At what age do we consider a human person to be an individual with a unique identity, with a sense of self sufficiency to make decisions regarding their emotions, their clothing style, hair choices, whether or not to pierce their ears?
As parents, I think many of us instil in our children the notion that they can earn our trust, that this is laudable and achievable and that by behaving in a certain way they will be able to make decisions that we will respect. And yet, how often do we then turn around and tell them they are too young to know what they are doing, what they are feeling? How often did we hear or have we said, “you are too young to know what being in love is”?
I began my parenting journey 17 years ago and it was always clear on my mind that these children were simply small people, young, inexperienced, not fully cooked, but people nevertheless. And I absolutely want to see them go out into the world on their own terms, to follow their passions.
When they were 2, I encouraged them to choose what they would wear (though I shopped!!). There were some interesting choices at times, but there was also always discussion. A dressing up outfit might be ok for a rainy home day, but maybe not so good when out and about. While we all love wellies and a raincoat, it’s probably not the ideal choice in 30 degree weather…
I have extraordinary children. They are all outspoken, yet respectful. They are kind and tolerant of everyone they meet (though that tolerance tends to waiver when faced with intolerance, stupidity or meanness). They are clear about their likes and dislikes and expect those to be respected as they respect the likes and dislikes of others.
When I look at them, I see three wonderful people. The older two in particular have pretty fully formed personalities. They are not naïve: they know themselves to be young, they know they are likely to change. And yet, they also know who they are, what they stand for, what they yearn for.
My daughter, aged 15, has been speaking to us for well over a year about her wish to shave her hair. It was a decision that she came to from many different angles, for many different reasons that she shared with us throughout that year. One element was her desire to do something in order to raise funds that would help scientists in their research into cancer. Another is a more personal one around her sense of identity.
We shared many, many discussions that were calm, happy and without a sense of urgency. At no point did she try to manipulate us or push us into a decision. At no point did she ever intimate that she could do this without permission. Of course she could have, but actually she doesn’t need to. She has no need to scurry into a position of rebellion because she is a person who is utterly respected in our home. As such, she talks, we listen and we all think and give time a chance to do its thing.
This amazing fifteen year old also went to speak to her head teacher. She wanted to explain why she wanted to do this, but also that she was aware that it might break school rules, that it might upset some staff or pupils. Fifteen years old.
She has a wonderful head teacher who listened. Who took the time to discuss it with her and told her that she needed to talk about it to other staff before making a decision. My wonderful Girl simply understood and waited. The answer was that she should be allowed to do this, but that it would be valuable for her to speak to the whole school in order to prepare the other students for a big change and to explain her reasons.
In other words, my daughter spoke to the adults in her life with respect and consideration, and was rewarded with the same behaviour in return.
She made a considered and considerate choice.
Then, bless her cotton socks, she informed me that I would be cutting all her hair off!! It turns out that hair is a strangely emotional thing and that we are pretty conditioned to the notion that girls have long hair! While utterly respecting her decision, being the one to wield the scissors was quite challenging!
The deed is done. This beautiful, smart, kind young lady has raised £300 to date and is sending her hair to the Little Princess Trust so that a child who has no hair can have a beautiful real hair wig. And the biggest surprise to me is that my daughter has emerged a little like a butterfly! A weight has been lifted from her. She tells me that she looks in the mirror and for the first in a very long time does not see an impostor. She is completely beautiful.
We, her father and I, her grandparents, struggled emotionally with the notion that she should cut off her hair. Hair that, let’s face it, grows constantly, pretty fast. But our histories, our biases, our comfort zones made us feel uneasy, uncomfortable. It might have been easy to consider her too young, too immature to make such a decision…
I refuse to do that. My daughter is a remarkable person, of whom I’m inordinately proud. I’m a little proud to have had a little input into this very special young lady, but mostly I love the fact that I would choose her as a friend in a heartbeat. Above all I trust her completely. She knows that I am there for her to talk to about anything, but she also knows that I trust her. And that has given her tremendous confidence, and possibly a sense of responsibility that means I know I have no reason not to afford her my trust.
Feel free to go and help raise her fundraising total! It would mean the world to her!