An all-new look!
IT all started with a shock to the senses when I came home from work one day. My four year old son was sporting a brand new hairdo.
One that I had not commissioned from any barber. And in a style I did not particularly care for.
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“Mummy! Look, Grandaunt cut my hair!” piped up little K, who had noticed my shell-shocked countenance. He lifted up bits of his short locks for emphasis but did not look otherwise affected.
My little guy with his ‘surfer-dude’ hair
Here’s the thing: my son is my cutie-pie. His shaggy, slightly long surfer-dude type mop of thick swingy hair is his “look”. It’s not his whole identity (he’s no Samson), but it’s a part of what makes him my little K. I didn’t set out intending for him to have long hair but once it grew out that way, I loved it.
But my relatives didn’t. My Dad thought that it made his grandson look girly. My aunt – the perpetrator – had mentioned more than once to “wait until he gets to school! He can’t have that kind of hairstyle!”
This new cut was more than a crop. It was like how Rapunzel looked at the end of the movie, Tangled – if I had to be critical. Caveat: I much prefer the “Before” look.
So I did what every modern Asian parent would do when a well-meaning relative stepped into a territory that was not within their purview. I started to hyperventilate.
My relatives tend to think that my son’s hair is too long.
“Yes, I cut it,” said my Aunt when I texted her to clarify. “Is it alright?”
“Too late to ask,” I said in my mind but texted back requesting her to please ask the question before rather than after, the next time she wanted to help out with her scissors.
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I was polite, I thought. And I didn’t accuse and didn’t raise hell. I didn’t go on a rant about how one’s sexuality and gender identity is not determined by length of hair.
Parenting and the involvement of relatives
But of course I had crossed a line. In the Asian context, family is sacrosanct. Keeping the peace is the highest order of the day. Respecting our elders by not talking back or out of turn is perhaps the next highest.
Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and even elder siblings and cousins have accepted their role as ‘influencers’ in your child’s life. Their attention and affections – once lavished on you – has now shifted to your child. He is the extension of you, as someone who is beloved to them.
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In short, whatever they do, they mean well.
Of course, like my aunt who took it upon herself to take scissors to my son’s hair without being asked, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages of parenting and the involvement of relatives. Pro: you can count on them to give your child a charmed, even pampered life. Con: sometimes your opinion rarely matters.
The upside of having involved relatives is that they shower your kids with affection and pamper them.
This, I think is one of the main rewards of being an Asian parent. Of course it doesn’t mean that our Western counterparts don’t have supportive relatives, but as an Asian, raising children has the cache of being an acceptable group effort. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” has never been truer than in an Asian family.
So what does it mean to be a modern Asian parent? Conflict. Sometimes lots of it.
The conflict that begins within might be a question of whether to continue working or to be at home with the children. It could also take place in issues outside of the self, with the people you love most – your relatives – claiming their stake and their say in a journey you see as ultimately your own to take.
Do you speak up and say your peace and risk ruffling feathers? Or do you stay quietly fuming and avoid contact at the next big family gathering?
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For me, it’s all a work in progress. I was lucky enough that the whole incident with my Aunt and her hair-cutting skills eventually blew over and we got to a place that was all good.
But the next time my son’s hair gets into his eyes, I’m taking out the scissors myself!