Hi Awkward team,
Last fall, I decided to get an undercut — long hair with a side shave — and I love it! It looks super cute on me and it feels really good to be able to signal my queerness in an additional way. When I went home for Christmas, my mother was aghast. I said that it was my hair, I liked it, and she was welcome to cut her hair in whatever way she chose. She pouted and mumbled something about how at least it wasn’t a tattoo. (To which I responded, I reserve the right to do that if I want to, too.) I thought this would be the end of it, but almost every time I’ve talked to her since, we have this “conversation”:
Mom: [out of nowhere] I just want you to know your hair will grow back.
Me: …. I’m aware? But I like it this way, and I’m going to keep it like this for a while.
And then she spends a while trying to convince me that I am going to get tired of the maintenance or I’m going to find that’s it’s not professional enough.
I don’t know exactly what her deal is, but it doesn’t matter, because I am super tired of talking about it. I’m 30! It’s my hair!
What’s a good script to squash this conversation the next time it comes up?
At Least She’s Not Bugging Me About Grandkids This Week
Dear Punk Warrior Goddess Siren or whatever your name is,
Your mom can choose to spend her time with you enjoying and celebrating you and having fun together, or she can choose to spend it harping on your appearance. She can choose to listen to you when you ask her to step off a subject that’s none of her business, or she can choose to keep harping on something that you’ve asked her clearly and directly to stop commenting on. So if things get really awkward as you set and enforce boundaries, remember: She has choices about how to treat you.
Setting and enforcing a boundary takes two steps. Step 1: Directly communicate where the boundary is, i.e. “Mom, stop commenting on my hair.” Step 2 involves putting consequences in place if the person ignores the stated boundary, i.e., leaving if she won’t stop.
The next time she brings it up, square up to her and look her directly in the eye. “Mom, when you comment on my hair, what is it that you think is going to happen? What are you hoping for?” She will say something about professionalism or how you could be so pretty if you just blah blah blah. Respond: “Well, what is happening is that you don’t make me dislike my hair, or want to change it – I love my hair, and I don’t actually care if you like it. You do make me dislike and want to avoid you for the rest of the day, which makes me really sad, since I don’t get to see you that much.” She will stammer something out, to which you can say “Okay, I just want to be clear so you know that you can choose what kind of visit you want to have with me in the future. It can be a visit where you deliberately hurt my feelings by bringing up a sore subject, or one where you treat me like a fellow adult and we can enjoy each other’s company. I strongly vote for the second kind.”
She might get up in her feelings about it, and snort out “But I’m your mother! I get to have opinions!” etc. to which you can say “Well, do you vomit your opinions about people all over them, or, as an adult, do you keep some of those to yourself for the sake of kindness and harmony? Could you try to treat me at least as well as one of your random coworkers or church friends? I’d sure appreciate it.”
If she won’t change the topic, end the conversation. I realize it’s tough when you’re staying with someone on a visit, but “Well, good talk everyone, I’m going to go for a walk” can make the point just as well. Harp on your hair and make things unpleasant for you? She gets to see you less, or see the sullen, withdrawn teenager she’s treating you like.
I had this *exact* same talk with my mom about my glasses, which she hates, and I said “Of course you can have whatever opinion you want, but you are being a jerk when you insult my appearance, and I don’t feel like talking to jerks on the phone, so I’m going to hang up now.” And then I did, and didn’t call her for a while. And then she brought it up again the next time we talked, in a half-baked apology way that still tried to put down my glasses, so I said “Mom, this may surprise you, but I have opinions about your glasses. Would you like to hear them?” and she said “No” and I said “Are we gonna keep talking about glasses, then? Or can we agree that adults can wear whatever they want on their face without comment?” And lo, she never mentioned my glasses one way or the other again and I do not mention hers. I can see her, when I show up with new glasses, pointedly NOT mentioning them, which is fine by me. Things are a lot more pleasant between us now that “Is THAT what you’re wearing”/”Since I am literally wearing it, obviously yes!” conversation is off the table.