Sense of self

By Mir
January 19, 2010

I used to say that everything I ever needed to know about having good self esteem, I learned from my son when he was not yet 5. His continual belief that he was, in fact, all that and a bag of chips AS WELL AS a chocolate milkshake and TWO cookies, has long since been the stuff of family legends. And while Monkey’s particular road has been a little bumpy of late, his essential belief that he rocks seems to be inborn.

Chickadee, on the other hand, is more delicate. Part of it, I’m sure, is that she’s a girl and girls are relentlessly cruel to one another in a way boys seem far too busy rolling around in the mud together to bother with. Another part of it is simply that she’s of a different constitution; it has always mattered to her that others affirm her worth, her beauty, her purpose.

This makes my heart ache for her. The world is a harsh place for those who need reassurance from without rather than finding it from within. I know this because I used to be the same way, and it’s taken me half a lifetime to thicken up my skin. While I won’t deny that it “builds character,” it’s not the sort of thing I ever would’ve wished on my child.

Throughout her life, I’ve tried to find the balance with her. I want to affirm her without being the gatekeeper of her worth. I struggle to correct her, when necessary, without that disapproval stinging her to the core. We butt heads constantly, as mothers and daughters do, and as two stubborn people do, and always in the back of my mind is a faint refrain of, “Gently, gently.”

And it can be very, very hard to be gentle when the object of your wrath is a tween doing a perfect impression of a spoiled, disrespectful brat. I’m just saying.

Middle school has had its ups and downs. At the same time that Chickadee’s attitude at home has often taken a nosedive, so too have I been able to see that she’s struggling with finding her place and her purpose and what makes her feel like she belongs. And then—oh, the many joys of being Mama!—I’m stuck in the unenviable position of knowing her behavior stems from other issues, real and painful issues, but I still have to correct the unacceptable… casting myself firmly into the Mean and Awful No One Loves Me camp of the damned.

Now, it’s true that I’m a pretty strict parent. I expect a lot from my children. On the other hand, I’m a HUGE believer in picking your battles, which is why some things are completely irrelevant to me. Hair? I can’t get worked up about hair. If Monkey wants long hair, he can have it. He has to keep it clean and combed, but other than that, who cares? Similarly, I’ve let Chickadee dye a streak of her hair, because it’s JUST HAIR.

And when Chickadee started begging for short hair—really short hair—my concern was only that she would regret it. Hair grows, but what she was asking for was a good year’s growth off from what she currently had. So we agreed to compromise, and I cut her hair shortER, but not as short as she’d originally wanted to go. It, uh, didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I mean, we all thought she looked great, but she was unhappy.

And so she came back, a week later, insisting that she still REALLY wanted what she’d ORIGINALLY asked for—a genuine pixie, super-short all over, and she was sure that was what she wanted and would I PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE cut it.

None of your friends have short hair, I reminded her. You’re the kid who wants to jump off the bridge when all of your friends are doing it. You’re talking about something RADICALLY different. Are you sure?

I don’t care, she said. This is what I want. I think it’s pretty. I think I’ll love it.

Visions of months upon months of tearful grow-outs danced in my head. I’m just not sure you understand how drastic this is, I tried again.

Yes I do, she said. Mom, you always say it’s just hair. IT’S JUST HAIR. This is what I want. Please?

And in the back of my head, I heard “Gently, gently” followed by “Let her have this.”

So I cut her hair. Really cut her hair; cut almost all of it off.


She LOVES it. She’s carrying herself differently, I think… maybe with just a little more confidence, a tiny bit of a “here I am” swagger. As she headed off to school today after the long weekend, I asked her how she thought her friends would react.

“I don’t know,” she said with a shrug. “I don’t really care.”

I wanted to tell her how proud I am of her, how beautiful she is—inside and out—and how she continues to surprise and delight me as she grows into a young woman, but I had to settle for handing her her lunch bag and telling her to have a good day.


  1. RuthWells

    Oh, mercy. Wait, something in my eye….

  2. Amy

    Oh my goodness, her hair is awesome. You did a great job with the cut. What a bold move for Chickie!

  3. Rachel

    Her cut is cute, and I hope she still loves it next week, and the week after that. = ) I don’t even dare to trim my kid’s bangs, so I am impressed that you cut hers. Great post, btw.

  4. Stacy

    I hope she continues to love it. It’s a great cut and there’s nothing like having a great haircut that’s different to make someone feel special!

  5. Katie in MA

    Wow. What an leap of faith for you! I’m so glad Chickie got her groove back. I think she learned one of life’s little secrets – that when you want to fly in the face of everything and everyone around you, you can’t just dip your toes in. You have to COMMIT to it…and a saucy smile never hurts. :) Can’t wait to hear how her day went!

  6. Erin

    I had my hair that short when I was in college and LOVED it. Then I grew it out (WAY out) and recently cut it short (but not that short) again. And I LOVE it. :)

    Congrats to Chickie on the new look AND the new attitude. There is something about short hair that makes you feel awesome and fierce and powerful.

  7. Lylah

    I hope Chickie had a wonderful day! Thank you for sharing this… Sometimes, it feels like a very fine line between “let her have this” and “into the abyss”…

  8. Heathir

    As someone who had a pixie cut for about 15 years, can I make a recommendation?

    Skip the gel and mousse, and go for the goo. BedHead makes a product called – I think – Manipulator. It comes in a little blue tub and looks kind of like blue pudding. There are other similar products that are cheaper that work as well, too; I just can’t think of any brands/names offhand. But make sure it’s the goo/putty and not the wax. They work really well for that style.

  9. Javamom

    This is awesome. Your tween is an inspiration. Here I am, a grown adult with tiny tots, who frets over the bangs the evil haircutting lady cut into my hair and there is your little chickie going about her life with her head held up high.

    Lovely post.

  10. Megan

    Well done Chickie! It felt to me that progress through tweendom could be charted by the frequency of those ‘I know what I want and I believe in myself’ moments vs the ‘oh WOE! Someone looked at me sideways and my life is RUINED because everyone HATES ME’ moments. And I can truly say it is a wonderful thing to be on the other side!

  11. mamabird

    That haircut looks like it was done very well … I’m jealous. Mir, so much of what you write I can connect to. As I was pregnant I overthought so many of the battles that were to come. My daughter is having a rough time with teeth and I want to spare her that pain although I know down the road the pain that she will encounter will not end with a tooth popping out. But in all my thoughts of how I hope to parent, I have said to my husband right from the start: The one thing I am not going to fight over is hair. It grows!

  12. Lori N

    Love the cut! Hope the “I don’t really care” attitude continues (with respect to what the friends think)!

    Here’s to bold moves and confidence!

  13. Shelley

    I’m super impressed that you can cut your kid’s hair! And that it looks so good when you’re done! (I’d love to hear how you learned that super power.)

    Speaking as someone with long curly hair, I think it takes a lot of bravery to go for a super short cut, so good for your girl that she’s got the guts to pull it off.

  14. Jess

    Aww, yay Chickie!

    I’m getting ready to set up a “cut off a lot of hair” appointment for me and a “finally get bangs” appointment for my daughter. I’m experiencing a ton of Hair Angst, but I ought to take a page out of Chickie’s book. It grows. :)

  15. laura

    okay, am I the only Mom who insists on a visit to the evil hair cutter place just in case it turns out unfavorably? I get blamed for so many other things, it’s so nice for someone else to take the heat/hate.

  16. divrchk

    I think it turned out fab! Please let us know how her friends reacted :-) I hope she was made to feel beautiful today at school.

  17. Dorothy

    When my daughter was this age she wanted a cut from the local salon. After all the are you sures,etc. she went alone. When she came home, one side of her hair was shaved to the scalp and the other was long (to her shoulder). It was too late to say much of anything, but she loved it. She had made her statement and stood out at school. Not like all the other girls. Way to go Chickie.

  18. Jodi

    I read the most wonderful quote the other day that said, “What other people think of you is none of your business.”

    I am so glad she likes her hair. It is always scary to make that big of a change.

  19. Jamie

    You’re such a good mom. The compromise was a good start, and a safe one. Good for Chickie loving the new ‘do!

  20. Charmaine

    wow…that is awesome story..”Dare to be Different”

  21. Rita

    I love her haircut! I was just talking to my friend about how I won’t/don’t object to what my kids do with their hair as they get older. As Chickie says “it’s just hair”. My tweener is so much like yours, looking to the outside rather than inside to validate her self-worth. It is my hope and prayer that I can help her navigate this mine-field of adolescence and come out on the other side as decent, loving, self-confident adult.

