Prev Next

Bad Baby Haircuts

By Amalah


Hi Amy,

Here’s an interesting dilemma for you that I bet you’ve never come across before. My mother-in-law is a hairstylist. Not one who does modern type haircuts, but one who does old lady cuts, perms, and sets. She’s kind of harbored some resentment toward me from the start since I didn’t have her do my hair for our wedding. I did let her cut my hair a few times before I got married. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my hair, and seeing that she didn’t comb through or section off my hair before chopping pieces off, really bothered me. Eventually I decided to just do what I wanted to do and continued going to my regular stylist.

Unfortunately, however, this routine does not work with our 21-month-old baby boy. She basically thinks she has ownership of his hair. She insists on cutting it, chops it off in hunks, and it looks horrible. She leaves long strands where they shouldn’t be, cuts his bangs too short, and claims she can’t “layer” it because his hair is too thin (it’s not). She gets pissed if we point out a piece she missed, blaming it on him being hyper and not sitting still for her; e.g. do you know how hard it is to cut his hair?!?  And yet, if I trim a piece off myself, she reprimands me for it, as in why didn’t you tell me that needed to be trimmed?? Or even “did you do that, it looks VERY unprofessional!!” I had to beg for weeks last time I wanted his hair trimmed by her. Every time she came over for weeks on end, she magically “forgot” her hair cutting supplies.

So, it seems that she doesn’t REALLY want to do it, yet she doesn’t want to let anyone else do it either. So basically, my adorable baby boy who could look 100% cute has crappy hacked up hair. It breaks my heart. I want to get him a real haircut that looks professional, but at the same time don’t want to cause family strife or offend my MIL, who is a very opinionated, loud, difficult, and unyielding person. I should probably add that my husband won’t back me on this. Help!!


Man, I think *MY* hair is coming out in chunks after reading your question. Which is a tough one. And one of those questions where I really don’t think there’s a secret hidden magical solution that will make everybody happy and revolutionize the mother/daughter-in-law relationship around the world. You really only have the obvious choices:

1. Sit down and talk to your mother-in-law. Tell her you get the sense that cutting your son’s hair is difficult for her, because he’s so “hyper” or whatever the hell she says. That it really grows like a weed and you believe it might be easier if you take him to someone who specializes in kid’s hair and is used to the wiggly non-sitting-still type of client. Don’t bring up her skills or your displeasure with your son’s hair — just approach it from a reasoned, sympathetic angle of making life easier for everybody, perhaps with a promise that she can resume the haircuts once he’s older and sitting still and such. (You can then pretend for years that you never said this.)

I know. You’re probably laughing out loud by now. I’m thinking your mother-in-law is not the reasonable sort, open to reasonable discussions that end in a big hug? Okay. Then your next two choices are:

2. Take him somewhere to get a haircut without telling her, knowing it will probably cause some strife and drama.
3. Live with the hacked-up hair.

I’m sorry. Either you can be honest with her and have a grown-up talk with her, or you can’t. If you can’t, you either buck up and let her continue to butcher your son’s hair…or wait for her to forget her scissors one more time, then take him for a haircut the next day. Because she forgot! And he really needed a trim! Your hands were tied! What’s the big deal, it’s just hair, it’ll grow and she can trim it up next time, etc.

Of course, you KNOW it’s a big deal and it’s not “just hair” to her and she’ll probably NEVER forget her scissors again and complain endlessly about the other hairstylist’s work. In her heart, she thinks she’s helping, and of course it’s going to hurt her feelings (and her ego) if you refuse that help. So…it’s your call, depending on just how bad his hair looks and how long your mother-in-law can hold a grudge.

To be fair, a lot of the kiddie salons might not be able to produce much better results than your mother-in-law’s. Our haircuts have ranged from generally acceptable to full-on terrible. The best haircuts my son has gotten have been when I can convince him to sit still enough for my own hairstylist to give him a quick trim after my appointment. But most of the time he freaks out when we attempt this, so we end up at the kiddie salon with the stupid TVs and he gets another version of the Standard Little Boy Haircut. Nothing special.

So perhaps…

4. Buy yourself some hair-cutting tools — GOOD scissors, not your sewing shears or whatever, and focus on improving YOUR skills at repairing the mother-in-law hack-job. Claim she “inspired” you to give it a try, or you learned the techniques from watching her all this time, or something. She says it looks terrible or unprofessional? Meh. Whatever, you can take that.

