hi. my sons have long hair. now watch your mouth.

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I always knew my boys would have long hair. I mean the thought of cutting it when they were little just never crossed my mind. What’s more adorable than a sweet baby boy? A sweet baby boy with long gorgeous hair of course. Admittedly this is my own personal opinion, but I stand by it.

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What I never expected, and in hindsight possibly should have seen coming, was the countless people who would glance at my boys for a split second and automatically assume they are girls. It happens ALL. THE. TIME. And I really don’t mind. I look at my kids and I see boys with long hair, but I also understand how a passerby could glance at them and make a quick assumption that long hair equals a girl.

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It’s not always a true assumption, but it is an innocent one.

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When someone refers to one of my boys as a girl, I smile kindly and let them know that he is in fact a boy, with long hair. Most people quickly apologize or simply say, “Oops! of course he is!” and we move on. But sometimes the conversation takes a slightly different path, and then I start to mind.

This was my interaction with a kind and well-meaning cashier last week.

Cashier: Oh she’s beautiful!

Me: Thank you! He is actually a boy, he just has long hair. (Somewhere in the background the child in question is interjecting with an adamant, “I am not a girl!”)

Cashier: What?! (pointing directly at my son while my son sees and hears the whole conversation) You’re telling me this is a boy?

Me: (smiling but desperately trying to move the conversation in a different direction) Yep!

Cashier: (shaking head in disbelief) Seriously? 

Me: I throw his hair in an ponytail when it’s extra hot out. But trust me, he’s a boy. 

Cashier: (jaw literally dropping) You do what?! (looks around frantically) POLICE! POLICE!

The cashier drops the act, winks at me, finishes bagging my purchases and calls me sweetheart as we walk away.

(end scene)

Because really, I felt like I was in a bad sitcom just then.

The issue is not that people mistake my boys for girls. The issue is not that I don’t want anyone to ever say anything that might possibly offend one of my offspring. The issue is not that the cashier suggested I should be arrested for putting my son’s hair in a ponytail.  The issue is not that I can’t take a joke.

You want to know the issue?

When you make jokes about who my child is or is not, when they hear you say that something about them is unacceptable, when you point at them and question what they know to be true about themselves, you change the person they see in the mirror.

The heart of the matter has nothing to do with my boy’s hair length, and everything to do with adults thinking before they speak to kids.

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Even as adults, the words people say to us are powerful. A stranger on social media leaving a hurtful comment can bring all of my insecurities screaming to the surface. How much harder for a child, one who is just beginning to discover who they are and who they want to become, to navigate sarcastic or joking comments centered around their identity.

You can call me dramatic, it has happened before, but consider this.

We see so many kids, children so young, struggling with anxiety and depression and self harm and eating disorders and on and on. So often the blame is placed on their peers or Hollywood. I can’t help but wonder, if they were asked, how many of those precious kids carry deep wounds from the careless words of an adult.

I do not think that the sweet, misguided, cashier wounded my son. In fact my three-year old has seemingly forgotten the whole interaction. But last year, after too many similar situations, my oldest son asked me to cut his long hair. His words broke my heart. “I love my long hair mama, but I don’t want people to think I’m a girl anymore.” We cut his hair the next day. He stared at himself long in the mirror and I asked if he liked his haircut. He nodded, “Yeah, I like it. I liked my long hair better, but now no one will call me a girl.”

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I am left wondering, how many thousands of interactions will my boys have with adults during these precious, formative years of childhood? How many of them will be life-giving? How many will cause them to question their value? Their identity? Their purpose?

How many children have changed who they were because someone told them what they are, who they are, is less than enough?

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I cannot protect my sons from everything. Or even most things. Trust me, I have moments I want to be like the mom from Bubble Boy and never let them out into the real world, lest they scrape their knee or get knocked over by a bully or catch the common cold. I sometimes mutter under my breath in the grocery store aisles, while my kids beg for Froot Loops, about food dyes and gmos and evil marketing companies preying on children with cartoons and preservatives. I have had my heart-broken watching other kids ignore or refuse to play with my boys. I also understand that these are all normal, albeit difficult, parts of childhood. And sometimes they even get the Froot Loops.

The thing I refuse to accept, no matter how normal or common it may be, is adults speaking anything but life into children.

We have all been there. We have all gone through the awkward, uncomfortable, scary, hormonal, acne-ridden journey that is growing up. Remember that before you roll your eyes at rowdy teenagers aimlessly wandering the mall on Saturday afternoon. Think about it before you wonder why the exhausted and overwhelmed six-year-old throwing a tantrum in public can’t control himself. Before you make a joke, ask yourself if you would have thought it was funny at their age, or would it have stung?

