Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Our daughter plans to use her summer job money and graduation gifts from family and friends to pay for a tattoo. I can pretty much guarantee her grandparents and other relatives will react as my husband did: He thinks she is ungrateful to be spending her money on something we disapprove of when we are paying a not-small sum for college (scholarships cover about two-thirds of tuition and we still need to pay for room and board) and because her summer earnings are supposed to be for incidental expenses at school.
I am uncomfortable with this tit-for-tat attitude. We have saved for college since she was born and she has earned her place at a good university. He’s not suggesting we withhold tuition over this, but he is basically saying, “We’re paying out all this money for a college education and this is how she behaves?”
And if I know anything about my daughter, I know that the louder he yells, the faster she’ll run to the tattoo parlor. Not a mark in her favor in the maturity column, I grant you, but I’m not sure my husband is being any more mature.
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Teens and Tats
Appeal to whatever sense of pragmatism your husband has, and warn him that taking this stand will help her one tattoo multiply into a bunch.
You have another obvious recourse too: Let her know it’s her body and her money, but also remind her that her savings have to last her the full school year, so she should govern her spending accordingly. If she wants to scramble for a part-time job when her funds run dry, let her.
The beauty of this approach is that it’s ink-agnostic; the answer’s the same if she wants to spend her savings on concert tickets, road trips or lattes. She has to weigh the value of indulgences against the risk of going broke.
If your husband agrees to this approach — no bailouts — make sure you’re the one who articulates it to your daughter, since you apparently have the cooler head.
I hope next you’ll tackle the longer-term issue of his judging her “ungrateful” for the way she spends.
On the micro issue of tattoos, this is a question recent generations have asked and answered: Judging them is your thing, not ours. Yes, some hiring managers disagree, but only the ones OK with missing out on talent for arbitrary reasons. And there are also such things as long sleeves.
On the macro issue of expecting grown children to hew to a set of parental beliefs, because you Say So and because You’re the Parent, urge him to see the 18 on the wall and let go. Whatever intervention power you have left is best saved for matters of malevolence or serious risk; on the rest, just trust you raised her well.
Re: Tats: When I was 18 and wanted ink, my mom made me a deal: Get it designed, wait a year, and she’d pay for it. She couldn’t talk me out of it (and didn’t), but her offer meant I was not going to do it capriciously. This still seems like a pretty good approach to me.
Pretty great, actually. Money as carrot vs. stick.
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