“I don’t want a haircut, mummy!”

Until I became a mother, I never realised how intrinsically linked a child's hair is to their gender identity. I had no idea that a boy wouldn't know he was a boy if he had long hair. It never occurred to me that not forcing a regular haircut on a boy could be somehow fundamentally damaging to him/cause him to grow up to be gay.

In case you were wondering, I'm being sarcastic.

Back story:

I have two children. They are both boys. They both like to get dirty, play with cars, beat seven shades of shit out of each other and watch superhero cartoons. They are both free to choose their own clothing (they usually choose dinosaurs and other such "boy" things) and pick out their own shoes. There is only one proviso to this arrangement: They must be happy and comfortable wearing whatever they choose.

The big one, O, likes to keep his hair short. He asks for a haircut about every six weeks or so. The little one, F, will not entertain the idea of having his hair cut and, as a result, it is quite long. Long enough to tie back.

And that seems to be a massive problem for some people.

We go to the park and something like this happens:

Stranger: "Oh, what a beautiful little girl! What's her name?"
Me: "He's a boy and his name is Finnegan."
Stranger: (to F) "When is your mummy going to get your hair cut?"
F: "No! I don't want a hair cut!"
Me: "He doesn't want to have his hair cut right now. I'm waiting until he tells me he's ready."
Stranger: "Oh… But… But…"
Me: *walks away*

Okay, so I come across as kinda rude here, but just imagine if this happened to you multiple times every week. Imagine how fed up you'd get with having the same conversation and standing under the same cloud of judgement. Can you imagine that? Yeah. You'd probably be pretty rude too.

With the way some strangers have reacted to my son's hair, you'd think they were accusing me of negligence or abuse. But it is not child abuse. I could argue that something pretty close to child abuse might be forcing your child into something they don't want and haven't consented to, to which there is no benefit outside of the cosmetic. But then most parents have this romanticised vision of their child's first haircut and I certainly wouldn't want to accuse them of abusing their children. At worst, they conform to a patented parenting script which many others have read before them, and that's fine. There is no malicious intent to be found in that and I have never suggested otherwise. I've just taken a different approach with my children and I feel like that should be okay too.

There's an alternative version of this conversation, of course, which happens far less frequently:

Stranger: "Oh, what a beautiful little girl! What's her name?"
Me: "He's a boy and his name is Finnegan."
Stranger: (to F) "Oh, I'm so sorry! He has such a pretty face, and I love his little ponytail!"
Me: "Thank you. So does he!"

I like these people. Not because they agree with the way I've chosen to raise my children; because they respect my son's right to make his own decisions.

Of course, I can't bring this up without giving a special mention to the hypocrisy of it all. You see, as boys grow up, they are encouraged to view the likes of footballers as role models (although I can't for the life of me imagine why when you consider how often some of them end up in the news for unpleasant reasons). Have you watched football lately? Have you noticed the growing trend that is the Man Bun? A trend which nobody under the age of 60 sees as being remotely odd in any way. It's just the fashion right now and it looks kinda cool, right?

So, hold on a second… a grown man can shave half his hair off, stick the rest up in a topknot and give it a special little name like "man bun" and that's totally fine, yet my son can't wear his hair in a ponytail without my entire approach to parenting being called into question?

Can somebody please explain this to me? Because I just don't get it.

I shouldn't have to defend my parenting while I stand up for my son and his god given right to have autonomy over what happens to his body. Amidst all this feminist ranting we are surrounded by on social media, it's interesting to me that very few people have looked at the other side of this. I'm not going to argue that there isn't still some gender inequality going on – hello, BBC wage gap -, but what's interesting to me is that a little girl can wear her hair however she chooses. She can have it long or short, braided or loose and nobody gives a shit. But when a little boy walks into the park with his hair tied up in a ponytail, the pointing and the whispering starts up. And it's not the kids; it's the parents. The kids couldn't care less. It doesn't even occur to them that they should see anything odd in a little boy wearing his hair in a ponytail.

There are hashtags such as #letclothesbeclothes and #lettoysbetoys which seek to remove the boy/girl divide when it comes to clothing and toys. Brilliant idea. But it has to go both ways. I see a lot of tweets using these hashtags which point out how uncool it is that apparently girls aren't supposed to like dinosaurs or want to be astronauts, and they are absolutely correct. Totally uncool. However, I see far less bemoaning the fact that none of the T-shirts in the "boy" section have unicorns on them or that all of the princess colouring books are with the "girly" stuff.

It just seems to lack… balance.

I'm not saying that all boys should dress up in unicorns and glitter and aspire to be princesses. I'm just saying that it should be perfectly fine if they do. It's not going to damage them or "make them gay" (just DON'T).

And as for long hair? If it bothers you so much that a little boy wants to grow his hair long, well… maybe that says more about you than it does about him or his parents.

While you think about that, I'll be over here playing cars and dollies with my boys.

A case of Mum Guilt

I've come down with a bad case of mum guilt today.

Today is my day off. At the moment, I get two days off a week. This week, today is one of them.

Usually I try to do something fun with the kids when I'm not working. A nature walk. The beach. A playground or two. That kind of thing. Except that this morning I looked around my house and I got this dreadful, twitchy feeling

My house, to put it bluntly, is a fucking shit tip.

There is random crap all over the place. There's probably even actual crap somewhere. Everybody is running out of clean clothes and everything feels just a bit… sticky.

The only trouble is, I can't clean the house AND do something fun with the kids. So today I feel guilty because if I take the kids out I'm neglecting the house, and if I clean the house I'm neglecting the kids.

What I need is the ability to split myself into useful, house-cleaning mum and fun, child-wrangling mum. Or a cleaner.

I probably need a cleaner.

Also on the list of things I feel guilty about today:

Literally shoving N out of the door this morning.

The fact that I've shouted at my kids at least twice to leave each other alone.

Inadvertently thwacking O around the head with the vacuum cleaner nozzle.

Turning on CBeebies.

Feeling secretly glad that it has rained and is therefore too wet to go to a playground right now.

Sitting here writing this and drinking a cup of tea.

Being tired.

I'll probably also feel guilty about whatever I feed the kids for lunch soon because it's unlikely to be either imaginative or particularly nutritionally balanced.

It can't be just me, can it? I mean, I open up Instagram and I see tonnes of posts featuring a day out with the kids or a crafty afternoon at the kitchen table and nobody else's house ever looks a mess. Nobody else ever has that haunted look of a person who knows their home resembles the aftermath of nuclear warfare whilst they sit on a picnic rug and enjoy quality time with their offspring.

Some days I feel like I'm just not cut out for the job of being a Person In The World.