'Dos and Don'ts

By Jill Hudson Neal
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 5, 2007; 11:18 AM

I've got a case of the mom hair blues. Of all the different versions of mom hair-itis, my particular problem is the "Ponytail Rut," but there are others: the "Snatch Back," the "Scrunchy Bun," the "Bangs of Death," the "My Name Should Be Carol Brady," the "Permed Poof," the "Brush-Tailed Shag" and the ever-popular "I Just Came From the Gym." Not that my pony is a huge problem; it isn't. And it's not even close to being the worst hairdo I've ever sported. (That would have been the ill-advised Louise-Brooks-on-crack chin length bob I got a year ago). These days, I try to pull my longish hair into something sleek and chic (picture the British singer Sade or Jackie O on holiday in Greece) to ease the pain of my morning time crunch. But honestly, the tragic mom-ness of the current hair situation has happened because I've just given up.

Mind you, I should know better. The aforementioned disastrous 'do happened on the tail end of a long bout of BIDHT's ("But I Don't Have Time"), a chronic and traumatic disorder suffered by many mothers. It's brought on by the endless demands on our time and can be cured only by a dramatic and painful intervention. Mine came from a male colleague who "complimented" my new look by saying, "Oh wow, you cut your hair. It's very... mother-in-the-suburbs." Um, wrong answer. You know he wasn't talking about the sexy, Pilates-body suburbs found on Wisteria Lane. Within a week, I slunk back to my old hairstylist and begged her forgiveness for letting another cutter go along with my momentary "wash-and-wear" folly.

In fact, the more I think about it, the whole Mommy Wash-and-Wear hair thing has gotten completely out of hand. So many of us think whacking off our hair will help solve our organizational, professional and psychological problems. In fact, short hair -- especially a bad short cut -- only makes matters worse. Short 'dos actually take more time to style. And they require that your overall look -- earrings, makeup, eyebrows, etc. -- be in tip-top shape. Unless, of course, you pull a Britney and shave it all off in a tattoo parlor after a booze-fueled night. But then you've got bigger issues than just your hair, and that's a whole other column.

Mom hair is sometimes a symptom that other, bigger lifestyle issues are taking place. "Being a mom just sucks up your time and energy," says DCMom.com proprieter Christina Hendricks, who prefers to keep her strawberry blonde hair long, even though the maintenance takes a bit of time away from her three young children. "We start to downgrade everything in our lives to make things simpler. Unfortunately, your first instinct is to give it all up for your kids. You look up and it's like, 'How about mommy needs to take five minutes to blow dry her hair, so let me have this time to do it for myself.'"

Those short mom cuts may also make you look older. Take Katie Holmes's new haircut as an example. The 28-year-old actress recently cropped her long, glossy, coco-hued tresses, and the result doesn't suit her. The cut itself is cute enough -- on a golf-obsessed retiree whose only hair styling aid is a sun visor with the words "Royal Caribbean" written in frilly cursive. (One particularly unsympathetic celebrity blog even labeled Holmes's look "The Mag! The Schmom!." The problem is that Holmes is a young, beautiful mother and wife (to the perpetually sunny Tom Cruise), not someone who has a standing appointment for a monthly blue rinse and roller set. But I suspect I know what Katie was thinking when she sat down in the hairstylist's chair. "I should try something different," she probably thought. "All these Hollywood moms have long hair -- those weaves and extensions are played out. Oh, I know -- I'll chop it off! Then I'll be free of all the hassle."

The dirty little secret is that the "hassle" really comes from the demands of parenthood itself. And the 15 extra minutes you save by not doing your hair won't make that much difference in the overall scheme of things. The cure to mom hair-itis can only be found through old-fashioned mom management skills. Like looking again for that "extra" time in the day -- before the kids get up in the morning or after they go to bed at night, perhaps -- to get your 'do in shape. Or seeking out a great stylist who can work with you to find a compromise between what's practical and what's modern, youthful and vibrant.

Me, I think I'll try an old-school tactic: plopping the kids in front of my main man, Elmo, locking the bathroom door and letting the beautiful buzz of my blow dryer take me away.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company