Jackie Morgan MacDougall hoped the faux-hawk phase would be fleeting. Her 6-year-old daughter, Lucy, desperately wanted to chop her long black hair into the short, spiky style – a move the mother of two boys and a girl could hardly bear.
“She’s just so darn cute with this beautiful hair,” said Morgan MacDougall, who as a child lamented her own mousy brown mane, which she starting perming in the third grade. “But she’s very secure in herself and who she is, and she didn’t want the hair.”
Morgan MacDougall quickly realized that her own “appearance issues” were clouding her parental judgment.
“I thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It’s not for her,” she said. “How do I teach my only daughter not to look the way that other people tell her when that’s what she’s doing for me?”
That’s when Morgan MacDougall took Lucy to the nearest hair salon and asked a bewildered stylist to bring on the faux-hawk.
“She was very confused by the request,” said Morgan MacDougall, who documented the chop in a series of photos. “Then the woman next to us said, ‘Oh, you’re such a cool mom,’ – loosely translated to, ‘I would never do that to my kid.’”
But one look at Lucy’s face and Morgan MacDougall knew she had made the right decision.
“I can’t express how I felt seeing her with that smile,” she said. “I can say with words, ‘Whoever you are, whatever your choices, I love you,’ but that can never touch her the way driving her to the hair salon did.”
Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and director of the Yale Parenting Center, said parents should “let as many of these things go as they can in the spirit of compromise,” stressing that hairdos and clothing choices are temporary.
“Now, tattoos and weird orifices might be different,” he added. “But cutting one’s hair, maybe let that go.”
Morgan MacDougall said she’ll cross the tattoo bridge when she comes to it.
“I have two tattoos, not that one would ever know,” she said. “I would hope to teach her the permanence of it, but at same time, if that’s how she wants to express herself in creative ways, I think there are lot worse behaviors to have.”
Kazdin agreed, stressing that while compromise and flexibility are important, parents also need limits.
“You compromise because it makes you more powerful when you do make a claim that can’t be compromised,” he said. “So that you can say, ‘No, you can’t go to a home where there are no adults. No, you can’t have sex and birth control right now.’”
“The cliché is, ‘Pick your battles,’” he added. “But these aren’t battles. We’re all trying to raise our children into great adults. There are no sides.”
Kazdin said Morgan MacDougall should be praised for putting her daughter first despite her personal hang-ups.
“Child-rearing is about the child, not the parent,” he said.
Morgan MacDougall blogged about her inner battle to see what other moms had to say: Some said they’d do the same, while others said there was just no way.
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