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And hey, don’t be afraid to apologize if you say something without thinking.

I’m a red-headed Irish woman who lived most of her adult life in New York. I was born with a temper and a wild spirit. When I think something, I say it. And too often those sharp words land on my boys. I am not perfect. I never will be. I will always make mistakes. But one thing is for sure, my boys have heard, and will continue to hear, me apologize to them when I accidentally say something hurtful.

Because when I say I want adults to speak life into my kids, and any kids they happen to encounter, that expectation starts with me.

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50 thoughts on “hi. my sons have long hair. now watch your mouth.

  1. You speak to my soul. So many times have I cut my children with my words. And every time I realize I’ve done it I apologize. But how often have I done it to others? Thank you for this. Thank you!

  2. So I’ve read them all- even though I’m not and never will be a parent, and I’ve liked them all. In fact thought they were all great. None bad- not even a little bit-all great, Some fun. Some informative. Some exceptional. Some educational. Some powerful. But this one…BEST, most informative, most powerful, most loving, …BEST ONE YET!

  3. Great…my little grandson has amazing long curls!!! I have to tell people all the time he is a little guy. Mostly older people who always apologize. Have never had anyone be mean … sorry that happened to you guys! You are a great momma bear!

  4. I have four boys ages 13 – 3 yrs old two which like short hair two love their long curly locks & i just adore their beautiful hair! I go through the exact same thing with my 3 year old…people act shocked, amazed & for some odd reason they feel they need to be concerned about MY son’s long hair! You have very adorable children. I’m glad I got to read this cause now I see it doesn’t just happen to us.

  5. I deal with the opposite. We don’t dress our daughter in pink, sparkles, and princess clothing. Typically she is wearing Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, or super hero attire. Why? That’s what my wife and I both loved as children. The result though is the instant assumption she is a boy, and complete shock when they are told she is not.

    • We go through the same thing with my 9 yr old. She was constantly cutting her hair and looks adorable with a pixie cut. She also tends to dress like a rock star and some days that involves black jeans and a black tshirit with skulls on it. It used to upset her occasionally when someone would call her a boy but now she rolls her eyes and moves on.

  6. My son is 18 and has been growing his hair out since elementary school. If I had a dollar for every time someone referred to him as a girl, I would be a zillionaire by now. Every time this happened I would cringe. Not for my sake, but for my son’s. It seems like it would diminish his credibility in who he was as a person. Now, he has a tremendous beard, so there’s no mistaking his masculinity. I am glad that he has grown from the criticism of others.

  7. Thank you for this. My older son looks nothing like a girl – he looks every bit the boy – yet we have to correct people nearly every single day. My problem with this is a bit different than the ones you talked about here: nobody freaking looks at each other anymore. Everyone is so wrapped up in their own heads that they speak without even bothering to take a look around them. And that diminishes those to whom they are speaking, which is an even worse tragedy when it’s a child. And don’t even get me started about preconceived notions of what boys’ hair should look like. You have beautiful children. ❤

    • You are absolutely right that no one looks at each other anymore. I have a son, age 6, who decided a little over a year ago to grow his hair out. He now has the golden locks of Thor. He’s constantly mistaken for a girl. On top of that, I’m 36 and my hair is completely silver. (Hereditary premature gray) At least once a week I am presumed to be the grandmother of my children who are 6 & 3.

  8. My twins both have long hair. One is a girl, one is a boy. Imagine all the commotion around my beautiful twins… That many believe they are girls. I always just correct and walk away but my heart aches for that day when my son wants to change because everyone thinks his hair should be short. And people have told me to cut his hair, not hers, just his. And even more than that, the assuming responses without thinking are constant. It makes me wonder if anyone takes time at all to think before they speak. Certainly I have made mistakes, I know I’m not perfect either, but I am sometimes consumed by the constant and assuming questions that are said without thinking that sometimes I often would rather just stay away from other people, or as you said, live in bubbles.

    Thank you for your post, and to my kind sister in law who shared it with me. I’m a follower now. We have something in common. 😉

  9. My 3 year old has hair to his elbows. Everyone loves it. I have had people call him a girl, then when I politely said he’s a boy tell me I need to cut his hair or everyone would think he’s a girl. I just tell them he doesn’t care what people think, and move on. And so far he doesn’t. It never really occurred to me that he might start soon. I really appreciate this blog. I feel it has prepared me for something I otherwise never saw coming. Thanks.

