Your little girl is an angel most of the time... until you sit her down between your knees to comb her hair. Then it's tears and squeals and tantrum time.
I don't have kids myself, but trust me, I know. I was once that little girl. And I can tell you from experience, there's a right way and a wrong way to care for your child's hair.
Warning: Clicking on the image above might make you upset if you love children or hate foul, offensive language.
I first learned about this story via The Root, in Teresa Wiltz's essay Beauty, the Brush, and Black Girl Pain. I can barely stand to watch this now-infamous YouTube video, which raises more questions than it answers.
For example, does this mother think she's actually making an efficient and effective attempt at combing her little girl's hair? Because she isn't. In fact, she's doing just the opposite.
Why on earth would she speak to her child in this manner? This woman is addressing a 5-year-old with four-letter words in a tone dripping with disdain. This is not how a truly loving mother should ever speak to her child.
And, finally, why is this little girl's teenage sister filming all of this? It makes you wonder what's happening at that home when the camera isn't rolling.
Before I dive headfirst into this topic, a little background story on me.
When I was 3 years old, I had a long, wild, crazy mane of hair. And I gave my parents hellfire to comb it. One day my hair had been combed into two thick plaits, and I was out in the front yard playing with some older neighborhood girls who weren't so nice to me once our parents' backs were turned. Well, long story short, one of those girls braided my hair into the chains of a swing set. My dad had to cut the braid to free me, and I had a short little tennis-ball Afro until I was 4 or 5.
And when it grew back, I went right back to giving my parents fire and brimstone every time they tried to comb my hair. By the time I was 6, Mama Bella had enough. To the hairdresser I went for my first relaxer.
When I turned 23, I decided no more chemicals for me. I had no idea what my natural texture was like or what it could be like. If I only learned how to care for it, love it and treat it like it deserved to be treated.
I find it incredibly sad that so many of us, people of color, don't know how to care for our hair as it's meant to be. We don't know how to maintain our hair without the use of harsh chemicals that come pre-packaged with gloves to protect our hands from the stinging. We don't realize how beautiful and blessed we are from birth. Instead, we begin an immediate quest to tame our natural beauty and to conform to a texture and appearance we will continually have to struggle to upkeep.
This is where the roots of self-loathing begin -- at the feet of a parent who makes a child believe that her hair is ugly, that she can't "be somebody" without being tamed into submission.
Since I started blogging here at Black Voices, I have gotten several e-mails from desperate mothers who have turned to a relaxer to solve their child's hair-maintenance issues. Kids as young as 3 and 4 years old are getting their hair chemically treated. Kids younger than 10 have hair so damaged that it's thinning or falling out.
People, this is not the way.
If you, or your mother in law, or your auntie, or your grandma, or some misguided-though-well-meaning soul put chemicals on your child's head in an effort to ease the burden of styling their hair, it's up to you to stop the madness.
It's up to you to educate yourself on how to take care of your little girl's hair. It'll take a little effort, but the rewards are immeasurable.
There is no shortage of fantastic resources for parents who have the desire to learn how best to care for their children's hair. Here's a must-read list for any struggling parent.
-- 'Kinki Kreations: A Parent's Guide to Natural Black Hair Care' is a great book. Contact your local library to see if it's available.
-- Your little one should read 'I Love My Hair!' by Natasha Tarpley, a story that encourages a child to love her hair as it grows naturally.
-- Depending on how you feel about the word nappy (I'm not a fan, but I have many friends in the natural-hair community who are fine with it), you may want to check out the book 'Nappy Hair.' It's celebrated as a children's book that affirms a positive self-image. So does the renowned 'Happy to Be Nappy' by bell hooks, which encourages little girls to love themselves as they are.
And here are some general rules of thumb from my own experience, things I wish I could say to the misguided woman in that awful YouTube video.
Treat your child as you want to be treated. Remember that this is a child with a tender head and a still-developing mind. The words you speak to her now will take root and grow. So if you love your child and want your child to love herself, try not to use terms like "good" and "bad" hair. Try your best not to complain or be angry as you style your little one's hair. Try to make it an enjoyable ritual for both you and her, and that way it won't become a regular exercise of pain and struggle.
Comb her hair from the bottom, and work your way up to the top. For kinky and coarse hair, it works best when it's soaking wet and drenched with conditioner. I comb mine out with a big wide-toothed comb only when I'm in the shower. Or you can use a product like Knot Today by Kinky Curly to help with the de-tangling process.
If it's absolute agony to maintain your little one's hair every week, then consider keeping it cut short instead. It could save you both a whole lot of heartache and pain, and she'll look just as adorable.
If you have to keep your child's hair long and want to style it a certain way for appearance's sake, consider doing what Emory professor Clifton Green and his wife did, seen in this beautiful slide show of images by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Do research, educate yourself, take a hair-care class, find a local stylist who specializes in natural hair and can offer tips. Make hair-styling time bonding time, not a burden, not something to be dreaded or feared. That will go a long way toward enriching the relationship between you and your child, and it will give her healthy self-esteem for the future. When she's old enough to care for her own hair -- even if she chooses at that point to use a relaxer or to change the texture by some other means -- she will appreciate the time you invested. Trust me.