Every day someone mistakes my son for a girl even though everything else about him stereotypically screams he is a boy. They comment about how pretty she is. I casually use gender-specific pronouns or his name to correct them, and still usually have to let them know that he is indeed a boy. They feign embarrassment and apologize. Then they point out he has long hair—as if long hair is only for girls. I usually laugh it off and tell them it’s really no big deal. That it happens all the time. Deep down I wonder what his hair has to do with anything.

Growing up, I knew a lot of men with long hair. I was indifferent to them. The only man with long hair that ever bothered me was my brother but only because we looked so much alike. He liked to make jokes about it, especially to my boyfriends. Our resemblance made me change my hairstyles quite a bit growing up.

I never expected to be raising a boy with long hair. I envisioned all kinds of cute hair he would have.

However, he has always been very particular about how he liked things, and his hair is no different. His first few years, we kept his hair at a medium length. It was perfect. He still had his beautiful curls, but no one mistook him for a girl. About four years ago, he got his hair cut short for preschool, and that is when he declared he did not like his hair short. He has only had it trimmed since.

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He is now almost finished with second grade and his hair is down the middle of his back. At first, I obsessively asked him if kids talked about his hair. I was so concerned kids would pick on him or not be his friend. It is the complete opposite. He has loads of friends.

One day there was a mystery reader in his class. She asked a question, and when my son raised his hand, she called him a little girl. Loudly and in unison the whole class declared, “That’s John, and he’s a boy!” I was so relieved to know his class accepted him and had his back.

Though it makes me wonder why small, curious children aren’t bothered by his hair, but adults are. 

“When are you going to cut his hair?” they ask.

“When he decides he wants it cut,” I respond.

This is a conversation I have almost daily. I hear it from friends, family, and strangers. I am always astounded by the number of strangers who find it acceptable to question me or my son about his hair choices. I even had one woman tell me that the choice is not his, that I am his mother. It’s my decision. As his mother, I make decisions every day that directly impact his well-being. The length of his hair is not one of them.   

My father believed little girls should have long hair. I had no autonomy over my hair. It made me crazy! When I convinced him I needed a trim, I would get it drastically cut. He would be so angry with me, and he would not allow me to get my haircut again for a long time. Because of this, I have an unhealthy relationship with my hair. I don’t want that for my children.

By allowing my son to have long hair, I’m also building a strong, confident boy.

He is small in stature and has an old, sensitive soul. Yet, he does not care when someone calls him a girl. He used to correct them. Now he shrugs it off. If you ask him if it bothers him, he says, “No, I know I’m a boy.”

RELATED: My Heart Was Waiting For a Son

I’m raising a boy confident in who he is and who doesn’t want to change to please the other people around him. I am so proud of him for that. At eight years old, he has learned a lesson that some of us adults never do. 

When he tells me he is ready to cut his hair, we will. But until then, it is his hair, his decision.

Mary McAteer

I have been writing for 20+ years, my first piece was published when I was in high school. I’ve been fortunate to be featured in several publications both domestically and internationally. Writing has taken a back seat to my two AMAZING kids, but now I'm getting back to me!