  22. Amelia

    I LOVE IT. All of it. So proud of you both.

  23. Megs

    See, I wish with all my heart I could rock one of those cuts. I think they are ADORABLE. But I don’t have the face. Or the guts. Whichever.

  24. Karen

    OMG, you cut it YOURSELF??? HUGE leap of faith..HUGE. And itlooks like you did an awesome job. I am not capable of good looking bangs, let alone that kind of cut. From what we can see, she looks adorable and you look like a master hairdresser.

  25. Mary Fran

    Oh, please tell us how her day went – and post some pictures of the back. Very brave of her!

  26. Karate Mom

    *sigh* I had one of those cuts and I really, really loved it! I also used Bed Head products, which were fantastic. I can’t remember the name of what I used, but it made my hair SO STIFF that it would practically lacerate your finger! (In fact, I had to buy special shampoo just to make sure it all came out!)
    Aaaah, I loved that hairstyle!

  27. dad

    I’m confused (nothing new).
    Is today Thursday?

  28. kate

    please tell your daughter that I am a 32 year old woman who has always wanted to try a true pixie cut but has always been to scared of what it would look like, of the commitment to growing it back out, of what others would think to do it. I am forever proud of her for her bravery, and even through the little picture you showed I can tell she looks great!

  29. Tracy

    YAY, Chickie!! You are the bravest girl I know. I always, always wanted my hair short like Jamie Lee Curtis..but NEVER had the nerve! Good for you! I’m so happy you love it!

  30. Tracy

    Oh, I almost forgot…YAY, Mir!! You are the bravest Mom I know. I would have NEVER done that…regardless. As Mom’s we may NOT always know what’s best. It’s sometimes hard to figure out when to say NO. I’m glad, gently, gently…played a part! I’m so happy SHE loves it! =)

  31. mojo

    Last year, when my daughter was in grade 7, she decided to take part in the St. Valentine’s Day Hair Massacure (sic). Dudes. She cut off 14 inches of hair & donated it to wigs for kids and raised over $600 for the cause and SHAVED HER HEAD BALD! She goes to a large school. Two boys shaved their heads. No girls. Ahem.
    It’s been almost a year and she’s still rockin’ the short hair. It gets to her once and awhile to be called a boy but she’s dealing.
    Kudos to Chickie. It’s not an easy road but it’s obviously something she felt passionate about. And you’re right. It’s just hair!

  32. mom, again, again

    ooooh! so much earring coolness can be worn with short hair! dangly, but not too much. all sorts of styles that get lost if you have long hair, but look all sparkly and interesting with short hair to reveal them.

    If she stays loving her hair, you should make a point of buying some nifty earrings.

  33. Dawn

    Wow! It looks great! AND you did a fabulous job!

    Are you taking appointments?

    When I was in grad 5, I coveted another girl’s hairstyle and asked her what it was called. A pixie cut she said, with great conviction. So I hied myself hence to the salon and said, “A pixie cut, if you please, my good woman!” And… that was not the right name for the hairstyle I was coveting… Much angst ensued. my hair is very fine and somewhat thin and I still don’t look good with super short hair (it’s been tried).

    But Chickadee’s rockin’ the pixie cut!

  34. Tracy H

    You are not only an awesome mom but holy cow a damn good hairdresser! I’m impressed!

  35. Heather

    You did a great job with the cut, and with your Chickie too.

  36. Amy

    Jodi, that quote is awesome. I’m going to share that with my students.

    If Chickie’s friends are anything like the middle school kids I teach, she was probably treated like a goddess today.

  37. Dalia

    So loved reading this. We are in the midst of tweens in our house and all the issues that come with it. Love knowing that I am not alone!

  38. gaylin

    I had a pixie cut for most of my childhood, you cut hair way way better than my mother!

    Having had hair to my waist and in 2005 shaved my head for charity. I know that hair is hair and it will grow back, except when it falls out. Which also happened to me, lost about 1/3 of my hair to illness and some of it came back. I have really lost my ego about my hair because I am not about to go the extension route or any other kind of fake hair.

    I also vote for cool earrings, they look great with short hair. Chickie Rocks.

  39. Fabs

    They’re always surprising us. I think they do it on purpose.

