By Rajbinder Grewal
“They’ve never cut their hair? Like ever? Not even a trim?” My three daughters have grown up hearing random strangers comment about their long, gorgeous tresses. All three of them are blessed with healthy, envy-inducing locks. We don’t cut our daughters’ hair, or kes, because we are Sikhs and it is an important part of the Sikh physical identity, I often explain. “But your hair is cut?” is often the observation I get. Yes, I am a Sikh mother who doesn’t allow her children to cut their hair, but I cut mine.
I had grown up in a relatively traditional Punjabi family where my sister and I had the expectation to keep our hair long. Growing up, I had always worn my hair in a braid that felt boring and not beautiful. I didn’t see myself, or my hair, reflected back at me in fashion magazines, on tv, in the movies or even by my peers. At a time when fitting in seemed to be most important to me, my hair was the one part of my appearance that I could change in order to fit in more. So as a young adult, I cut it.
My journey into understanding and learning more about Sikhi began after I cut my hair, when I started to understand the importance of keeping kes. For Sikhs keeping their hair unshorn isn’t about vanity, or beauty ideals or fitting into mainstream society. It is about honouring ourselves as we are. Keeping our kes, helps identify us as a member of the Sikh faith, it helps us fit into a community already and into our own self-confidence.
These are the lessons I wanted to teach my children. To teach them what I was learning as an adult but to also help them shape their sense of self at an early age. By keeping their hair as part of their Sikh faith,
I want them to learn that they are honouring their faith and the people who have come before them.
I want them to develop pride in themselves as they are.
I want them to understand that they already belong when they feel like they don’t.
I want them to develop the courage to stand apart in a crowd.
I want them to conquer the fear that comes with looking different.
I want them to know that their strength lies in accepting themselves.
I want them to realize the unconditional love that Waheguru has for them.
As adults, we are able to make our own choices, but as parents, we are entrusted to make decisions for our children. For our family, we made the conscious choice to not cut our children’s hair rather than making the choice to cut it. Perhaps this is the greatest challenge in parenting, making choices and decisions for our children and not knowing what the implications or impact will be on them. As our kids grow, we have been able to have more honest and open discussions to explain the choices we’ve made for them. But it still wasn’t easy when my daughter asked, “ why do you cut your hair Mom?”
I still cut my hair even as my understanding and belief in my faith grows everyday. It is my own personal path, I have explained to my daughters, one where I am still learning. It was a decision I made when I was old enough to make that decision and there might be a day (probably not too far from now) when one of them starts to think about making that choice for herself too. When, and if, that time comes we will have that discussion with our kids, as we would about any major decision that they will make. We will be open-minded to their own personal choices.
We will not show them disappointment if they choose something different. We will not judge them if we disagree with them. We will not threaten them if we are afraid. We will not disapprove of who they choose to be. We will love and accept them as we have always done because that is also what our faith teaches us.
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