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My daughter asked me if she had to get tattoos like mine when she grows up

Rita Arens authors Surrender, Dorothy. She is's managing editor. 

Her parenting anthology, View Profile

I worry more about my daughter's mental health than her getting tattoos

There is no chapter in the mommy handbook about how to show your progeny your new ink. This fact occurred to me the morning I woke up with the word now lettered on my inner forearm in black Courier typeface.

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I'm not exactly prudish when it comes to body art. I already had one tattoo — a sun on my inner ankle, which my then 6-year-old daughter loved. However, when she asked about its birth, I told her it was part of my misspent youth, a totally different story from the move her thirty-something mother had just pulled.

In the end, I walked downstairs and held out my arm, which was covered in what appeared to be Saran Wrap. "Want to see Mama's new ink?" I asked brightly.

She grabbed my arm and stared at the word. "Huh," she said. "Do I have to get a tattoo when I grow up?"

You know what? It was so not a big deal. Here's the thing: Both of my tattoos are related to my mental health. I have anxiety disorder, and that manifested itself into an eating disorder in high school and postpartum anxiety after my girl was born. I've been on medication for about 10 years, ever since my now 12-year-old turned 2. My tattoos: The sun on my ankle is there for when it's not in the sky; and the word now on my inner arm reminds me to stay in the present instead of ruminating on the past or panicking about the future.

I worry more that my daughter will develop anxiety than I do that she'll tattoo herself.

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In some ways, my tattoos have been helpful parenting tools. When she does get herself worked into a tizzy about an upcoming homework assignment or emceeing the school variety show, I have her touch the "now" on my arm.

"Stay with me," I say. "Right now you're healthy, I'm healthy, we're here, and we love each other. Right now everything is okay. Don't worry about tomorrow, just prepare for it."

When I was growing up in the rub-some-dirt-on-it ’80s, I don't remember parents talking to kids about mental health. Now I see teaching our children how to be resilient mentally as well as physically and spiritually as our duty as parents. I wish it was a subject in school: Self-Care for Beginners. Some of us only came to self-care late in life and actually had to tattoo reminders on their bodies. Ahem.

In the past six years, the world has changed a lot, but tattoos still rattle many of my midwestern relatives. Recently, I was back home in Iowa and bought a thick bracelet at one of my favorite stores. "See, it doubles as a tattoo cover-up!" I crowed, sliding it over my "now."

"Why would anyone care if you have a tattoo?" asked my daughter.


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