09/15/2013 11:11 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Is It With Mothers, Daughters and Hair?

My 2-year-old daughter, Viv, has the most beautiful hair.


Too bad she won't let me touch it.


A hairbrush might as well be a machete by the way she runs screaming: "No mommy! Not my hair!"

When Viv first resisted my efforts to comb out her easily-tangled mop, I thought maybe I was hurting her. After gently testing some half a dozen styling tools including a paddle brush, wet hair brush, fancy kids' salon brush and wide-toothed comb, I concluded that pain was not the issue. She just doesn't want me messing with her hair.

If brushing Viv's hair is challenging, styling it is downright impossible. Whenever I manage to distract her long enough to slip on a barrette -- perhaps a lavender polka-dotted flower that perfectly complements her outfit -- she'll yank it out before I can even say, "That's so cute."

Alas, her long locks hang over her face, making her look like Cousin Itt from "The Addams Family" (are you old enough for that reference?) or that scary girl from "The Ring."

It bugs me. It even bugs her. But apparently, she'd rather spend all day shoving her hair back behind her ears (with fingers that are almost always muddy, sticky or covered in yogurt) than let me fix her up with some nice pigtails.

Occasionally, Viv will allow someone who is not me to touch her hair. She got on famously with the stylist at the kids' salon; at 2 years old, Viv intuitively understood that salon pampering was a good thing. I'm lucky I got out of there without springing for a toddler mani/pedi.

Another time, my squirmy kid stood stock still for 10 minutes while a babysitter wove a precise French braid in her hair. So adorable. Imagine my disappointment when she ripped out the braid as soon as we left the house, complaining that it was too tight.

"That makes me sad!" was my knee-jerk and not very mature reaction to Viv's hairdo destruction. Then I checked myself. What kind of melodramatic behavior was I modeling if I claimed her hairstyle made me sad? World hunger is sad. Charlotte's Web is sad. Dropping your ice cream cone on the sidewalk might be cause for tears. Undoing a French braid cannot possibly qualify. I had to let it go. But I feared this was just one lost hair battle in a long war.

Hair is such a hot button for mothers and daughters. Even my own mom, generous with compliments, saves her criticisms for my 'do. ("You forgot to comb the back. It looks like a rat's nest! And did you have to go quite so blonde this time?) How could I ever break the cycle?

I couldn't expect help from Viv. She's 2. I had to analyze my own motives. Why was I so intense about something to trivial?

It's just good hygiene, I rationalized. Part of my mom job is to keep Viv clean and tidy. Plus, I like looking at her sweet face, all of it, uncovered by shag. But was there another, more sinister motive at work? Could it be that I like basking in the reflected glow of my daughter's appearance? Surely, when someone stops on the street to tell me how cute she is (which has more to do with the light inside her than any outfit or hairstyle I could dream up), I beam with pride and say, "Thank you," as though it's all my doing. I don't squirm and deflect the way I might if someone complimented my outfit (oh, this old thing?). I eat it up. Plus, her dazzling presence takes all the pressure off me to lose the baby weight, shower or take care of myself. Nobody's looking at me when I'm traveling with cute. So, the least my little show pony could do is let me brush her hair!

Or, I could try to enjoy this oh-so-brief period of her life in which my daughter is totally unselfconscious. She's not trying to look like a princess or some girl in her class or a picture in a magazine. She's just being her wild-haired self. And that's beautiful.

This post first appeared on Lifetime Moms and on Carriage Before Marriage.