This is Part One to a three part series.
As a white mom raising a kid of color, good hair care is a new world for me.
I have thin, greasy, flat straight hair. If I'm lucky, it might wave at you for twenty seconds.
Our son's hair has changed and transformed over time. With each new phase of his hair, we have reached out and asked other mamas what they recommend we do to properly care for him. I never want to think I know it all; especially when it comes to living the black experience.
It’s easy for me to run to my white mom friends who have been caring for their kids of colors a few more years than me. But I am doing my best to slow down, humble myself, and reach out to my mom-friends of color.
We should be asking moms who have been living the black experience their whole life how to care for their skin and hair. Not white moms who just started a few years ago, caring for their children’s skin and hair.
I am so honored to share with you Helen and her expertise in skin and hair care. As a black woman, she has much to share with us and we have so much to learn from her. Especially us white moms raising kids of color.
For adoptive or foster parents, I highly recommend the Facebook group: Not just hair: the intersection of hair/skincare and transracial adoption. There's a wealth of resources and information. This is simply a launchpad.
Helen is African; she moved from Kenya to Los Angeles in March 2007 with an F-1 Visa. She pursued a Masters Degree in Business; after graduating in 2009 she married Mike. They moved from CA to Tennessee where she went back to school for her second Masters degree in Mental Health and counseling. She is currently a board certified behavior analyst practicing in Northwestern Suburbs of Chicago. Her and her beloved Mike are raising two of the most beautiful children.
In Helen's words, "I grew up in rural Kenya in a large family. We had very little but community always took care of each other. The concept of family was looser than it is in the United States. There were few families that I knew had adopted children from the community, although the process itself did not involve lawyers or courts.
I knew when I was little it was my desire to grow my family that way. I just did not know how or if it was possible until later down the road when I researched more about adopting in the United States. I am blessed my husband respected my decision, embraced the idea, and we started the process in 2012 with our first adoption.
We have two children now through adoption. Malika, adopted from Ethiopia in 2014 and Eli adopted from Las Vegas in 2016."
Here is our conversation regarding skin and hair care as well as the importance of black culture:
NB: Will you share about the importance of skin and hair care, especially in regards to black culture?
Helen: Skin and hair and language are the heart of socialization in black culture. In black salons and barber shops, in churches and other places of social interactions in the black community, skin and hair conversations feature.
From my own experience growing up with lots of black people around me, we learnt early on how important it is to hydrate the skin so it is not dry or flaky. Skin hydration for black people isn’t merely for cosmetic purposes. Primarily, it is for safety and wellbeing.
There are varying degrees of hair texture among black children and it is important to make that distinction.
My daughter and I have very different textures and the products that I use on her hair are different than those that I use in mine.
The way a child’s hair looks is correlated with the overall care that child receives from her mom or parents.
A big part of self confidence among our black children comes from their hair.
It is therefore important to promote overall health of your black child including the quality of their hair care.
Obtaining your child’s buy-in to nurture her hair from a young age is important. What I mean is, working your child through the importance of the rigorous work that goes into taking care of her hair, so she understands clearly why this kind of work is needed. Also making the process really fun (because understanding doing black hair is Kind of punishing to the child because it can be painful and uncomfortable).
A tip I would like to share is setting aside a day in the week for hair day.
During hair day at our house, my daughter knows the process ends with a movie or some fun activity of her choice. I make sure she hears from me how beautiful her hair is, letting her know exactly what I am doing with her hair and why.
I make sure she hears from me that her curly hair is distinctively beautiful but it needs the care we are giving it to thrive. I make sure it is completely detangled before I wash it, I take time to massage it during wash and I make sure it is completely deep conditioned after the wash. It is important for your black child to feel validated by you as a parent.
At What age do you recommend kids begin having protective styles done? Will you explain protective styles?
The sooner you begin protective hairstyle from toddler age, the better your child will grow up tolerating all the work that goes into any protective hair style.
The underlying reason for protective hair style is to preserve hair from damage, lock in moisture for longer scalp hydration, save you time from having to do the hair daily and protecting the ends from breaking.
I am a firm believer in simplicity in protective hair style for my daughter. I think there is a lot of pressure to use lots of hair accessories but I think as moms, we need to take a step back and examine what kind of accessories work with our children’s hair.
Whatever protective hair style you prefer to use, it is important to remember to keep the scalp hydrated.
Protective hair styles for boys can begin at toddler age too but I would say to think about what the overall goal is for your little boy as well as his hair texture. It is easier to keep shorter hair well moisturized. I don't have a lot of thoughts on this I think because I am not a big fan of protective hair styles for little boys.
As for protecting boy's hair: constantly washing your boy's hair is not a good idea. Wash only once a week. Condition it after wash and keep hair moisturized throughout the week. Every head of curls and texture is different. Different hair textures may call for different moisturizer so it is important not to settle on the "common" moisturizers but use one that bring out your child's curls.
This concludes part one of a three part series with Helen. Check in Sunday for part two.
To us, this is extremely important. Especially for white parents raising kids of color: we don't just adopt children, we adopt their culture, race, and heritage. Let's take care of them for the sake of our children and their identity.
For adoptive or foster parents, I recommend the Facebook group: Not just hair: the intersection of hair/skincare and transracial adoption.
Further reading: In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption