A couple of weeks ago my beautifully blonde, nearly 11 year old daughter, came to me and told me she wanted to dye her hair purple. It is a day that most parents don’t look forward to for many reasons. I think the main reason is that as a parent you get into a comfortable zone with your children. After all, you have known everything about them since they were born.
Now that my daughter is hitting her tween stage, she has started to experiment with her image and how she presents herself to the world. It started with using my makeup here and there while getting ready for school or going out. Then she began trying different styles of clothing that didn’t fit her “normal” style. Now it appears her idea is to dye her hair purple.
While she stood there waiting for an answer, I hit one of those time freeze moments, where you are trying to decide which path as a parent you should take. Time almost stands still as you weigh how to proceed with this discussion.
One part of me instantly wanted to say “no.” No, don’t ruin your naturally beautiful blonde hair. Don’t change who you are and how you will look. Don’t color your hair in such a way that other children may make fun of you. What if you hate it and end up crying every time you look in the mirror? Does the school even allow you to have colored hair?
Th other part of me could relate to her, and wanted to let her do it. I remember being a child and my parents always controlling what I wore or how I looked. I never felt I could be myself around them, just some version of who they wanted me to be. Of course, by the time I hit proper teenage years, communication with my parents was nearly non-existent and I rebelled. I gave myself piercings, dyed my hair, and wore clothes they hated. Did I do all that because they wouldn’t allow me to express myself when I was younger? Or would that have all come naturally anyway? At any rate, none of those things caused me harm and allowed me to feel “seen.”
I then started trying to process some sort of middle ground. Maybe the school has a rule that says no colored hair, then I can say no but it won’t be my fault. Do they even have hair dye for kids, or is it age restricted? Permanent hair dye is definitely out of the question, but maybe I could get her the semi-permanent kind that washes out after a few weeks. Then she gets to dye her hair, but if it is horrible, it will wash out fairly quickly. Worst case it stains and she has to let it grow out and cut it. She is young enough that her hair grows fast and a haircut isn’t the end of the world after all. What if her father freaks out?
“Well?” she asked, waking me from my momentary mental processing daze. “Alright,” I replied, “but we need to make sure you are allowed colored hair at school, and I think we should go with a semi-permanent wash out type.”
The girl was so excited she nearly hit the ceiling. “Oh my God, oh my God, thank you Mom!” she repeated as she danced around the kitchen, and I questioned if this was a horrible mistake.
Deep down I knew all the fears and worries were coming from a selfish place. A place that didn’t want my daughter to change. A place that was afraid to see her get older and move further toward her own individuality.
Yet I knew this was the right thing to do. For her. To allow her to experiment and explore her own versions of who she is. To try things she thinks she will like, but ends up hating. As long as she wasn’t causing harm to anyone, then who am I to stop her from trying to be herself? Dying her hair was certainly not going to hurt anyone.
That’s how I found myself spending a Sunday night, dying my 10 year old daughter’s hair plum purple. It was certainly weird at first to look at her. Like when you see a bearded man who has cleanly shaven for the first time. Or you change your hair color or cut after years of being the same. She looked different at times and I almost didn’t recognize her on the school run. I got a few questionable looks from other mothers. I am sure there were tons of whispers on the playground that day. But the most important difference I noticed though was a deepening connection between me and my daughter. She is noticeably happier, more confident in who she is, and all her friends loved her hair.
There are many battles we have to fight as parents. Teaching them values and morals, how to survive in this world, how to be independent yet care for others. I like to be selective on which battles to fight, to save the parent card for the things that truly matter. Purple hair doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and in fact it has brought a lot of good between us. Hopefully it will pave the way for open discussion in the future with all the other changes to come.