My Kids’ Idea of Self-Expression Looks a Lot Like a Mistake to Me

tattoos_resize“Look at that guy,” my son whispered to me as we passed a heavily tattooed man with enormous gauges in his ears, piercings on his lips, nose, and eyebrows, and a blue Mohawk. Part of me wanted to respond with, “Wow! What a freak show!” But the mechanism in my brain that keeps me from blurting out things or swearing at bad drivers in front of my kids responded nonchalantly, “Yep, that sure is some blue hair, huh?”

I don’t want my kids judging people based on their looks (or anything, really). I think I’ve done a pretty good job of instilling the “It’s What’s on the Inside That Matters” lesson. When my kids were young and they innocently asked blunt questions about the people around us, I always tried to explain that we’re all made differently. We each have our own characteristics that make us unique. I always tried to maintain a low-key attitude of indifference when it came to people who looked remarkably different from the norm, whether by choice (tattooed face) or by circumstance (missing a limb).

I’ve also always given my kids plenty of freedom when it comes to self-expression. My oldest son sported a Mohawk when he was in the 4th grade. My youngest daughter wore bright pink cowboy boots every single day for a good year. My oldest daughter and my youngest son both bleached their hair. A couple of my daughters dyed half their hair pink. It never bothered me when they experimented with different hairstyles, makeup, or clothing because I knew they were trying to find themselves and their own unique style. Besides, hair, clothing, and makeup are all temporary things. Hair grows and you can always change your clothes. No big deal.

But what happens when that child grows up and suddenly they’re the “freak show” that the little kids whisper about? How do you react when their self-expression includes permanent alterations like tattoos and gauges in their ears? That’s where I am right now. My oldest son has a variety of piercings, including big ole holes in his ear lobes. I don’t understand this. I don’t get the attraction of being able to stick a pencil through your ear lobes. Why? Why??? I hate them. My oldest daughter has a big ole tattoo on her shoulder. It’s pretty, but it’s huge. My kids are 18 and almost 20 so they don’t need my permission to do these things. I wish I had control over this. It stinks watching your kids grow up and having to let go so they can make their own mistakes decisions.

I can’t help but  wonder if they are slamming doors on future job possibilities. Sure, they’re old enough to not need parental permission, but are they old enough to make smart decisions? Decisions that will last a lifetime. Decisions that could potentially cost them a job, or even a career in the future. I’m having a hard time getting them to understand the ramifications of permanently altering their bodies and it makes me worry that the only job they’ll be able to get is as a tattoo artist or a carny. I got a tattoo when I was 18 and knew everything. I regret it now. It’s a fish. It’s an ugly fish with no significance. But there was no reasoning with me back then, just as there is no reasoning with my kids now.

Another part of me knows that the way they look on the outside isn’t important. What’s inside is what I should be concerned with. Who cares if they cover themselves with piercings and tattoos, right? As long as they’re good, compassionate, moral people, who cares what they look like? This is the lesson I’ve always strived to instill in my children. I can’t expect them to accept others no matter how they look if I can’t do the same thing myself. But why is it so hard when it’s your own kids? I guess I’ll just keep trying to bite my tongue every time I see the big holes in my son’s ears, and I’ll focus on the fact that, in the whole scheme of things, tattoos and piercings are really not what’s important. And maybe I’ll give them a hand by checking out want ads for carnies.

Image courtesy of ThinkStock


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