My stepfather and I were never very close. He was my family's own personal dictator and, like with most dictatorial regimes, there were many uprisings by my brothers and me in reaction to his strict, authoritarian policies. One time, he even kicked my brother out of the house because his hair was too long and my brother refused to cut it.
The reason I tell this story is because I'm struggling with emerging dictatorial tendencies towards my kids. Everything they do, I want to have complete control over: the clothes that they wear, the way they style their hair, how often they eat, what they eat, how they wash themselves, etc. When I don't have control over the small things, I feel like my little world starts slowly crumbling down and then fear creeps in, which leads to anger and frustration. I never wanted to be like this; I knew what it was like to live my life constantly walking on egg shells.
I'm getting better, though. My older son loves to have his hair straight down his forehead. He pushes it down with his hands so it forms a little point at the end, right in between his eyes. I think he looks better with his hair short, and when I suggest that he should get his hair cut, he throws a fit. All I can think is how much I want to drag him out of the building and into the salon where I could force him to sit and endure a haircut.
So, I've been trying really hard to relinquish control over my sons' lives and just let them be whoever they want to be. I want to be the type of mom that you read about...the type that buys her teenage son pure bar soap and beeswax so that he could dread his hair, the type that doesn't bat an eye when her son walks out of his room wearing goth makeup and clothes, the type that lets her children make their own decisions and (looking back at the crazy hairstyles and clothes they might choose) mistakes. I want to give my sons what was never encouraged in our family: the support and encouragement to figure ourselves out, to have autonomy over the way we express ourselves through our physical being.
One day, we were visiting my aunt while she was getting her nails done (in Colombia, it is fairly common to have someone come over to your house to do your nails for you). Desmond was really interested in the process and asked if he could have his nails painted, too. I froze for a second and repeated my mantra to myself: I brought you into this world, but I cannot take you out of it (a twisted version of the ever popular saying "I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it," a perfect example of the control mothers want to have over their children).
"It's OK with me."
"Are you sure?" asked my aunt. "Won't he be teased at school?"
"The kids who do the teasing are the ones with the problem, not Desmond. If he wants his nails painted, let him have his nails painted."
He chose red, my favorite color.