Parenting with tattoos


Photo credit: Andy M Taylor / Foter / CC BY

Tattoo culture has grown dramatically in the past 10 to 15 years. What was once seen as a signature for bikers, war veterans or former prison inmates are now something that most people either have experienced, or will experience.

The New York Times recently estimated that one fifth of adults in the United States are tattooed, although many are still easily able to hide their ink at work or elsewhere.

As a father of three who is tattooed, it’s a pretty interesting experience. I live in a pretty conservative part of the country, so when I show up to a baseball game or a parent teacher conference, I don’t usually see someone who looks like me. Now obviously, if I didn’t want them to be noticed sometimes I’d be lying, but there are still certain stigmas attached to tattoos that I don’t always want to lead with.

However, the longer I’ve had them (10 plus years), the less I care what others might or might not think. So when I meet some parents that my kids are playing with for the first time or a new teacher, I usually don’t cover them up. Before I go any further, I should mention that I don’t have Love – Hate on my knuckles or an ex-girlfriends name on my neck, but I do have a full right arm sleeve that I like to think stands out, especially during the warm weather months. tattooparty

What do I tell my kids about my tattoos or tattoos in general? Everything.

I tell them why I have them, what they mean to me and really any other details I can provide. I have the initials of each of my sons on a forearm piece on my left arm and my youngest will still occasionally point out his place on the piece to people I might be in conversation with about them. And that’s a big plus to visible ink, they are a great conversation starter.

If my kids ever decide to get their own ink, I hope they ask me for advice about who to go to and what to get. I am pretty opinionated about them and won’t hold back with my thoughts.

I feel that tattoos should not be approached lightly and you should always take at least a year to think about and plan what you want to have on your body forever.

What about you? Do you have tattoos? What do you tell your kids about them and about tattooing in general?


17 thoughts on “Parenting with tattoos”

  1. Nice piece… so, as a father of two and someone who has been too chicken (not to mention indecisive about what to actually have done)… who do you recommend along with any other bits of wisdom.

  2. I recommend several great artists in the Cincinnati area depending on what you are interested in getting. Even if you have a great idea I’d wait 6-12 months before following through with it.

  3. Well written article on a subject that I do not know much about. As a grandmother, my generation did not have tattoos unless, as you indicated, you were making a radical statement or were in the Armed Forces so this is something new to most baby boomers. That being said, what is the proper way to ask someone if you could “read their body?” I assume persons who have gone to the time and expense to be illustrated, want to draw attention to their artwork. Is it appropriate for me to strike up a conversation and ask a man wearing shorts, for example, if he would remain still while I read his leg? I am serious. This has piqued my curiosity. Inquiring minds want to know. 🙂

  4. Deb, thanks for the response. I think you’ll find that most people with tattoos are happy to talk about them. I’d just ask them a question about them and that usually gets the ball rolling.

  5. I only have a couple little tattoos, but I want more – I just haven’t decided what yet. I, too, think it’s something you should take great care in doing and can’t really take too long deciding about.

    Sometimes, I wonder what future generations will think of their grandparents’ tats. I think it’s interesting how different aspects of human culture ebb and flow through history; tattoos are a perfect example. Cultures have alternately embraced and eschewed body modifications of all types all over the world – if one takes the long view of this ancient practice, we’re simply entering a body art renaissance in the west, which I’m perfectly happy to be a small part of.

  6. Fantastic article! Thanks for sharing. I am a full time stay at home tattooed Mom of three. My kids all notice and enjoy my tattoos, even my conservative Hubby is warming up to them and joins me at the tattoo shop. I’ve been tattooed over 10 years so I really don’t care how others feel about my tattoos or my body. However, I do like to think I’m helping to lift the stigma attached to tattooed individuals. We can be compassionate, friendly, kind, honest, loyal and darn good parents. I will always love my tattoos, they were a big part of my journey to loving myself. I hope my collection continues to grow and my children always have an appreciation for people and the art they display.

  7. I think you are the epitome of the problem. Your opening statement prefaces acknowledgement to groups that have a traditional and legitimate claim to tattoo culture and earned it through blood and sacrifice. Now that it has become socially acceptable milquetoast posers like yourself are trying to make it all Disney family friendly. You waited until after this baffling shift in the social paradigm and would have never dreamed of jeopardizing your secure career by getting tattooed when doing so was still a LIFETIME commitment, a symbol of staunch outsider politics and lifestyle. You’re basically an accountant Harley rider. Imagine the complete lack of respect and disdain soldiers, prisoners, gangsters, bikers and other true core rebels have for guys like you. You cannot buy your way into something like this, and we watch you sissies parading around and snicker about how you’re going to feel about your “ink” in twenty years. Save this for your kids to read when they’re of age so at least someone tells them the truth.