The easiest way to cut baby hair IS in layers/chunks/bits, no matter how thin, and for a decent baby boy haircut, work in a vertical pattern — from his neck up to his crown, and NOT from side to side, ear to ear. That’s the Dumb & Dumber haircut we moms of boys all know and fear. You do need to snip a nice neat line across his neck and around his ears, but everything else you just sort of…grab little chunks and snip at the ends. I found a few tutorials online — here’s a good one with photos, though the child is much older and able to sit still. The technique is the same, though with a baby you might need to do the haircut over the space of a day or two, bits at a time, whenever he’s calm and willing to sit mostly still.

Doing it yourself is probably the closest thing to that perfect magical solution — you might never be 100% happy with his hair, but as your own skills improve you should be able to give him a somewhat decent haircut without QUITE so much drama as taking him somewhere else might cause. She forgets her scissors, you claim to not have a choice

(“I…uhh…dropped my gum in his hair?), you re-style his hair as best as you can, maybe let her fix the line around his ears next time. IF YOU DARE.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • Jae

    May 22, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Ahh! That baby in that video is sooooo stinkin’ cute!

  • Shanna

    May 22, 2009 at 11:50 am

    it’s your son’s hair not your mother in laws! i would get his hair cut by the “professionals” because it’s just easier on you and if it’s going to ’cause grief within the family then your MIL is being petty. bring up to her that she seems too busy to remember to bring her tools or that you’re not on the same schedules or that her typical clients are not kids (and probably not many men)

  • Jennifer

    May 22, 2009 at 11:58 am

    My vote is for #2. He’s your son and you get to decide who cuts his hair and when, where, and how it gets cut.

  • Michelle

    May 22, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Yeah, I’d just take him somewhere the next time that she forgets her hair-cutting stuff. “He needed a trim before x event or he got some gum/candy etc stuck in his hair and I figured it best to get it taken care of right away” or some other version of this excuse.
    My now 3 yr old has only had haircuts by my stylist and they rock. Seriously, she gave him his first cut at 9 months because the kid has lots of hair (comes by honest). Plus she is super cheap for a kid cut compared to the those kiddie places…$10!

  • Janette

    May 22, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Oooh, I cut my one-year old son’s hair, and it is really fun! I do it in the bath (where he cannot move around as much), and after cutting a neat line around the ears and neck, I just snip at the ends. Sure, there are imperfections, but I really like the overall shape and style. I would never dare to touch my own hair (aside from an occasionaly bang-trim), so I have enjoyed channeling my inner-stylist with my son. In fact, I have even started cutting my husband’s hair sometimes!

  • No Time for Passive Aggressive Grammas

    May 22, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Exactly what Amy said but add more sprinkles: wait for gramma to “forget” one more time and then take the kid to a great kiddie salon. If she asks why, tell her it’s because she forgot and you had a coupon. No gramma I know will argue with a coupon. Then tell her how unbelievably great your kid did, how patient he was, how well he sat for the stylist etc. Tell her that the stylist told you that kids often sit better for strangers than they do for their own loved ones. Then you can finish the conversation up with a well placed, “you know how I would prefer for YOU to cut his hair, but this just really seemed to work out for everyone, especially since you’re just so darned busy”. Smile like it’s really a dream solution, and then walk away… .Walk directly to the gin and pour yourself a fab martini and try not to notice the 3000 lies you had to tell just so you could put up with your crazy in-law without being rude.

  • Wallydraigle

    May 22, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    If you start putting your foot down with her consistently (but POLITELY–that is key), you might be surprised by the results. People who behave like this do it because it works; nice, normal people give in because they don’t want to deal with the fallout. But, in my experience, it will get worse for a while, and then it will get better–not sunshine and roses better, but better. Once she learns her passive-aggressive behavior no longer works on you, she’ll probably start behaving a little better. I’m guessing this isn’t the only part of your relationship in which she exerts her will by childish, passive-aggressive behavior. Learn to put your foot down, one issue at a time, and she might just learn not to mess with you (at least, not directly).

  • Amy

    May 22, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Wow, I never disagree with you, Amalah, but this time I’m going to have to.
    Darling Husband needs to get involved in this situation. He needs to sit his mother down and say, “Mom, lay off the baby’s hair.” If she says “Why?” or, more likely, “Whyyyyyyyyy?!?!?!?” the answer is, “Because he’s our kid, and I asked you to lay off. Please don’t bring the scissors anymore. We appreciate that you’re trying to help. We’ll let you know if we WANT your help in the future.”
    Grow a pair, seriously, Dad, and quit making your wife deal with YOUR parents. Narg!

