Question of the Week:
I was delighted to meet you and your family, but I must apologize for mistaking your 2 year old son for a girl. I only called him a pretty little princess because he has such long hair and a pony tail. I now understand that it is a Jewish custom (that I'd never heard of before) to allow a boy's hair to grow long from birth and only cut it on his third birthday. Can you explain this to me, and why it is only done for boys?
Your mistake is totally understandable, and we took no offense to it at all. We are used to correcting people and telling them that he is a boy, and he is used to it too.
In fact, him telling you, "I'm not a girl, I'm a boy" is itself a vital stage in his development, and perhaps one of the reasons for the custom of letting a boy's hair grow.
One of the major differences between boys and girls is in their identity development. The male identity needs to be acquired. The female identity is innate. A boy needs to learn to be a boy, and eventually a man. A girl is a girl, and always was one. Her female identity needs to be protected and nurtured, but it doesn't need to be acquired. The boy's male identity does.
This may be due to the fact that all fetuses begin as female. Even boys started off as girls, and only 40 days from conception do they become male. Not only that, but all children, even boys, are born from their mothers. This means that every child starts off as a female, within a female. This is fine for girls. But for a boy, he has to actually become male, and move away from his female beginnings. No wonder men have such fragile egos...
One way of reinforcing the male identity in young boys is to delay their haircut until age three. Until then, they are constantly mistaken for little girls, and they hear their parents saying 'no, he's a boy' over and over again. They learn to say it themselves - I'm not a girl, I am a boy. This repetition drums into them their male identity.
And then at age three, when a new and deeper level of self-awareness starts to emerge, we take this long haired boy and give him a haircut. It is from then that he wears his kippah all the time, we leave his little sidelocks, he starts wearing tzitzis, and he is now one of the boys.
There are many other ingredients needed to produce a healthy male. He will need a strong father figure, good male role models, and acceptance by his peers. A haircut alone isn't enough. But the haircut is a powerful first step for a little boy on his road to manhood.