17 September 2012

5 Natural Hair Tips for New Parents

If you are a new parent, via adoption or birth, and you're not sure what to do when it comes to hair, this post is for you. Not all children find their forever families at birth, so we not only address concerns that people might have with babies, but also the older children that come to us later in their young lives.

1. It Will Take Time, But You Can Do It

Although our daughter came home at 6 days old, we are well aware that not everyone gets to start caring for natural hair from birth. If you have been blessed with a baby, the natural hair care journey will be a learning experience for both of you, one that will be filled with much change and lots of trial-and-error. As your baby grows, you may encounter cradle cap, bald spots, a changing curl pattern and/or changing texture. It's all totally normal and there really is no need to worry about "messing things up" at so young an age. Baby hair requires little maintenance, and the less you fuss over it during the first year, the more likely it will grow. Keep things simple and enjoy that time as it will pass quickly.

By the time your child gets older, you will already have a foundational understanding of his or her hair when it comes to what it needs. You'll notice changes in how it feels and how it responds (or doesn't respond) to new products. You'll be at a good place to start establishing a styling routine and will have plenty of time to work up to more complicated hairstyles (if that's your goal). You can do it, just know that there will be plenty of time to learn as your child grows.

With older children, the dynamic of the journey will be different. You may be trying to solve past issues (like malnutrition, neglect, or transitioning from previous chemical treatments). Depending on the age of your child, it's always a great idea to get them involved; if your child is old enough to research with you, it's a great way to bond over your mutual learning experience. And as much as the immediacy of "fixing" a problem might be pushing you to find a solution fast, the best path is to learn about your child's hair needs. With as much as we talk about hair here, and as closely as it is related to self-esteem, it's really important to keep hair in perspective when it comes to the overall well-being of your child. Just as you don't know whether or not your new child enjoys certain foods upon first meeting them, the same is true of hair; you're not going to know which products your child's hair likes until you get to know it a little better. And that will take time and patience.

2. Start with Loving the Unique Beauty of Natural Hair

How you approach your child's curls will have a direct affect on how they learn view their own hair. If you don't like them, if you find them difficult or frustrating, that angst can easily be passed on to your child. It's so much more helpful to learn to love curls in all of their chaos. I wrote an article about how we culturally view curls that will hopefully help shed some light on our relationship with them. We need to remember that when we use words like "tame," "control," or "behave" when talking about hair, we are in essence teaching our children that something is inherently wrong with the natural state of their hair. Our choice of words will definitely influence how our children will learn to view their curls and it's important to keep that in mind when approaching hair care.

3. Reject the Cultural Bias Against Curly Hair 

It is just plain easier to buy products for straight hair than it is for curly hair because the industry caters to a cultural preference for straight hair. Although things have changed dramatically since we first brought Boo home almost 5 years ago, it will really depend on where you live as to what you'll be able to find locally. Mainstream media has taken a slight glance toward natural hair by including more naturally curly children in ads. But when we go to find products that are specifically made for natural hair, they may be few and far between. That's why it's so important to understand not only the basic healthy hair steps you can take for natural hair care, but also what things like oils and butters are and how to use them. Believe it or not, you can actually use everyday, easily found oils for hair care. Further, if you know about how protein and moisture work together, about the porosity of your child's hair, if you're learning protective styles, are teaching them to sleep with a sleep cap and/or satin pillow case, you're on the right track. You will soon discover that even though the industry doesn't cater to curly hair, you can manage just fine. You can, in fact, care for hair without being sucked in to buying expensive, brand-name products, and it's much more easily done when those expensive products aren't even available!

4. Focus on What's Really Important

Hair is just one small aspect of your whole child's being. Hair and scalp health are what's really important. Length, curl definition, hairstyles, not so much. If you're bringing an older child home from another country, consider having his or her hair put into a protective style while in their birth country, that way you can spend the first several weeks together bonding instead of worrying about hair. I know that in many transracial adoptive families we struggle with making sure that our children have an "acceptable" appearance when out and about, but the truth is most people can tell healthy hair over non-healthy hair. Yes, you may get more comments if your child is rocking his or her afro than you would if they had some twists, but if your child's hair is clean, healthy, and moisturized that's all that really matters. Your relationship with your kids comes first; how they look to everyone else is only as important as it affects their self-esteem. And if it's not affecting their self-esteem, then it's not an emergency. Like I mentioned above, time, patience, and a realistic expectation of what can and cannot be achieved immediately will help keep hair in perspective.

5. It's Okay to Ask for Help

People will judge you more for not asking for help if you really need it. If you just gave birth and were having problems breastfeeding, you'd ask for help right? If you didn't know how to change a diaper, you'd have someone show you. Get connected. Get online. Research. If you're here on this web site, you're already connected to a community of amazing people who will answer questions. Caring for the unique hair and skin needs of your child may require information that is not in your current mental database. If it's not there, find it. If you don't have people locally within your community who are immediately accessible, definitely ask online. And although you may find the answers here, I still encourage you to find people in your town with whom you can connect. This is really one of those "it takes a village" moments. It doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong. It means you care enough about your child to do whatever is necessary to meet his or her needs. And that, right there, makes you a great parent.