  8. I have tattoos. Two short sleeves and a large piece on my leg. I love them so much and there is no regret behind them, however, I do feel burdened by them. Life would be easier if I didn’t have them. My 3 kids haven’t ever expressed distaste for them yet and hopefully never will. For work I have never had a problem, but now that I own my own business, I always feel like I have to cover up. I worry more about being judged now than ever. So sad. BUUUUUTTTT, at the pool yesterday two sorority girls (heard them mention their sorority that’s how I know how to label them) were openly talking about tattoos right in front of my friend and I (my friend is a hair dresser and she is covered in tattoos) and one girl said “I would rather smoke meth than get a tattoo.” She even repeated that statement with more conviction after getting zero reaction from us. HAHA! So sad. I have never done a drug in my life, but apparently they are cooler than tattoos. ?????? Anyway, there are moments like that make me proud to have tattoos. Just felt like sharing. Thanks for the great post. 🙂

  9. Daego, I understand what you mean, but I think you are forgetting one big thing. If someone is willing to experience the pain, physically and financially, of being tattooed, then who’s to say they shouldn’t have the right to do it? Nobody has more of a right to skin art than anyone else does, and implying that is where you lose me. Thanks for offering your perspective.

  10. I am a college-educated stay-at-home (now) mother and homeschooler, and I have multiple tattoos, including a half sleeve and a half-back piece. I love my tattoos, and am not concerned about feeling judged by them. That said, I find there are times when I’d rather not show them mainly because they’re a distraction (specifically, at church or when I would volunteer at a conservative place). The person who said that because I’m not a soldier, felon, biker, etc., that I am a poser is, I believe, forgetting a major shift in tattooing that’s happened over the past 10-20 years. I think there’s been a movement toward tattoos as a form of fine art rather than political statement, though certainly the statements still exist for some people. The last artist I went to trained first as a graphic designer and artist, and only went into tattooing because it would pay the bills. I think that tattoos can be an intensely personal expression of aesthetic, and that paying an artist to create for you is just as valid as a sailor getting a tattoo after circling the globe. I enjoy having beautiful pictures on my skin, just as some people enjoy wearing jewelry or makeup, or stylish clothing. I, for one, am glad I have had the chance to be tattooed regardless of stigma.

    *Note: I have a personal line drawn (no pun intended) that I won’t get tattoos anywhere that can’t be covered easily for professional purposes (hands, neck, face). I don’t think that makes me a poser, but ultimately my tattoos are for me, not for the person looking at them.

    To the grandmother who posted above–Just ask! I was approached by an elderly lady at the grocery store a few days ago. We struck up a perfectly nice conversation about tattoos and life. I think they’re a great conversation starter!

  11. I’m a 36 year old tattooed mom of three. I have very visible tattoos, one full sleeve and the other is on it’s way to being full. I’m nowhere near done. I live in a town where it’s definitely not the norm (just a couple towns over from Boston though) but I’ve never had issues. I’m an active mom in my kids’ schools and my kids have full social lives which means I have a full “mom friends” social life as well – playdates, afterschool, band, sports, etc. One good mom friend told me once that her first impression was that I was intimidating…but that she had always loved tattoos and wished she felt like she could pull it off. I do tend to go the extra mile to be super nice and friendly in an effort to counteract any “intimidation” factor that might be there. My kids are great students, very polite, and well liked by their friend’s parents for their manners and friendliness.

    I’ve worked in the music industry for 18 years, so obviously have no problems with my career and visible ink. We just opened our own business (a distillery) and it’s a non-issue. 3/5 of the owners are inked. I make zero effort to hide them, regardless of the situation (though I can’t really recall any situation that they would be “inappropriate.” Perks of living in the area I live in, I suppose.)

    I’m aware that some people may perceive me a certain way because of them, and I understand. I don’t choose to change the way I live my life based on that. Everyone judges others, consciously or unconsciously, on one thing or another, you know? If someone has that much of a problem with what I choose to put on my skin, that’s their hang up, not mine. My kids aren’t terribly interested in the ink, they like to point out their birthdates which are all incorporated in my pieces. I love getting tattooed, I love having tattoos. It’s just skin. I’m looking forward to having my back done with the tebori method – the process is the best part for me. My oldest is 14 and she loves them, but she’s not interested in them for herself, at least not at this point. My 8 year old wants his entire skeleton outlined on his body, but he’s 8. He also wants to fly. My three year old couldn’t care less.

