"While I am aware that, in the year 2016, people who have tattoos are probably not in gangs, ex-convicts, or drug users, yes, I admit it — when I see someone with lots of tattoos or very large tattoos, my perception of that person changes, and not for the better. I remember watching this mom at the mall. She was heavily tattooed. She looked like she was taking good care of her toddler, but I couldn't shake the feeling that mothers shouldn't look like that," Rob, a Caucasian American man in his sixties, told me a few years ago when I wrote an article about how people really view women with tattoos.
That attitude doesn't surprise me one bit, coming from a person in his demographic — but some inked folks feel the same themselves. "Now my tattoos are these ghosts of a rebellious youth that do not match who I am now as a 30-something father of three who works at a university," a father wrote about his tattoo regret for Scary Mommy. He's not the only parent I've heard of who now wishes they didn't have tattoos for the sake of their kids, but my own experience is different. Though I got my first tattoo at 21, I then went on a long tattoo hiatus, and got most of the ink I have since my children were born, the first one soon after my youngest was weaned.
Though tattoos have grown in popularity so much that almost half of Millennials have at least one, tattoos still induce stigma, which is, coincidentally, actually the Latin word for tattoo. The social impact of tattoos might bite more for parents of still minor children, especially mothers, who are expected to look and behave a certain way. As Rob pointed out, some (many?) people have a clear picture in their minds of virtues a mother should physically embody, and heavily decorated skin doesn't live up to their standards.
'I judge their tattoos, not the fact that they have them'
"If a person with lots of tattoos walks by, I don't notice them anymore than any other person," my 11-year-old daughter says. "If I get a close look at their tattoos, I might think 'Oh cool' if the tattoos are good, or 'that sucks' if they aren't nice." She then reveals that she does have thoughts about the kinds of tattoos people choose to get: "I don't like Trump, so say if someone had a tattoo of his face, I'd think, 'f*** that Trump supporter', but I'd be judging their politics, not the fact that they have tattoos. I'd also question their sense of beauty, because Trump's face is ugly, so why would anyone want that on their skin?"
My son who is nine, agrees: "Good tattoos are nice. Bad tattoos are not nice. I only mind tattoos if it's something I really hate, or if the quality is very bad."
'Tattoos do tell you something about a person: That they like tattoos'
When I probed my kids about their opinions of people who hold prejudices against tattooed people, and who may even believe someone is a criminal because they have tattoos, my daughter answered: "That's just like saying saying that Muslims are terrorists. Just because quite a few criminals might have tattoos, it doesn't mean that people with tattoos are criminals." What kind of person gets tattooed? "People who like pictures on their skin," she explains.
My son, meanwhile, thinks people who assume someone with ink has broken laws are "completely incorrect as well as insensitive". He adds: "Imagine if you had tattoos and people thought you were a criminal, what would you think then? It isn't nice! Tattoos do tell you something about a person: that they like tattoos."
'Tattoos make you look bad ass and cool'
What's it liked to have a tattooed mom? Does it ever make you feel weird, and did you have any negative experiences because of it? Upon asking this question, my kids were a bit lost as to how to respond. "Tattoos are basically just normal," my daughter said, "but they also look cool. It's just ink on your body that forms a picture." She proceeded to list the tattoos I have that she likes. My son just said: "Tattoos make you look bad ass and cool. I don't dislike any of your tattoos."
'You might make choices you regret'
My kids have, on occasion, mused about the tattoos they may get later on, so I already knew that they had a positive view of them. Has my being tattooed influenced them? When I asked them, I was pleasantly surprised to hear how responsible my daughter — who is into art and says she'd like to become a tattoo artist in the future — was in her attitudes toward tattoos.
"I don't think tattoos are more appealing just because you have them," she said, "but I probably know more about them because you do." Though she's talked about getting all sorts of tattoos, when asked about her plans, she answers, "I don't know what, yet. I think people should wait until they are 18 or at least 17, because otherwise you might make bad choices that you will regret, and it will be stuck on your body for the rest of your life."
She proceeds to explain some of the things she's apparently picked up along the way. "If you decide to get a tattoo, you must treat it carefully, otherwise you will have a painful infection. You should use Ink Booster or Tattoo Must ointment. Change the bed sheets before you get a tattoo, otherwise the bacteria on the bed might get into your tattoo, and buy some nice fresh soap to clean your tattoo with. You must make sure to go to a good tattoo place, not a bad place that looks really old and dirty. If you good to a good place, you will get quality results. Just because it's cheaper doesn't mean you should get it on your body. Also, don't go to a party and get drunk and then get tattooed."
My son shared that "I probably will" have tattoos. "There are a few ideas I have in mind, like a Wolverine claw, which is actually a really good tattoo, or a tattoo of my cat. I am probably more likely to get them because you have them, because if a kid's mom doesn't have tattoos they won't know as much about them and won't be as interested."
'You shouldn't care what others think — if that tattoo makes you happy, go for it'
Both kids have their own opinions about good and bad tattoos. My daughter says bad tattoos would be "Trump, a fascist symbol, when you're in love and you put the name of that person, or stupid inspirational quotes like 'money doesn't buy happiness'. I don't like face tattoos either." "A tattoo of Stephen King's 'It' would probably look really awesome, but I'd be creeped out by it," my son says.
Good tattoos, my daughter holds, are those depicting animals or natural scenes, while my son thinks a portal gun or light saber would be awesome. My daughter still concludes that "you shouldn't really care what other people think — if that tattoo makes you happy, you should do it," adding:
In chatting about tattoos with my kids, I realized that I'm quite pleased that they know the ins and outs of tattoo aftercare routines and have a responsible attitude toward ink. For them, tattoos are no more mysterious than, say, going to the dentist — and if there's one thing I can be sure about as a tattooed mom, it's that neither of my kids will ever get ink as an act of rebellion against me. I believe my interest in tattoos has contributed to instilling a love of art in my daughter, as well as, perhaps, teaching my kids to accept people as they are.