Carolyn Hax: Advice

Carolyn Hax: Tattoos or tuition?

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn: I am in my second year of college and already have three tattoos that I am very, very happy with.

I really want to get more over the next few years of college.

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. They are threatening that if I get any more they will stop paying my tuition.

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 me.

I feel like I should be trusted and respected enough to make these decisions about my body. I understand my parents are financially responsible for me, but the appearance of my body does not change my success in college and how hard I am working.

I am wondering what I can do to help them understand this.

Feminist Wants to be in 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 and never shared that with us until we discovered them on our own.

She is 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 and get her to pause and give herself time to mature and gain experience.

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.

The Mom

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 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 her 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.

You’ve both made this a bigger war than it needed to be, fixing on respect when the core issue is much more pragmatic: Parents don’t want daughter limiting her prospects; 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 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?

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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