When commenting on other bloggers’ posts, I often have the feeling that my comment is better suited to a post-length response on my blog than a comment on theirs. I don’t comment often, and it takes a lot for me to want to comment on a post. But when I do comment, I generally have a lot to say.
I read a post last night about a mom letting her daughters (ages five and three, I think) cut their own hair (Permission Granted | Dandelion Roars). I admit, my gut response was, “Why on earth would you let a child that young cut her own hair?”
Of course, I also have a voice in my head that says, “Why on earth would anyone cut their own hair?” and I know plenty of adults who do just that.
Recognizing my reticence around non-professional cutting of hair, I set my initial impressions aside as I read Sarah’s reasoning for why she let her daughters do it. I ended up seeing her side of it, even as I don’t think I would come to the same conclusion, at least not for the same reasons.
I posted a comment in response, doing my best to make it clear that I don’t disagree with her actions but rather with her reasoning and with her application of her assumptions to the parent-child relationship in general rather than to her relationship with her children in particular.
But it was really, really long, and I realized it really is better suited to a blog post on its own than to a comment. Of course, this was after I’d already posted it and it had been approved to appear on Sarah’s blog. In retrospect, I’d probably have written a much shorter comment and then linked here. But you know what they say about hindsight.
This is my comment as it appears on Dandelion Roars:
This is a tough one. While I believe in promoting my children’s body autonomy, I do think there’s a point at which I as a parent should give my 6yo daughter some guidelines around what she does with her body. Would I let her get her ears pierced? Wear revealing (to my eyes) clothing? Wear makeup? What about what she eats? Whether she wears sun protection when she goes out?
You write, “Do we really know more about them and their bodies than they do? Maybe it’s time parents stepped back and allowed their children enough freedom to discover their own desires and limits.”
I actually do think I know more about her and her body than she does. At the very least, I have a different perspective than she does, and I have a better ability to see the big picture and the long-term ramifications of her actions. I don’t think setting limits tells her that she can’t be trusted with her own decisions about her own body; rather, I think it helps her understand that there’s value in taking some time and consideration, weighing our options and looking at a situation from multiple angles before we choose a course of action. And that sometimes it’s better to defer to someone who has more training (and who can reach the back of our head better than we can).
It’s not about an arbitrary age of consent. It’s about knowing our children and allowing them to make choices as it’s appropriate to their age and abilities. You made the choice that was right for you as the mother of your specific children, but I disagree with the suggestion that, had you not allowed them to cut their own hair, you would be somehow stifling their freedom, or that stifling their freedom would be automatically bad. Parents limit their children’s freedom every day. It’s part of our job, and when applied with love and prudence, it’s healthy and shows our children that we love them and will keep them safe.
Can I envision a scenario in which I might let my daughter cut her own hair? Yes. But it would involve a lot of time, thought, discussion, and encouragement to her to do more research about the process before I’d hand her the scissors. If she asked me, I’d likely say not “yes” or “no,” but “Wait; let’s talk about this.” There are good reasons to either grant or deny her permission to cut her own hair, but it takes time to determine if these apply to the situation at one particular moment.
What I didn’t address in my comment was this paragraph from Sarah’s post:
Should Ella ask permission to cut her hair in the future? Does it really matter? I did tell her we have hair scissors, and if she wanted to cut her hair, she could ask for the proper scissors. But whether to actually cut her hair or not? No, I don’t think it’s my place to either deny or grant permission.
I believe that’s exactly what a parent’s place is. We’re here to provide guidance, and some of that involves making decisions for our children when they lack the developmental age or the experience necessary to make the decisions themselves. It’s up to each parent to decide when their own individual children are ready to make each kind of decision on her own.
I think that there is a difference between arbitrary rules and healthy limit-setting. My children, at least, seem to experience an increase in anxiety when I let go of limits. They find safety and reassurance in structure, and I think it would worry my daughter if I told her to just go ahead and cut her own hair (I know just the look she’d give me. It’s the same one she gives me when I say that it’s fine for her to take the wheelchair ramp while her brother and I take the stairs, even though the ramp is in full view of the stairs and vice versa). And I just don’t think saying no is necessarily deleterious to a child’s emotional development. “Yes” and “no,” and even “maybe” and “I don’t know” and “What do you think?” are important for our children as they grow.
I really enjoyed the thought process that went into responding to Sarah’s post. It helped me to clarify how I view my role as a parent, and how I make decisions and how I encourage my children to make decisions (slowly. Very slowly).
I really would like to have a larger discussion about this, though, as I know you all represent a wide variety of parenting styles and philosophies.
So, what is a parent’s role? Is it part of a parent’s responsibility to help guide her children, even in issues that affect only their own bodies? Or is it important for us to be as hands-off as possible so as to foster their creativity and autonomy from the youngest of ages? Where is the line between healthy limit-setting and arbitrary rules?