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Your kids’ hair. They don’t want you to comb it. They never want you to comb it.

Maybe they won’t sit still. Maybe they’re tender-headed and the combing hurts. Maybe they’ll just mess it right back up two seconds after you went through all that work.

Maybe they’re babies. Babies are the ultimate in not giving a crap about whatever you want them, their mouths, hands, hair or feet to do. Your baby definitely doesn’t want you to do his or her hair. But if you don’t, people start putting together petitions against you like your baby’s name is Blue Ivy.

What do you do? Do you fight a losing war, ignore the haters or lazily comply by putting a hat on that head?

As a girl child who had a lot of hair, I can tell you that this is a controversial issue. Once upon a time in the 1980s, my father decided to let my sisters and me tag along with him to the grocery store. It was an early Saturday morning and we’d all slept all over our hairdos. He, ever resourceful but not having any clue about what to do with black girls’ hair, stuffed hats on our heads and announced to himself with pride, “STILL CUTE,” and took his cute babies out with him.

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He was so proud of himself! Then he came home to my mother, who was, initially, pleased that he’d given her some precious alone time without her three children mewling about, only to recoil in horror that he did not comb our hair before allowing us to leave the house.

“But … but they were still cute?” thought my father. Never mind that groceries were purchased and private time was obtained.

Losing battle.

Some black people attribute the quality of your child’s hair to whether or not you are a fit parent. If your kid’s hair doesn’t look as if you did whatever you did to it on purpose, people will assume all sorts of terrible things—like you don’t bathe, feed or love the child. They might call child welfare on you. People get weird about hair. It’s deep. My mother would often sigh and feel bad whenever she saw some poor child out and about with her hair uncombed, as if the kid were a poorly kept street urchin raised by crack-addled hooker-pimps who couldn’t afford Pink oil moisturizer and bobby pins.

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And the amount of shade she throws whenever she cuddles her precious, rambunctious grandson if there’s even a speck of lint in his curls.

“I guess the baby’s hair is supposed to be like this?” she asks of no one in particular.

Her grandson—a child of not-quite 3, who destroys everything he can get his hands on then gleefully laughs at your pain—is a foreign concept to her, as she raised perfect, robot-baby-doll children who sat still for ear-massacring pressing combs 10 seconds after sliding out of the uterus.

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We were never dirty, messy, covered in lint, food, snot, whatever. We were spotless. So spotless, it unnerved our grandfather.

“Those kids need some dirt,” he told my dad.

But the dirt would never come.

I used to be one of those “COMB HER HAIR” people. The loudest. But I was only repeating how I’d been raised. My mother, who is somewhere right now thinking about cleaning something, was/is a girlie-girl lady, a black Betty Draper, but without all the psychological underpinnings and with an infinitely better husband.

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Growing up, she was the kind of stay-at-home mother who would come to my school—in full makeup, hair laid like Clair Huxtable, high heels and a wrap dress, draped in a fur coat—to bring me a misplaced hat or gloves on cold days. Couldn’t let her baby catch cold during recess! But while it was cool to be raised by the woman who held the titles at my school of Nicest Mom, Hottest Mom, Most Popular Mom and Mom Most Feared by Racist and/or Incompetent Teachers and Administrators, there is a certain expectation that goes with it.

She came from a time when how you looked as a woman was how you were judged. Mind you, this time has not truly passed, but it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. There’s no need to pass down the legacy of insecurity and stress that comes with drilling into your children’s heads that their outsides are all that matter. That what grows on her head is more important than learning how to swim, playing a sport, jogging, riding a bike, running around outside playing, dancing, exercising and generally living a complete kid life of occasionally getting dirty or funky. Sweating out your blowout should be the least of your worries at 5. Your kid has a lifetime to battle with all the drama of hair (among other things). No need to start trashing her self-esteem early!

So while, in theory, my mother was right because of the era she came from, she was also wrong. (I honestly have nightmares where my hair falls out in clumps, I’m so paranoid over it.)

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For the sake of your children’s self-esteem, just don’t make a big deal about hair—whether they sweat out your hard work or announce they want to spend all summer in the pool. And if you can’t take the heat, put a hat on it.