Confession time. I’ve always thought that I was above my looks. I like my hair, but I don’t recall often saying that I love my hair. I thought it was because my looks just weren’t the most important thing to me. Sure, I wanted to look put together or, at the very least, kempt. But wearing makeup every day or putting tons of time into straightening my naturally wavy hair just hasn’t been important to me since high school. Even then, I spent many of my teenage days without makeup and with my mane au naturale.
Apparently, I confused not caring about my hair with not having to care about my hair. As a white middle class female, I look like just about any other 30-something-year-old with dark brown hair. And with this average looking hair comes privilege. A privilege I never realized I had before having kids.
Becoming woke about black girl hair.
As soon as many of my coworkers learned about the girls, I quickly discovered that my average looking white girl hair was a luxury. I had never had to think about my hair unless I chose to think about my hair. Now, hair came up in many conversations with my coworkers of color. They wanted to be sure I was prepared. “Who’s doing their hair?” “Do you know what type of hair they have?” “Do you know what products to use?” “You’re going to need to get coconut oil, shea butter, curl cream, tea tree oil, satin pillow cases, satin head scarves…”
Hold up. You mean I can’t just brush their hair in the morning and be done? They need oils in their hair? And they need to have satin head scarves and pillowcases to protect their hair at night?
And I thought I was woke.
Caring for three beautiful heads of hair.
I am extremely grateful for the black girl hair education I received before the girls came home with us. It also helped that my sister is a hair stylist and reached out to her stylist friends who are black for products, recommendations, tips and tricks. But even with this newfound knowledge, I was still unprepared.
During the first few weeks of being the Willard Family of Five, all three girls had their natural hair. SW was only 9 months-old and with very little hair, it was easy to manage. I simply brushed it in the morning and at night with a boar bristle brush and would rub coconut oil on her scalp. MW had hair that was just long enough to put into two tiny buns on the top of her head. We’d give her the same hair treatment as SW.
And then there was BW. She has beautiful, long curls. Even with all the hair education I had received in the previous two weeks, I felt like a fraud trying to do her hair. I had no idea if I was really brushing it the right way or with the correct brush. I had no idea if I was using the right amount of coconut oil. And I had absolutely no idea how to style it.
Add to that, all the tears. All the screams. All the fighting against having her hair brushed.
But I couldn’t blame her. Even when I was a child, I screamed and cried having my hair brushed and detangled. And my slightly wavy hair has nothing on her beautiful kinky hair.
Let your hair go free.
It wasn’t long before BW started complaining about her hair. She complained about having her hair brushed. She complained about having her hair washed. And she complained about how much time it took to do her hair in the morning.
Then she complained about how her hair looked. She asked to have white girl hair like mine. She wanted her hair to be straight and easy to brush. Girl, no. Your hair is beautiful. Your hair is versatile. And you can let your hair go free.
I wasn’t willing to fight a lot of battles those first few weeks. But when it came to my child’s self-confidence, I was willing to go to war.
I quickly determined to be patient with her each morning as we brushed her hair and put it into one or two buns. I hugged her when she would start to cry during all the brushing and detangling. Then I would sing to her about how beautiful her hair is. And talk to her about how her hair longed to be free.
Mommy, you put cream in your hair?
BW also thought that caring for my hair was simple. She didn’t realized that I put products into my hair, that I have to wash my hair much more often than she has to wash hers, and that my hair also doesn’t always cooperate with me.
Every morning for the first few weeks of being a family, I would get the girls ready and then have BW and MW come into my bathroom to help me get my hair ready. They would brush my hair and add my creams and powders to my hair. They would then style my hair, usually in a few lop-sided ponytails.
Within a few weeks, BW was so confident in her hair that she would wear it as an afro. She would let me know that she wanted her hair to be free.
Eventually, BW began wearing braids and twists in her hair. She loves the way her hair looks when it’s braided and twisted. But she also loves the way her hair looks when it’s free.
Continuing hair education.
I continue learning about which products are best, safe and environmentally friendly to use on my girls hair and how to best care for their hair. For BW, she often has braids or natural twists. MW and SW often have their natural hair. To best care for their hair, I wash their hair once a week with a clarifying shampoo. I love using Davines Solu Shampoo. If their hair needs to be washed more than once a week (particularly in the summer when we go to the pool), I use Hairstory’s New Wash (Rich) in between clarifying treatments.
I recently learned that coconut oil and shea butter are too harsh for my girls’ hair. Instead, I use Oway (Organic Way) conditioners, tea tree oil, and SheaMoisture’s Detangler and Leave-in Conditioner. The leave-in conditioner smells like blueberries and marshmallow, which we all love!
I also read several books to BW while we were helping her to love her hair. Many of these are still our favorite, including I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, Love Your Hair by Phoenyx Austin, and I’m A Pretty Little Black Girl by Betty K. Bynum.