“My daughter is 25. She graduated from college and is employed in a good job she likes. She has worked hard and is a great kid I am very proud of.
“She is very kind and thoughtful but doesn’t quite know who she is yet, and isn’t very confident about her attractiveness.
“Yesterday she told me that she is planning to get a tattoo across her upper back, fairly large. I am so disappointed and worried about the effect such a tattoo will have on her future prospects. I was so glad she hadn’t succumbed to the trend among so many of her generation to get tattooed up.
“I am not a fuddy-duddy if it’s a small, easily covered tattoo, but large difficult-to-conceal tattoos are different and permanent — especially when she hasn’t “found herself” yet, emotionally or professionally, or found a life partner. I believe that young women with these types of tattoos are perceived by men as promiscuous, and by prospective employers as undesirable or risky, and they make a girl look cheap and tacky. I want to cry. What can I do?”
A: Alas, what I say is not what you hope to hear. From your question, which has been edited for brevity, I know you wanted me to tell you how to persuade your daughter not to get a tattoo or to wait a few years until she found herself.
In truth, there is nothing you can do. Your daughter is an adult and can and should make decisions about her own body herself. You no longer have the power to compel or cajole your adult child to do anything. You expressed your opinion and told me you even sent her information about tattoos and their safety and permanence. Anything else will be nonproductive nagging.
Personally I loathe tattoos. Young skin is so enviably beautiful; why cover it? I would probably cry too if my daughter or granddaughter got tattooed, but I think you should back off for both your sakes. Having a good relationship with one’s adult children is a blessing; no way would I spoil it to say my piece about a matter that is none of my business.
I would be remiss if I did not point out the possible medical side effects of a tattoo: pain, allergic reaction to the ink, skin infections, blood infections, skin problems like keloids or granulomas that can develop at the site, later complications if you need an MRI (burning at the site during the exam, and possible interference with reading the images). You already know that I see absolutely no positive advantages to a tattoo that might counterbalance the risks.
There are three tasks a young person must complete in order to become a full-fledged grown-up. 1) Become an educated and productive citizen who can function in our complex world. 2) Become emancipated, fiscally and emotionally, from the parents. 3) Find a mate and enter into a stable relationship. At 25, your daughter has accomplished two out of three tasks, not bad these days when the job situation keeps many adult children dependent, at least in part, on their parents.
Parents also have a task. We must learn how to let go. And letting go is hard. Parenting never ends in the sense that we always feel like a parent. I heard of a man almost 100 years old crying because it was his late son’s birthday.
Clinging to the earlier parental role when we used persuasion and sanctions to keep our child from doing something we didn’t want them to do won’t work and can actually backfire. What we say now will be interpreted by the adult child as “Mom doesn’t trust me to make my own decisions.” This can make the adult child feel insecure and immature and can actually slow down this person’s walk along the road to maturity.
You wrote that your daughter is a “is a great kid I am very proud of.” Obviously you want a good relationship with her. A parent can always say, “If you do X which I am against, I will be so outraged or disappointed I will no longer have a relationship with you,” but I am sure you don’t want to do that. So you are also on a long road: the pathway to acceptance of your adult child, tattoos and all.