clippers boy haircutThe young boy must have only been 10 or 11-years-old. His blond wavy hair was the first thing I noticed as he walked into the salon with his father. The back of my head was resting on a sink as I waited for my conditioning treatment to do its magic, so I had a front-and-center view of the entire exchange. Sometimes you can’t help but notice.

The father spoke to the hair stylist on behalf of his son, “Number three clippers all over please.”

The woman smiled brightly and looked at the boy with hair that reminded me of Justin Bieber pre-scandals. She asked the boy, “So you want a buzz cut today?”

The boy simply looked down at his feet and his shoulders slumped. He sat quietly in the chair and shrugged.

“Oh,” is all the woman said as she made eye contact with the father searching for understanding.

The father who sported a military-style buzz cut patted his son on the shoulder and again spoke for him loudly as if he wanted everyone to hear, “YES, it’s about time. He NEEDS it short. It’s JUST what he needs.”

I could feel the tension in the air. No one said another word as the hair stylist pulled out the clippers. The blond magnificent locks fell to the ground like a slow motion scene from a movie. My stomach tightened and I felt as if it was my hair being buzzed off.

I remained silent and tried not to judge or get emotionally involved, but I couldn’t help feel angry and sad for the boy who clearly did not want to part with his hair. I imagined this was some sort of lesson. Perhaps it was a punishment, or the father’s way to control and/or rein in a boy who was becoming belligerent. Maybe this father really hates what long hair represents. Regardless of the reasons, it was obviously not the boy’s choice. From my vantage point it wasn’t even a compromise.

I am a mother to four. My oldest is a 14-year-old boy who currently wears his hair short, but when he was about 10 years old had the most beautiful long curly hair. It was his form of self-expression. His teammates even nicknamed him Curly. It was part of his identity at the time.

As a parent I have been faced with many scenarios. My children are not perfect. They have lied, broken things out of spite, fought, said curse words, embarrassed me in public, been disrespectful, hit another child, swiped a candy bar from the grocery store (and had to give it back and apologize immediately or face the “police” for stealing), struggled in school, had notes sent home from the teacher for misbehavior, been banned from our community pool (for a day or two), and made poor choices. And I know this is just the beginning. With four children (three of whom are still very young), I understand they will all present their own challenges and my husband and I will have to parent accordingly. We will have to make tough choices. We will have to dole out punishments and be strict. We will have to be the bad guys again and again.

But, one thing we will never do is strip our children of their identities to prove a point. This is cruel and does nothing more than stir the pot of resentment. This is not a solution to a problem. This is not parenting.

I know I sound judgmental. I have not walked in this father’s shoes and I do not know the whole story. I do, however, know the look of a child who is being broken. I understand children in a way that is hard to explain. It is innate in me and is why I choose to care for children for a living. It is why I choose to have a big family. I do not claim to be Mary Poppins, but children are drawn to me wherever I go and if you want to find me at a family function or party, I am usually hanging out with the kids. I simply get them. My own children may drive me into the bathroom to hide or count to ten at times, but other people’s children are so clear to me.

I understand the boundaries. I understand the difference between making your children “learn from” the consequences of their actions and making them “suffer” the consequences. There is a difference.

And as the newly cropped boy with red-rimmed eyes and a stoic expression passed me on the way out of the salon I knew exactly which path his parents had chosen.

Do you believe there is a difference? Is this tough love or overstepping the boundaries of good parenting? Is there a limit to acceptable punishments? Please leave a comment and join the discussion.

Nicole Dash is a writer, blogger and child care business owner who lives in Annandale, VA with her husband and four children. Nicole writes about family, life, parenting and caring for children on her heartfelt blog Tiny Steps Mommy. She also enjoys connecting with her growing community of friends on the Tiny Steps Mommy Facebook page.