Dear Carolyn: I am in my second year of college and already have three tattoos that I am very, very happy with. Every day, I fall more in love with them, and they have really important meanings to me.
I really want to get more over the next few years of college. I use them to mark points in my life that are very important to me. The next few that I want would be for the program that I am in in college, one for my family and one for my desire to “speak no evil” in my life. All positive, important things to me.
The problem is that my parents, especially my mom, were not happy with my first three. They think I will regret them and, out of respect for them, should wait until I graduate, which, as I explained, would defeat a lot of the purpose for me.They are threatening that if I get any more they will stop paying my tuition.
I have done very, very well in college and have grown so much in the past year as a student and a mature young adult. I am so proud of who I have become and my success, and they are, too, so I know they would not take that away.
We have a lot of respect for each other, and the bigger problem obviously is that I want them to respect and understand my decision to get tattoos and support them.
I feel like because I am an adult now, I should be trusted and respected enough to make these decisions about my body. I understand they are financially responsible for me, but the appearance of my body does not change my success in college and how hard I am working, which by the way is incredibly hard.
I am wondering what I can do to help them understand this. I really want to be able to get tattoos without worrying about their backlash.
Feminist Who Doesn’t Want to Give Up Control of Her Body
Now, the other side:
Dear Carolyn: I am the mom. We are very proud of her and all she has accomplished. However, there are several reasons we are asking her to wait until after college to get more tattoos.
As we are paying her tuition for a private liberal arts education, we feel it’s not unreasonable to ask her to wait. She already has many piercings, then got three tattoos in her first year of college and never shared that with us until we discovered them on our own.
She is still young (19) and changes her mind and her passions rather easily at this point, and to commit to more permanent marks on her body seems somewhat disrespectful when we are asking her to wait. I feel she will regret some of these decisions, and this is one way to try to get her to pause and give herself time to mature and gain experience.
We are not opposed to tattoos, and we will certainly love and accept her no matter what, but it is our request that she wait until she is out from under our financial umbrella before adding to her collection.
I am so grateful for both perspectives — it really helps.
Your firsthand account, Daughter, allows me to agree with your mother that you’re not nearly as mature as you think. I had to cut out 45 percent of your letter for length, but I did so reluctantly because the mere fact of your working so hard to explain and justify yourself makes your mother’s case for her. A cornerstone of maturity is independence from outside approval.
And your firsthand account, Mom, allows me to sympathize with your daughter’s objection to your holding her education hostage to control her body. You can’t pretend this is about her future and then threaten to deny her the most powerful boost you can give.
And both accounts show you’ve both made this a bigger war than it needed to be, fixing on respect when the core issue is a much more pragmatic one: Parents don’t want their daughter limiting her prospects; the daughter doesn’t want parents telling her what to do.
So my advice to you both is to de-escalate, drop the demands for respect and all of the inflexibility they invite, and stick to the core.
Mom, whether your concern is justified is open to debate, but surely we can agree you unwittingly pushed your daughter to see tattoos as nothing less than vessels for the meaning of life. Holy backfire. Time to drop it — not just the desperate tuition threat, but the entire issue. In standing up to you, she now owns any regrets or other consequences. As she should.
Daughter, you can ink what you want, but you can’t make anyone like it. Time to cross “seek approval” off your adult to-do list and put “build confidence” in its place.
Sound like a plan?