Babies and beards and changing appearances
November 29, 2006 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Possibly stupid question about having a beard and a baby at the same time, and then not having a beard.

Obviously, simply having a beard around a baby isn't a problem, but I was once told that growing a beard and shaving it shortly thereafter would confuse a baby, who would expect you to look the same from day to day. This doesn't sound right to me.

For reasons I won't go into here, Beards for New Year's every year.

Is there any reason not to do this if I have a baby?
posted by Caviar to Human Relations (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
No reason at all, they are confused for about 18mths pretty much constantly anyway, a few whiskers aint gonna make any difference.
posted by zeoslap at 10:55 AM on November 29, 2006

Completely anecdotal, but I have a distinct memory of being 2 and my previously-bearded father coming home clean-shaven. I was terrified. I didn't recognize him, and I didn't feel comfortable again until his beard grew back in.

But, the baby's MMV.
posted by Zosia Blue at 10:55 AM on November 29, 2006

I remember my dad letting my brother, sister, and me watch while he shaved his beard off, so that we'd still know who he was. We were toddler-and-older at that point.
posted by paleography at 10:57 AM on November 29, 2006

I read somewhere years ago (so this is probably apocryphal) that young people have an instinctive prediliction towards pogonophobia, the fear of beards. It was used to explain the universal tantrums thrown in the laps of Santa Claus. I have no idea if it is true, but thought I'd pass it on.

I can't see the shaving thing distracting the baby for more than a few moments. They can't see that well and focus more on sound and smell anyway.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 11:01 AM on November 29, 2006

My dad had a mustache for most of my kidhood.

But one Sunday morning when I was seven or eight, he decided to shave it off. I don't remember the event exactly, but according to my parents, I freaked out. Big time. He grew it back ASAP.

Of course, he doesn't wear one now. And being 34, I'm okay with that. Mostly.
posted by grabbingsand at 11:01 AM on November 29, 2006

Response by poster: Oops, not sure what happened to that link:

Beards for New Year's.
posted by Caviar at 11:01 AM on November 29, 2006

I shaved my beard off when my son was 18 mos. old. He wouldn't even LOOK at me for three days.
He seems to be O.K. now, 25 years later.
posted by Floydd at 11:09 AM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

My dad would seasonally shave his beard and/or mustache. I obviously don't remember my baby reactions, but I don't think it's caused any lasting damage (except when a friend said he had a "porn star 'stache").
posted by muddgirl at 11:25 AM on November 29, 2006

Dinosaur comics has some advice. Maybe if you always wear the shirt, you'll get the recognition you deserve!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:29 AM on November 29, 2006

I read somewhere years ago (so this is probably apocryphal) that young people have an instinctive prediliction towards pogonophobia, the fear of beards.

If infanticide is an important human male reproductive strategy, as has often been argued, such an instinct would seem to be expectable.

But the razor cuts both ways, here; among primates where infanticide by males is observed, males also protect their own offspring, so a beard on someone who is taking care of you might be comforting in a way nothing else would, also instinctively.
posted by jamjam at 11:45 AM on November 29, 2006

My face has been in various stages of hairiness--from naked to Grizzly Adams--since our now 2-year-old son was born, and he's never been distraught at any stage.
posted by nightengine at 11:50 AM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

I would think that it depends a lot on how old the baby is - a lot of it would depend on how far along the child is developmentally, in sight, as well as cognition. If your baby isn't old enough to know what your face looks like (and probably knows you best by voice), it ain't going to care one bit. An older baby may, as the above comments indicate, react.

But really, you're going to inflict all sorts of trauma on your baby over the next 18 years or so, so you might as well start small, right?
posted by god hates math at 11:50 AM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

My father shaved every spring and grew a full beard and mustache every fall.

I was always embarassed for him for the first few weeks of spring.

If you are really worried, acclimate the kid. Trim it down over one week.
posted by ewkpates at 11:59 AM on November 29, 2006

Wow, I had no idea this was such a common experience. I, too, as a youngster, didn't recognize my dad the first time he shaved his beard. Of course, it wasn't like it was a relatively new beard which he just grew and then shaved. He'd always had it until then. And I was a little older than toddler, so it was mostly just being shy for a little while and then getting used to it. But yeah.

I wouldn't let it stop you, if that's what you want to do. But it's not an old wives' tale or anything. It's real.
posted by lampoil at 12:12 PM on November 29, 2006

One time a friend had his ~1 year old at my house. I showed off my new garage door opener and the noise and action terrified the child.

There after the child would get upset whenever he saw me, until I learned to take off my dark framed glasses in his presence.

Go, figure.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 12:13 PM on November 29, 2006

Taking things further, my cousin was about 6 or 7 at the time when my uncle shaved off whatever beard/mustache combo he'd been wearing for the past 10 years, and she positively freaked, so it's not just babies.