  • Ms. Huis Herself

    May 22, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Oooh – “coupon” = brilliant!
    Your MIL probably doesn’t like whatever haircut idea you want for your kid (too long, too short, not exactly-like-I-gave-my-own-son, whatever) and is passive aggressively trying to circumvent you. So you will probably _never_ get her to cut it the way you like it. Might as well choose a solution you can live with (learning to cut it yourself, “coupon,” “kiddie stylist for now; you cut it when he’s less wiggly (ha!)), whatever, and then deal with the situation as soon as possible so that you get the crazy/drama out of the way and get into a situation with which you’re happier.

  • Laura

    May 22, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Get a professional to cut it. You are getting grief from her even when she does it herself, so what is the difference. You will most likely get grief again, but will at least have a haircut you will like on your child. Life is too short for this pettiness. Even if she complains to the whole family how you didnt let her, the hairstylist, cut his hair, it sounds like everyone probably knows of her lovely attitude and will understand more than you think.

  • christina

    May 22, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    I wouldn’t even wait for her to forget: I’d take him to a salon the next day. He’s your kid! Don’t put up with her bull.
    Though I do like the coupon idea as a line of defense… 🙂

  • ms martyr

    May 22, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Does your husband let her cut HIS hair? That’s what I really want to know.
    I agree with everybody else’s suggestions. Sounds like a no-win situation so might as well do what makes you happy.

  • Heather S

    May 22, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    The husband should totally be handling this, not her. 🙂 He should let the MIL know that they’ve taken the kid to a salon, just because MIL is so busy!

  • miriam

    May 22, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Don’t ever lie. She’ll smell it and will rub your nose in it forever. She won’t cut his hair, then gripes if you do it– or will cut his hair, gripes that he won’t sit still and does a crappy job–
    Tell the truth and stick to objective facts:
    1) You don’t like the way your son’s hair is looking, 2) you don’t want to trouble her to cut it (because you don’t think family should mooch free haircuts, because he can’t sit still and you’d rather he spend quality time with grandma etc etc– there is a perfectly acceptable reason why you don’t like her doing it besides the obvious fact that she is also being a pain) 3)you love the way the new stylist cut it and you’ll be going there from now on.
    Sure, she’ll get pissy. But she won’t have a leg to stand on so she’ll have to pick on something else. Like it would be a horrible thing if she stopped talking to you for a week or two?

  • aj

    May 23, 2009 at 12:41 am

    No question about it, the husband needs to handle this situation.
    My mother-in-law has done many things over the years to cause hurt feelings and frustration. My sister-in-law is not afraid to call her out on it and has many times. This has basically ruined their relationship and caused the mother and son to have a very damaged relationship as well.
    I, on the other hand, am adament that my husband handle any issues that involve his parents and in return, I do the same with mine. We both have enough respect for one another to stand up for each other, even if it means confronting our parents about it.
    My MIL is going to love her sons NO MATTER WHAT. That same unconditional love does not apply for in-laws, sorry to say.
    So while I would be very upset about my MIL giving my son a hack-job haircut, I would not dream of confronting her on the issue. Let the husband handle his mother and get the kid a decent haircut somewhere else.
    Good luck!!!

  • Jen

    May 23, 2009 at 3:29 am

    To answer the question as to whether or not she cuts my husband’s hair – YES, she does!

  • ms martyr

    May 24, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Too bad about husband’s hair. I was hoping you could use, “You don’t allow her to cut your hair.” Oh well.
    And as for the anonymous comment – If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Amy can write whatever she wants and here she is answering legitimate questions. And this one is about hair – what’s a more beauty qualifying question than hair?

  • marit

    May 26, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    I am so happy to hear that my mother in law is not the only nut case out there! Get your husband to tell his Mom to knock it off, and while doing do, get your poor child a great haircut. I really hope your husband can step in here, because if your husband can’t stick up for his child’s hair, you may have more to deal with than just a bad haircut!

  • Gaby

    May 27, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    I, a complete stranger with only one letter to go off of, think this sounds like it’s about more than your baby’s haircut. If your husband doesn’t have your back when it comes to issues with his passive-aggressive mom, it’s definitely a bigger issue than whether or not your MIL has mastered the fade.
    I just (like, this afternoon) started reading, “Toxic In-laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage,” and it has been really helpful.It points out the different types of pushiness people get from their in-laws and provides tips for dealing with those moments. I have no investment in this book, honestly, I just hate to read about a woman being bulldozed by her in-laws, so I thought I’d suggest it.
    On the topic of haircuts? Take him to a professional, if it’s going to ultimately make you happier. $10, $20, $30 is a small price to pay for happiness, IMO. Good luck!