  40. The Other Leanne

    Hey, if you’ll give me that cut, I’ll give you the $38+tip I give my cutter! Because I’ve been saying “Jamie Leigh Curtis” for almost a year and you got it right the first time! It’s no wonder Chickadee is carrying herself a little different–she is claiming her selfhood, and that always makes us stand a little taller.
    Seriously, I also thought it was Thursday already.

  41. ChristieNY

    awesome kid, awesome mom! and i agree, that hairstyle would look great with all sorts of earrings too! yay chickie! :)

  42. jenn

    I went from lower-back (almost sitting on it) length to pixie cut in a very short time-span. I just really needed a change. It was the most liberating thing I have ever done.

  43. my boyzach

    You probably know this, but, come up with a quick, cute response for when she’s called a boy–trust me–it’ll happen.
    And any ‘heavy’ goo would be great for this cut. TJ Maxx, Marshalls always have hair products much cheaper than other places.

    You done good mom.

  44. clarkinfestedwaters

    What a wonderful life lesson, on both accounts.

  45. Jen

    Good for her!
    And I deeply covet the hair color. ;)

  46. Jennifer

    It looks great. I am a huge fan of short short hair on women. When I cut mine in college, I felt so great, it gave me such confidence. I hope it works for her too.

  47. Nicki

    They do have a gift for surprising us, don’t they? And I truly hope she maintains that love of her ‘do despite peer pressure. Proud of her!

  48. Debra

    Good for her! Stand strong Chickadee.

  49. The Domestic Goddess

    Seems that chickadee and I have a few things in a common.

    Good for her!

    And, cute cut!

  50. Ruth

    Kudos to your daughter for knowing what she wants and sticking to her guns.

    I am almost 52 years old. I grew up having pixie cuts from my mother and HATED them. Since then, I always dreamed of having long, luxurious, shake-over-the-shoulder locks. It was just not to be. Seems that as soon as my hair reached just below my earlobes, it would turn to straw. But it took me many years to give in, accept, and just do the pixie once again (with a little length in front). Guess what? It’s the best haircut I’ve had since my childhood pixie and I get compliments all the time. So now I realize that “Mother knows best,” and I’m walking around thinking I’M a bag of chips and all that and it feels GOOD.

  51. StephLove

    Can I just say what a gorgeous color her hair is? And so shiny. I bet she’d look great with any hair style.

  52. Sheila

    Would you come and cure my tween of her angst with a haircut? I’d let you shave it all off if that would fix things. You’d be saving us money on shampoo as well as therapy!

  53. Aimee

    Wow — that cut looks pretty impressive! And, um, why is everyone making me cry this morning?

  54. kate c.w.

    You know the judgemental weirdos down the street have to wonder what’s going on in your house that your kids have such apparent “gender issues.” But never they mind, it’s JUST HAIR! Kudos to your girl child for her newfound swagger. I tried the short hair cut as a kid and was totally the regretful, tearful, epitome of pathetic sorrow. Wore a hat for a year and moved on with my life — no harm done.

  55. Jen

    (Delurking long enough to ask…)

    Well? How did the first day of school with the new ‘do go? I’m on tenterhooks here.

  56. Debra

    Love the haircut…but I’m still too busy laughing at the post about your 5yr old Monkey, way back when.

  57. Sharon

    Good for her!

  58. Katie in MA

    Updates, Mir! We need updates!!

  59. joaaanna

    Fantastic! Gorgeous too. Even if I can’t see it all with her face – that look is great. Very brave and I’m loving her attitude!

  60. Karen Bannan from NaturalAsPossibleMom

    I am so impressed with you. I never would have done it. Never would have relented. You are a much better mom than I am. Have her friends seen it yet? Any feedback?

  61. Elise

    I have a 7 year old girl, and I can completely relate to the whole story. I often think that I need to parent her as if the adult she will one day be is watching over my shoulder. Parenting is such a huge responsibility, isn’t it? I like :::gently gently::: I will use that one myself. I am proud of both of you and I hardly even know you! ;)

  62. Holly

    Touching Story! How different the world would be if we all thought we were a bag of chips and more, but not just that- how would it be if we thought that everyone around us was all that with us too! Belief in self and belief in others!

  63. Ingrid

    Yay! :)

  64. Brigitte

    Wonderful! Though I hope you taped her saying she loves it and all, in case she changes her mind next week. ;-)

  65. Lily

    Great hair!

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