    • Your comment reminds me of a friend of mine (probably age 50) that says you need to cut that boys hair. I have a problem with boys with long hair. I politely said that is why you have no children of your own so you need not worry about my grandson.

  10. Thank-you so much! I wish I could post a picture of my beautiful long-haired son. He recently had his first “major” haircut for the exact same reason your son did and I cried for 2 days. I was so sad because he felt he needed to have it cut because of the incessant comments! “4 girls!! How nice!” “This one is a boy; he has long hair!” “What?! He’s too pretty to be a boy!!” “Are you kidding me??” “Why do the boys always have the best hair?!” “When are you going to cut it?!” Etc…
    The worst I got was from a store greeter and I almost punched her! My girls happened to be wearing matching dresses and my son happened to be wearing camo that day. I was pregnant for my fourth and needed two things in the store so they were all in the cart. As we walked in, a greeter stopped me and said, “you have the most beautiful children I have ever seen!! I bet you are hoping for a boy this time!!” I smiled and said, “well, we already have one boy*point to son who is shooting imaginary things from the back of the cart* so I will be happy with whatever…as long as it is healthy!!” She quickly scans the cart and says, “you have a boy??” At this point, I’m annoyed. “YES…the one in camo shooting things is my SON!” Now he has taken notice and pipes in, “yup! I’m a boy and I have a penis!!” One would think that was enough, but she is physically holding onto my cart and walks around it and says while pointing two inches from his face, “THIS??!! This is a boy??!! Are you sure??!!” I literally could not believe it! I yanked my cart out of her hand and said, “oh…you know what…you’re right! That wasn’t a penis I saw in his diapers I changed multiple times every day for the first two years of his life…I’m must be such an idiot of a mother!” She had nothing to say as I walked away. I apologized to my kids for being rude to the lady and I apologized for letting her say more than a few words to/around them. I apologized to my son that people didn’t always understand that hair doesn’t determine anything and that you can be whoever you want without needing to “fit the mold!” My very wise, then 3yo son said, “it’s okay mama! I love my hair and who I am! I don’t have to abide by social norms!” (He obviously listened to us a few times!) I wish this was an isolated incident, but it was basically any time we were in public. My sons hair is now shorter and people still mistake him for a girl and he wants it long agin because he said, “apparently it doesn’t matter! Adults just don’t pay attention!” It still breaks my heart for him and enrages me toward the public! We have 3 girls, one boy, and one on the way. We never find out, but if it is a boy, my son already said, “he’s going to have long hair, too!”
    Thank-you again for posting this. I guess I ramble just because it is “nice” to not feel alone in our society that doesn’t seem to understand the hurt they are causing so many people in so many different ways…and that it is starting younger and younger.:(

  11. add to this the thoughtless and hurtful comments directed towards girls with short hair. My 4 year old daughter rocks her short hair but has been called “it” and “that” and had total strangers demand to know “why do you have short hair if you’re a girl?”

  12. Amen! I completely agree and wish more people would give real thought to the words that come out of their mouths.

    And as the mother of a beautiful red-headed 11 year old boy who didn’t have his first hair cut until after his second birthday, and then decided for himself in Kindergarten that he wanted to grow it long again, I have heard it all. Since then, he has only had it short for one school year; right now it’s shoulder length but it has been down to his waist. School moms all love it and are very upset whenever he shortens it at all —- dads all (with the exception of one) “offer” or “promise” to cut it for him.

  13. As a little girl in the 1970’s who was forced to wear my hair cropped very short because that’s how my mother wanted it (and I didn’t get a vote), I was frequently mistaken for a boy by well-meaning strangers. It hurt me so badly to be perceived as male that often I would burst into tears and hide my crimson face in my hands. I was very glad to see that when your son asked for a hair cut, you let him have one and didn’t force him to live within the confines of your own hair preferences. I hope you will continue to let him and his brother guide their gender expressions as they choose, whatever they may be. I can’t describe the pain and humiliation of having that control denied me by a parent.

    • My mom did the same thing ! i have no idea Why It made me look really ackward and odd The thing is I have amazingly, thick and curly pretty long hair too, But it was rare someone called me a boy , in public. Alot where mean to me at school, though…

  14. My goddaughter has short hair. We were at the park after school the other day, and a kid asked her why she was wearing girl shoes. She said “because I’m a girl.” Her mom and I both also have short hair, but the kid was still confused even after talking to me.