Similarly, I've got a vivid memory from when I was around 2 of my mother coming to pick me up at a sitter's house one day after covering her long, dark, straight hair with a curly blonde wig. I wouldn't even go near the strange woman calling herself Mom until after she left and came back without the wig (I think she figured I'd be scared even more if she took it off in front of me).
posted by chickygrrl at 12:24 PM on November 29, 2006

young people have an instinctive prediliction towards pogonophobia, the fear of beards

This is nonsense. I've had a beard for the entirety of my grandson's life, and he's been openly attracted to it from day 1. I'm quite sure he'd be unhappy if I shaved it, not (just) because of the change but because he likes the thing (probably more than my wife does).

Why are all those fathers shaving their beards? Where is their Male Pride?
posted by languagehat at 12:24 PM on November 29, 2006

I remember my dad used to grow/shave a beard. Usually the growth part would last a long time.
Every time he shaved it my brother and I would laugh hysterically at him because we figured he looked funny and naked.

I guess the emotional scarring really was on his end more than anything.
posted by billy_the_punk at 12:30 PM on November 29, 2006

Mod note: fixed the link in the post
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:03 PM on November 29, 2006

Many years ago my mother tried to reassure my toddler-aged younger brother about Dad shaving off his beard, telling him "he'll look really, really different, but it's still Daddy", etc. When my brother was completely unfazed and blase about Dad's shorn-faced reappearance, Ma was a bit surprised. My brother explained "I thought he was going to look like a chicken. Or a cow."
posted by zoinks at 1:05 PM on November 29, 2006 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Trim it down over one week.

That's not really an option - the ritual is entirely about waking up on new year's day and shaving off the beard in order to start the new year fresh.
posted by Caviar at 1:21 PM on November 29, 2006

From a baby's point of view (based on what I've seen with my own and others' kids, and from books I read about baby development), what they see as infants is primarily shadows and contrast. That's why black and white images are great for small babies up to around three months of age. As babies, when they are learning to recognise faces, they see light and dark: shadows for eyes, contours, mouth, hair. If you're dark-haired, chances are high that the baby will not recognise your face when you shave your beard off.

That said, it's true that babies do the majority of their initial learning through sound, so just keep on talking to your baby as usual and he/she will warm back up quickly. Give the baby time to relearn your face, don't push things too quickly, keep talking to them and letting them feel and smell and hear you. Take it slowly with the baby for a couple of days while he/she figures out it's still you.

There's no simple fix aside from not doing it, and at such a young age I wouldn't worry about trauma, except to you when the baby possibly rejects you at first after shaving. Just take your time.
posted by tracicle at 3:13 PM on November 29, 2006

My husband has gone back and forth since our older child was born, and it doesn't seem to bother them a bit. I think now that they're older, it is more surprising when he shaves than it was during the infant period.

I mean, they were no more surprised to see me wearing glasses or sunglasses sometimes, than they were to see a suddenly beardless father.
posted by padraigin at 3:53 PM on November 29, 2006

My brother-in-law has a different hair/beard/stache combo every time i see him. His two daughters are very used to his changing appearance. When my dad (kids' grandpa) shaved himself clean, we expected the girls to freak out, but they hardly noticed. This thread makes me wonder if their dad's ever-changing appearance conditioned them to not associate outward appearance with someone's identity as much as other kids.
posted by clh at 5:42 PM on November 29, 2006

I was too young to remember this for myself, but my dad went from a full beard to just a mustache (the way it remains today) when I was pretty young (this might even be before I started walking). After he had gotten it shaved off, he picked me up, and apparently I felt his face in awe, apparently fascinated that you could do something like that to your face.
posted by oaf at 7:09 PM on November 29, 2006

I'll go the other way.

My younger brother is almost like a twin.
No, we have never heard we look almost exactly alike.

He's always had some slight gruff/goatee.

I was bored, and I had grown someting similar.
My niece sees me 2-3x a year...

When she saw me, she suddenly a bit freaked...and was very serious that I looked like "daddy."
posted by filmgeek at 7:27 PM on November 29, 2006

I too "have a distinct memory of being 2 and my previously-bearded father coming home clean-shaven. I was terrified."

I recall sitting on the floor of the room - my parent's master-suite bedroom, I think - and watching my dad go into the bathroom and some terrifying stranger come out. I bawled and bawled.
posted by mwhybark at 9:01 PM on November 29, 2006

My husband shaved his full beard off when our son was about 18 mths old. The baby just stared at him for a few minutes, then patted his fathers face.

Older son was about same age, I had been wearing green contact lenses. Took them off one morning, son grabbed my face with both hands, looked intently at my now brown eyes and said, "All gone".

Both children are fine...I think!
posted by JujuB at 9:49 PM on November 29, 2006

There is no reason not to do this.

To less-confuse the baby, if you are worried about it, let the baby watch as you shave it off.

Then grow it back and shave again, rinse, repeat.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 8:15 AM on November 30, 2006

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