Bedtime routines can often be the bane of a parent's existence. But for blogger Lauren Casper, Saturday night bedtimes are her favorite. That's when she and her 3-year-old daughter Arsema sit down for some one-on-one girl time — Arsema picks out a fun new hairstyle on Pinterest, and Casper gives it her best try. It may sound like pretty typical mom-and-daughter stuff, but here's why it's so much more: Casper is white, while Arsema is black; and their weekly hair sessions are as much about bonding as they are about teaching Arsema to embrace her natural beauty.
Earlier this week, Casper shared their touching story in a moving essay on Today's community blog, and it wasn't long before the post garnered a lot of attention. "As the white mother of a beautiful black daughter, hair care has been a steep learning curve for me," wrote Casper. "I want my daughter to love her hair and be proud of the springy black curls that cover her head. I want to be able to care for and style her hair in a way shows I understand that her hair is different and I celebrate her unique beauty."
The best part about all of this, of course, is how it makes Arsema feel. In her essay, Casper describes the sweet moment when the hair styling is all over, and her 3-year-old races giddily to the mirror to "inspect" her mom's work:
A huge smile spreads across her face as she turns her head to the left and right to see every angle. She reaches up to softly feel the braids and turns around to grin at me. "You are so beautiful!" I tell her and she nods, agreeing. Day by day, week by week I try teach her positive body image.
The response to Casper's essay came swiftly, and has been overwhelmingly supportive. "I've been so touched by a number of women reaching out via email to encourage me and offer additional tips on caring for my daughter's hair," Casper tells Bustle. "I'm grateful for the advice, and I love it when women come together to support and build one another up."
The original post now has over 200 responses, though encouraging comments also continue to flood Casper's own Facebook page. "Beautiful article for a beautiful mother and daughter inside and out," wrote Derita Hall on the Today post. "I am certain that as she gets older this will mean more to her than you could ever know. You took the time to care!"
Others, like Sony Loren, were moved to share their own mother-daughter bonding experiences. "I had a Saturday hair-washing ritual with my Mum, too," wrote Loren. "I know it broke her heart when I decided to have my hair relaxed by age 16 (not to mention the damage it caused). When my Mum transitioned into a nursing home, it was MY turn to care for her hair and she enjoyed every second of it."
Casper's essay has also sparked a lot of powerful conversation about the importance of embracing culture and heritage within multiracial families. "My niece is biracial, and her Caucasian mother didn't see the importance of embracing that part of her heritage and her culture," wrote Mary Edwards. "Unfortunately, my brother didn't make it a priority either. This story brought me joy because of the willingness to accept and love unconditionally, and it reminds me of the time spent with my mom that I treasured as a child and adolescent, and I do to this very day."
In fact, as Casper later shared with Yahoo Parents, the importance of maintaining Arsema's Ethiopian background has always been in the forefront of her mind. "Prior to her coming home, I had researched as much as I could about black culture and raising black children," Casper explained. "For raising a girl specifically, I was learning how important black hair is in the culture. And while I was well-versed in my own hair, that is obviously very different."
Things don't always come so naturally, though. As Casper wrote in her essay, she often reaches out to friends of color with questions, or scours YouTube for hair tutorials that teach her techniques beyond simple braids and pigtails.
There will also be weightier conversations that Casper may need to have one day with Arsema about her hair, notes Lori Tharps, an Assistant Professor at Temple University and co-author of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. Speaking with Yahoo Parents earlier this week about the story, Tharps said:
The reality is that this mother might still confront any number of incidents — with other white people or black people — where she has to defend the style she’s using for her daughter. She might get a look, or a question, and it’s so helpful for a parent to have some historical context to put the incidents in. And one day she will need to explain to her daughter why certain styles are ok, why straightening might not be what you want to do for this reason, or why a natural style might be great for your hair, but it might not get you a job interview, that kind of thing.
Perhaps being a mere 3 years old will work to Arsema's advantage, though. After all, the last few years have seen a sizable natural hair movement take root in the U.S. — according to a 2013 report, the rate of black women relaxing their hair is on the decline, as more and more women embrace their natural hair. Celebs have also been paving the way, with famous faces like Solange Knowles and Oprah inspiring the masses by going curly, and Tracee Ellis Ross launching her "Hair Love" campaign, which encourages all women to love what they've got.
For now, though, Casper is just taking her weekly hair styling sessions for what they are: Quality mommy and me time, when she can make her daughter feel loved, special, and beautiful — just as she is.
Images: Courtesy of Lauren Casper