Adoption is full of unique challenges and learning curves. In some cases, it’s full of learning curls.
Before I became an adoptive momma, I was a foster momma. The color of a child’s skin was never a determining factor for whether we would take them. Among the first children we were asked to care for was an African-American premie infant that absolutely stole our heart and would later become our first adopted child. I remember commenting to the nurse at the hospital about his very very straight hair. It was thick and soft and silky. I also remember what she said back. “Oh, that’s just temporary. It will get nappy soon.” She was also African-American. I wasn’t. I took her word for it and she was right.
Looking back on our very intensive GPS foster care training, I find one gaping hole and that is how to properly care for ethnic hair. With the boys (we adopted five total) at first it was just a matter of finding a good barber and later learning to handle the clippers myself. We had some experimental moments where they allowed their hair to grow a little or even tried a bit of relaxer. But, for the most part, fades have been our friends and my goodness, they are so handsome.
Our first African-American foster daughter was about three years old and I had a lot of fun doing fanciful parts and simple braids and puffs. Her birth mom saw her regularly and participated in the more detailed styles. Then, we had two sisters arrive with Geri curls. They were cute as they could be but, I was clueless. I recall the social worker who was also black telling me she was also clueless as to what to do. The birth mom had sent a message to please not mess up their hair as she had spent a lot of money and time having it done. They didn’t stay long before being placed in another home so, I didn’t fully experience that learning curve or perhaps I should say, learning curl.
Our last two of forty-five foster children were our two daughters that we would adopt. They were ages six and seven. They arrived with very tightly braided cornrows and unhealthy scalps. They also had experienced pain and injury during hair care which had led to medical treatment. Here they arrived in our home with so much healing required and let me tell you, hair did not seem like a high priority at that point.
But, soon, whether it seemed important at first or not, it became a huge issue. I feel like I should cue a revision of Johnny Cash singing ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’ at this point except the words would be more like, ‘I’ve Tried Everything Man! I’ve tried everything!’
It would take much longer than one blog entry to catalog our journey and I won’t attempt that. Here’s what I do want to say to other adoptive moms who are facing the same ‘learning curl’. First, you can do it if you are willing to learn and try. It may seem insurmountable but, it is not. Second, do your research and ask for help. Do whatever you can to make caring for their hair stress free for you both.
There are so many resources available now that I did not have access to. The African-American community has also changed and natural hair is much more common. There are Facebook Groups and Web Pages and books and YouTubes that you can access. These two links below are especially good. The lady who is sharing about being careful about negative impressions is SPOT ON. The linked article is a good basic introduction to ethnic hair care and also provides many useful links.
As the girls and I have traveled this path together we have shed some tears of frustration, some failed experiments, some triumphs. Their hair has become an important part of our bonding and mother/daughter relationship. My desire for them to feel as pretty as I knew they were and my determination that they would view themselves with pride and confidence kept me pressing on when I felt totally inadequate to do so.
We've done braids and bows. We’ve done short 'fros. We've relaxed and straightened and styled. We've gone natural. And lately, yarn braids are our best friends.
Whichever style we choose, I want them to never doubt that their hair is a beautiful and unique expression of them. I want them to value every strand and realize, without a doubt that I do too. As a matter of fact, so does God.
And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:30 NLT)