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  16. My son had longer hair when he was little, up until he was about 4 years old and he decided he wanted a short haircut like his best buddy in school. Even my parents told me I should cut it but I wanted it to be my son’s choice when he was older. And on the flip side, my daughter was a baldie when she was born and had very little hair all the way up until she was about 18 months old and even if I dressed her in pink and with headbands people would say, “What a cute baby boy!” Why does hair length have to be the thing that equates to gender?!?!?

  17. This is perfect. Thank you for writing this and sharing it with the world! I am also a mother of a beautiful boy who often has long gorgeous hair. He used to be called she SO OFTEN that it got annoying.
    He’s also struggling with some anxiety and depression, some of which comes from people in his life tearing him down and crushing his beautiful spirit. I can only do so much to build him back up and make him love himself more. It’s the worst feeling in the world to see your children having any negative thoughts about themselves.
    Kids in our society have no value anymore. They’re looked at and treated as what they might be one day instead of what they already are. Wonderful, beautiful, perfect, little humans who need nothing but love and guidance to grow.
    Thank you again for this.

  18. I like my boys’ hair a little longer than they like it themselves. So I have to cut it once in a while. LOL. But with the curly haired ones, you can’t tell that it is long until it is wet. I let it get so long with my second son that by the time he took swim lessons at age 4, his wet hair came down to his shoulder blades. I cut it just before lessons started because I did not want to me “messing with” the girl in a boy swim suit assumption. My only girl has long hair.

    But I got the “He’s too pretty to be a boy!” when my babies were still super bald. Some babies are extra cute, and for whatever reason, that makes people think that they are girls.

  19. I love this. My eldest son, now 21 yrs old, had long hair until he was 11. When I say long, he used to sit on his own hair. I used to plait his hair every morning before school. He was so proud and loved his hair. Even being bullied and called names at school, he never once let it get to him and would argue with me when I tried to get the bullying to stop by saying we would get his hair cut.

  20. Thank you so much for this wonderful article! My 2 and 3 year old boys have long hair just like yours and I go thru this every single day even from my own friends and family. I love their hair and so do they. I get personally offended every time I hear someone down them for it.

    Thank you for also reminding me to be gentle with my words to others. It’s always nice to have a reminder.

  21. Thank you for beautifully writing so much of what I felt when my son chose to cut his long hair to appease everyone. I was so mad I could barely talk about it. What angered me the most was how many of the people that should be lifting him up and supporting every part of his being(family, teachers, etc) were the most guilty of those “jokes” or “suggestions”. They thought they were being funny or he wasn’t listening but he felt the real meaning behind them and learned the hard way what a judgmental society we live in. My heart broke for him when he asked me to cut it and again 2 days after when he told me it didn’t work people were still mean. Thank you for sharing a topic that needs attention brought to it and a change brought about. You have beautiful BOYS!!

  22. I totally agree with this. I work at a Wal-Mart and I can’t believe how many times I’ve had to bite my tongue (because my job requires it to be nice) about people making comments about children. I see it more so with the older generations who think it’s bad or wrong, or might change the whole personality of the child. (As if a little harmless makeup is going to turn my 4 yr old into some hootchie overnight) The comments are just opinions but you can see when a child can get upset over them.
    They’re was this old lady the other day, going on and on about how ‘that child over there’ must have bad parents because they let her have rainbow stripes in her hair.
    It may not have been pretty (clearly done by herself) but I could see her frown and look at her mom.
    It’s just chalk! It washes out, so who cares right?
    Don’t worry I told that little girl how jealous I was of her beautiful hair, because I’m not allowed have such at work. 🙂 that made everything better.
    Compliments people, it doesn’t take much effort to find one nice thing to say about someone (even if you don’t mean it fully). It makes you and that person smile and feel good. That is what our world needs more practice in.

    Btw, your boys are handsome with or without long hair. And I’m sure when your oldest hits middle school long hair will be big again and he can say he started the trend. 🙂

  23. Thank you, my son has just asked to have his hair cut for the same reason. His hair is too fine to leave down for more than five minutes, he used to love coming up with wacky hairstyles, now his hair is getting cut short because he can’t take the teasing. And it’s not just children, and it’s not always “innocent” comments. I don’t know why it’s ok to make personal remarks to children if you would never make a remark like that to an adult.

  24. I know whats the big deal if i put a dress on boy . I still know he is a boy. The audacity of people. I say go ahead girl and put a dress on him. He will love it .Boys look so cute with long hair and in dresses.

