.

I don’t want to set so many boundaries that they don’t learn what they’re capable of.

Lauren:  Yes. Or do it based on my own fears, which are many.

Jen:  I don’t want to hold on to power and pretend that I’m somehow protecting them.

Lauren:  Well

I guess we’ll see if Mama Nervosa is still around in 10 years

And if our kids have shaved heads and piercings.

I kinda hope those are all true!

Jen:  I know, right? It’s kind of an amazing vision.

Lauren:  Then our posts will be all “Dorothy’s first date” and “Holly wants to ride a motor bike”

Jen:  Lucy will be on tour with some Grateful Dead cover band, and Dorothy will want to go away to prep school.

And robin will want to be a mortician.

Lauren:  Robin will be writing poetry and dissecting cats in AP Physiology.

Jen:  Ode to a dead cat:

So cold and flat, with stretchy

skin, not fur. Sweet dreams.

Lauren:  Hmm, maybe YOU should be the poet!

Jen:  ITS A HAIKU.

Lauren:  One of our kids will probably blog about her uncool Mom.

Jen:  Yup. There’s no avoiding it.

Let’s just try not to end up on the Today show like that guy who shot his daughter’s laptop after she complained about him on facebook.

Lauren:  Haha

As if facebook lives in the actual computer!

Jen:  I’m pretty sure his parenting approach has more boundaries than ours.

also more bullets.

Lauren:  It must be a relationship built on respect and communication.

Jen:  His? Or ours?

Lauren:  His

(Sarcasm)

Jen:  Well, I suppose making a video of yourself shooting your daughter’s laptop is sort of a form of communication.

I tend to go for post it notes.

Lauren:  This has been a fun chat

Jen:  Yes! Thank you Will Smith!

I am glad to be chatting again!

Lauren:  Chats are awesome.

Jen:  Do you want me to post? I think I have figured out how to include pictures without breaking the blog.

Lauren:  Go for it!

We should also put up a note that we are going to move the site and therefore we might break something horribly.

Lauren:  TTYL!

Jen:  TTYL!

In case you are unfamiliar with the pop culture juggernaut that is Willow Smith, here is a link to her ground breaking video WHIP MY HAIR.

And here is an excellent cover of Whip My Hair by Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen.

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7 responses to “Chat: If Our Daughters Want to Shave Our Heads, We Will Let Them (And other parenting lessons we learned from Will Smith)

  1. I LOVE NEIL YOUNG.

  2. It’s kind of sad how much easier this is for fathers and sons. At a certain point, Patrick’s look was just his. He didn’t have to deal with us, and he didn’t do anything that freaked us out. (Except the time he wanted to wear ripped jeans on an international flight, and he and his mother went at it hammer and tongs.)
    When I got my first tattoo he was eight. He planted himself in the front door, and looked up at me. “Dad, where are you going?” “I’m going to get my tattoo.” Serious look. “Dad, have you thought about this?” “Son, I knew I was going to get a tattoo 26 years ago, and I found the design five years ago.” He stepped out of the way, saying, “Well all right, then.”
    At some point they start judging how we look. That’s a hard one.

    • That’s awesome. Most of Robin and Holly’s teachers have tattoos and piercings, so I think they think I’m strange for having no marks on my body. When I get my tattoo (in the next couple of months, if I can swing it) I think they’ll be like, “Phew, my Mom is normal!”

  3. The issue I’ve seen come up with fathers and sons is hair length– and the gender policing around that can be intense. But yeah, I think clothing and even tattoos are generally less fraught.

  4. I shaved my head in college and kept it shaved off-and-on for about four years. My parents thought they would hate it, but even my grandparents ended up loving it. It was surprisingly flattering, especially since I was used to hiding behind my hair. It just was so cold in the winter!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting! I think very short hair/shaved heads can be so beautiful on so many women– I’m glad your parents and grandparents came around 🙂

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