    Anyway. Those are my disjointed thoughts on the matter.

  12. Oh, and Deb, I have people ask me to look all the time. Just ask. Most people are happy to show off their art 🙂

  13. As a visibly tattooed 40+ year old mother of a 10 & 13 year old, my body art is just that. Art. Art for me. Art that I spend years planning for each piece, and then carefully and thoughtfully executing with talented artists. This past Fall I had my entire right thigh turned into a beautiful and meaningful piece of art for example. THAT is what I tell my boys.

    I don’t cover it, I don’t care what others think or say, it’s mine. And it’s for me. It’s meaningful art I carry with me throughout my day. My kids don’t bat an eye. They know its what Mommy loves and it really has nothing to do with them – except that like Joe, I have my sons and husband of 19 years initials embedded into the tail of the dragon the wraps around my leg :). It makes me smile every time I see them. It makes them part of me every moment of every frenetic day.

    I also have a facial piercing which I don’t bother to hide either – even at work where I am a Vice-President (in the field of research) at a reknown promotional agency in Chicago. I am of the opinion that these things make up part of who I am, to my children, to my husband, to my co-workers. You know what. They like me just the way I am and because it is naturally just part of me, none of them even blink an eye. Including our CEO or President. So ultimately, I think it’s all in how you carry it.

    And for the record, neither of my sons has any desire to get tattooed… Funny huh.

  14. What a shallow piece of writing…. I have finished reading it not any smarter on this topic than I was before…

    There was one moment of hope when I read the sentence “What do I tell my kids about my tattoos or tattoos in general? Everything.” …. But I STILL am clueless. What IS “everything”?… I do not know!

    I only hope this ridiculous trend will soon fade away, and, thankfully, reading the comment by Angie above, it seems the younger generation are now balking at tattoos, and therefore the tattooed people will soon be seen as “old” and “uncool”. Huh.

  15. I’m always wondering where people live in the United States that they get “weird looks” or the feelings that tattoos are unacceptable. As a fairly heavily tattooed parent (both legs sleeved, one arm sleeve and the other partially completed) with three children in elementary school, where I go to conferences, parent teacher nights and volunteer when I can. I have never received any negative looks or comments concerning my tattoos. Many people are interested in my art, ask about it and I am more than happy to tell them why I choose each piece of work. I just don’t see it as a big deal and even while traveling to different parts of the country have not encountered anyone that is offended or negative about it.

    OH….and wait…I’m a public school teacher too, where I am allowed to wear short sleeve shirts (GASP!!!). Parents and students think it is awesome and I have parents visit and ask to see them. Crazy to think your children might be taught by someone that has tattoos right!?

  16. Personally I feel that the comments like the ones from Daego and JustMe contribute to a HUGE problem in our society. This is quite simple people! If you want tattoos get them, and if you don’t like tattoos don’t get them. However, take your negativity and please apply that energy to something positive! Insulting other adults on a site that is meant for allowing parents to add creativity in their relationship with their children is not only rude, but it also says a lot about your character! My hope is that the people who left these negative comments are not pushing their judgmental nature onto their children, and I hope for their sake that their children never get tattoos for fear of how they will be viewed by their parents.

    In my opinion, there are far worse things in this world that a person can do than get tattoos. Tattoos are a form of art. No all people love every kind of are, but that is what makes us individuals. Just as some people like onions and some do not. If we were all the same…don’t you think this world would be pretty boring!

    Joe….thank you for the article! As always I am happy to see ALL parents investing in their children’s lives no matter what may be tattooed on your arms! As a primary healthcare provider who sees numerous of children from all different family situations, people have NO IDEA how their words AND actions affect their children!

  17. Nicely done, Joe! I have several inks and I’ve given long and deliberious thought to the design of each one and placement. I recently just added to my arms which are obviously exposed. I work for a Fire agency and wear a long-sleeved uniform shirt most times. But not always. Many of us in Fire or Law Enforcement have ink that is exposed, even in uniform and on duty. All of my ink(s) have a special meaning and I have never had a negative response – in fact, most are curious, especially with the the few I have that are spelled in Italian. With the exception of my very first tat, that I’ve had going on 30 yrs, all of my other inks are my design/art. I don’t give a dang about making a “statement” per se. All of my ink has personal meaning and I love having the freedom to express myself without caring what anyone else thinks.

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