I got my first tattoo — a small peace sign on my left shoulder blade — during my first year in college. I've had four more since then, and I'm currently planning my first half sleeve. As someone who was a classic Type-A overachiever all through grade school, then found the rest of my identity as a young adult, it's been interesting to see how people who knew me before respond when they see my body art. It's been hilariously (and sometimes annoyingly) eye-opening to see the difference in how people view having tattoos before kids versus having tattoos as a mom. People who'd swear until their last breath that they don't judge other people based on their looks, will also barely bat an eye as they tell you that they never thought "someone like you would get a tattoo" and freely wonder aloud if you won't have any authority over your kids because they can't take a person with tattoos seriously.
A lot of this has to do with a clash between two sets of stereotypes. There's the set of ideas about the "type" of person who has tattoos: a younger adult who is wild, sexy, likes to party, and is likely to be irresponsible, and the set of ideas about what a mom is "supposed" to be like: a slightly older adult who is chaste and highly self-controlled, focused exclusively on her children, and must be responsible at all times. Apparently, some people feel like we're only allowed to get tattoos if we're not planning on aging ("What's that going to look like when you're old?") or having children.
Fortunately, as our generation becomes parents, we're challenging all of these outdated ideas. We know that we can be fun-loving and expressive, while staying on our grind professionally and being responsible for our kids. We also know that becoming parents doesn't mean that we stop having ideas, interests, or identities separate from our children. However, as ideas to the contrary fade out, tattooed moms (and dads, to a lesser extent) can roll our eyes and chuckle to ourselves about the following.
Before Kids: “That Looks Cool!”
Many people appreciate a well-done tattoo, even if they have really narrow ideas about who "should" have them.
After Kids: “So, How Will You Explain It To Your Kids?”
Of course, once you have kids, the same tattoo — however benign — becomes a "Thing You Have To Account For," in some folks' eyes. I'd understand if people had this question for folks with something violent or something, but people have asked me this about my tattoos, all of which are incredibly tame. I'm like, "Huh? They'll see it, ask for the story, and I'll tell them?" Turns out, I'm not super worried about explaining a peace sign, a butterfly, and some inspirational quotes to my kids.
Before Kids: “Can I See?”
When you have tattoos, people are always stopping to look at them, and read them if you've got any words. It can be a little inconvenient at times, but mostly their curiosity is flattering, and it's a fun way to strike up conversations with new people.
After Kids: “You Should Cover That Up”
Until the day after you become a parent, that is. Then all of a sudden, the same thing everyone wanted to see is now a liability that should be hidden at all costs. To those who'd suggest moms should cover up our ink, I just say that I'm teaching my kids not to judge people based on their appearance, and then sip my tea as they consider the implications of that for themselves and their own upbringing.
Before Kids: “Ooh, Sexy…”
True, some folks are pretty judgmental about anything sexy or expressive like a tattoo, no matter what. But for the most part people see the tattoo as intended, and are pretty complimentary about it.
After Kids: “That Must Be Weird Now That You're A Mom”
And then you become a mom, and people suddenly expect you to be totally asexual and unsexy, strategically placed ink included. I never got the whole "chaste mommy" stereotype; do these folks seriously believe in the stork, or what?
Before Kids: “That's So Fun!”
Playful, beautiful pieces get lots of positive attention, because people usually read them as intended: an expression of the fun-loving spirit of the person wearing them.
After Kids: "Ugh. You Must Be Trying To Be Your Kid’s Friend.”
I guess fun is off limits once you have kids, according to some people. Apparently, parents can't be people who had lives before having children, or lives beyond our kids once they're here. Also, parental authority is derived from blank skin, or something? I don't quite understand how the rules work according to this worldview.
Before Kids: “How Badass!”
Though it does take some kind of toughness to endure the pain associated with getting a tattoo, folks with tattoos aren't necessarily more badass or tougher than folks who choose not to get them. As in, there are plenty of tattoo-free badasses, as well as plenty of inked ones. Still, having noticeable ink is a quick way to signal to most people that yep, you're a badass.
After Kids: “You Must Be A Bad Mom”
Yep, cause only starched-collar Stepford Wives can be decent parents. The rest of us free-wheeling, inked ladies must be awful.
Or, maybe we just translate our badassery into our approach to motherhood. Maybe we stay true to who we are, and bring all that was great and unique about us before to motherhood, just like everything else in our lives. Just a thought.