My Daughter Wants a Tattoo

Dear Robin:

Our only child Kate is entering her junior year of college. She is doing very well and averaging a 3.8 while carrying more than a full course load to graduate early.

Her dad and I invested over the years and her college fund is healthy and should last until she graduates. He controls the money and Kate lives at home and works during the summers and breaks to save money.

Last month Kate casually mentioned that she was going to get a tattoo on her wrist in memory of her best friend who died last year in a car wreck. Both her father and I think this is a terrible idea, but her dad has told her he would stop funding her college education if she gets the tattoo.

Needless to say, things are tense right now. I think he is over-reacting and don’t believe it’s fair he stops paying for college if she does this. She is furious and avoiding us both.

What is your advice for our family in turmoil?  We read your column all the time and have agreed to abide by your advice!


Dear Betsy:

You and your husband have joined a surging national movement: people who agree to abide by my advice on their family squabbles. I congratulate you on your wisdom.

Some Observations

  • Control: I don’t like the implication from what you wrote that your husband maintains sole control over the college fund. Take a look at the documents and make sure you have the same distribution rights that he has.When we spoke by phone you told me you both contributed to this fund over the years but your husband has always handled the details. You need to roll up your sleeves and become more actively involved. He could get hit by the Bus of Death* tomorrow, after all.
  • Overreaction: While I understand your husband’s dismay over his daughter getting a tattoo in a highly visible area, I find his threats to cease her college funding wildly disproportionate to some ink on her wrists. When your husband finds a fly buzzing around the house, does he go after it with a Tech-9?
  • Rebellion: You shared with me he has always been controlling but you have learned how to adapt and so has your daughter. It sounds like this man has been holding you both hostage for years, which may explain your daughter’s sudden interest in doing something to her body that she knows her father will loathe. She may be a little late to the game, but most children will rebel at some point, especially those who feel stifled and dominated by their parents.
  • Family Counseling: Family counseling is in order for all of you, because your husband needs to hear from a neutral third party that his domineering ways are detrimental to the family and need to come to an end.

Kate will almost certainly obey her father.  She is smart and driven and not likely to tank her college career over something so petty: a tattoo honoring a dead girl she would probably hate by now anyway because women be crazy.

What your husband fails to see is Kate can and will get any tattoo she wants wherever she wants it once she has graduated, but he will have done a great deal of damage to the relationship with these threats and may come to find his daughter pulls very far away from him after the financial cord is cut.  

See this?


If he maintains this stance, not only will he poison his relationship with his only child, he will also ensure she is inked from head to toe by the time she’s 30. Is that what he wants?

AskDesCamp Advice-by-Numbers, Scenario #528 (tattoos, children, and financial matters)

It’s time for a family meeting! Please follow my instructions to the letter and in the order listed or you will not achieve the results desired.

1. Apologize: Dad should apologize for threatening to cut her off but should explain his overreaction was based in love for her and wanting her to avoid making a decision she may regret in the future.

2. Face the Control Issue: Discuss how you and your daughter feel about your husband’s controlling nature. I have emailed you some names of family counselors in your area so I encourage you to consider having a meeting or two as soon as possible.

3. Acknowledge her accomplishments. Give the girl some kudos: kids love that! You and your husband have much to be proud of and this would be a great time to communicate that pride to your daughter.

4. Explain your concern in a rational manner. Discuss why you think she may regret this decision in the future and encourage her to table this idea for a year. Express sympathy for the loss of her friend but remind her that sometimes we make permanent bad decisions (suicide or marrying the best lay you ever had) based on temporary feelings.

5. Offer alternatives. Make suggestions for other ways to honor her friend, including a charitable donation in her name, writing a letter to her friend’s parents expressing what a great young lady she was, or volunteering for a cause that was important to that friend.

Gotta run. Please let me know what happens!


*If you don’t know what the Bus of Death is, you aren’t a faithful reader.

Here, I’ll help you but you’ll have to read to the end to get the informational nugget: Bus of Death.

PS: Like this?  Share this!  

PPS: Yes, my organic blog was recycled again.  Why? I’m putting the final touches on the last chapter of my book, Divorce by Design: How to Split Without Losing Your Mind, Your Money and Your Kids over the next few days.  

I thought the damn thing was done but recent investigative work has led me to write a new chapter on how the state bar is there to serve the lawyers, not the clients.  I will be exploring an Oregon case that will shock you.  

Speaking of that, if anyone has submitted a complaint to a state bar regarding their divorce counsel, please email me immediately at if you’d like your story in the book.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. John Meaney

    I say that if the child is willing to allow his or her parents to support him or her, he or she should be willing to accept the rules… If the child wants to do his or her own thing, he or she should be on his / her own completely.

    1. Chris

      Shrieking “MY HOUSE MY RULES” is exactly how you end up with children who despise their parents. It’s pointless and counterproductive for everyone. This girl is an adult. If they didn’t want to help her with her college, they didn’t have to. If they use that control over her as leverage to force her to make decisions about her own body, this WILL cause permanent rifts.

      Robin’s advice is excellent, but in a way I kind of want her to call his bluff. Because right now, he sounds like a complete asshole, and I’m morbidly curious about whether he’s willing to doom his relationship with his only child for the sake of maintaining petty authority over her.

      1. John Meaney

        With the assumption that both parents are on board with the plan to stop funding college (maybe they’re not), the “asshole” is paying for something that is not an entitlement, nor should it be. “My House My Rules” need not be shrieked – but it certainly seems fair to me. I find that virtually every rule my parents imposed on me was worthwhile – and I didn’t like any of them at the time. The primary problem that exists with young people today is a lack of discipline, in my opinion. “They didn’t have to (help her with college),” but I believe it’s perfectly reasonable to make contingencies.

        If both parents are not in agreement, that changes my view considerably. They need to be, right? They need to work out their differences one way or the other. I do not agree that one should have more say than the other in any instance.

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