  25. Beautiful post. But why did you not explain to to him that his hair is his property and he can have it as he chooses before cutting it . Either way I understand what you’re dealing with I have three boys myself and friends and family are always pressuring us to cut their hair

    • Hi! Thanks so much for your comment. In the interest of keeping my post from becoming super long I didn’t share our whole conversation with our son before he chose to cut his hair. We definitely told him it was completely up to him. He knew that he could keep his hair long or cut it and that we supported him either way. He still chose to cut it and so we did it. Now he is once again growing it out because that is what he wants now. We always encourage him to be an individual. ❤️

  26. My grand daughter (an only child) adored her Daddy so much she wanted to be his BOY. So they went to the barber and got buzz cuts. For one whole summer she was a boy. Her name is Bonnie but while she was Dad’s boy we called her Bonner. I know one boy who never cut his hair well into his teens. All of his brothers also have kept their hair. Your boys are awesome and I don’t see girls when I look at their px but boys with beautiful hair.

  27. Sing it sister!

    You know what I love? (Sarcasm!)

    When people act like it is a personal attack on their sense of descency that you would dare trick them by having a long haired boy!

    I mean, shock horror! I did it just to confuse you and make this interaction so totally awful.

    #diezofcute #omg #lovehim #crazyhairdontcare #cheese

    A post shared by Kristie Tatton (@hesperasgarden) on

  28. my youngest has long hair and he loves having long hair! My favorite reply when people say “are you sure she’s a boy” is ” well he has a penis” it usually shits them up real quick!

  29. I’ll start by saying I’m not a mother, but I hope to be one one day. I see plenty of posts from the moms I’m friends with and this is a really great one. I know it’s human nature to want to tell someone with children how beautiful/cute they are (which I don’t really understand to begin with) but why would you ever change your mind based on the child’s gender? If that child has beautiful hair is it any less beautiful because he’s a boy? If a child has best Star Wars t-shirt you’ve seen is it suddenly not cool because a girl is wearing it? Why, why, why is it a bad thing to look like the opposite gender?? And even if you do think that why do you feel it necessary to voice that to a parent or the child themselves? It’s funny (not at all) how adults are so concerned a hair cut will change what a child grows up to be when they don’t even realize it’s their judgements and comments that are shaping that child, not the length of their hair.

  30. I want to point out that most people who disagree with you will not bother to comment. I absolutely agree it is your perogative to not cut your boy’s hair. I love to have my son’s hair nicely trimmed, and I also like our daughter’s neat and tidy too. But, if you choose to have it long then you do so realising the consequences – people will mistake him for a girl. You choose to put your child in the position of potentially having adults not like his long hair and say so. There will always be outspoken people. There will also be comments if you babywear, nurse in public, (insert ten thousand things to this list). If you want to avoid him being wounded cut his hair, keep him home permanently, or learn to deal.

    • … thereby confusing “outspoken” with “rude” and placing the blame for others’ poor behavior squarely on the faultless parents. I don’t see any problems with this logic at all!

      p.s. “Neat and tidy” is not equivalent to “short”.

  31. There is nothing wrong with looking like a girl, because there is no shame in being a girl. Next time somebody says that to your kid, instead of acting like they offended your sweet boy, explain him that it’s like a compliment.

  32. I love this! It made me cry. I don’t have boys with long hair, but I understand the larger sentiment about speaking life to children. Thanks for your words.

  33. I totally agree with Mary, honoring your sons wishes to cut his hair .It is your obligation to your son. I also have a son with long curly hair. He decided he wanted it cut during first grade. People constantly thought he was a she. When he they turned his chair around and he saw himself he proclaimed “I look like a boy” My son is 9 now and has grown his curly locks out again. It’s all his choice, i do adore his long hair, but it broke my heart to hear him say that! Most adults are super complimentary about his look, it’s the kids who are mean. I think he is going to have hair as long as his sisters before long….all the way down his back. Beautifully written article.

  34. My son has very long hair up to his waist. It is wavy and thick and looks great. He used to have short hair but decided himself to grow it long. He wears it up in a bun most of the time but also wears it down.
    All people are the same and there should not be anything stopping boys from having long hair or their own style.

  35. My son has been growing his hair for a year now. I’m sick to death of people calling him a girl, and am especially tired of adults telling him to cut it. He’s 10 and tells people to stop stereotyping him. I always tell him to tell people that Paul Revere, Ben Franklin and Jesus wore long hair, to name just a few men in history!

  36. My sons both had long hair and my eldest son now prefers his cut. But my toddler has the longest glossiest sun kissed hair. Nearly every day we have to politely explain he’s a boy with long hair, but he loves it, I love it and we’d never cut it without his permission. Thanks for your post it lifted my spirits!

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