Care and Feeding

My Sister Helped My Daughter Get a Tattoo!

My daughter’s grounded, obviously. But how do I deal with my sister?

Photo collage of a teenage girl smiling as she looks over her shoulder, her back tattoo exposed, next to her mother, holding her finger in the air with an angry look.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by bmcent1/iStock/Getty Images Plus and yacobchuk/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My half sister is 19. I am in my 40s. As you can imagine, we do not have a lot in common, but have always had a pleasant and civil relationship—until last week.

My 16-year-old daughter has been begging us to let her get a tattoo for at least a year (in our area, you need an adult guardian’s permission unless you are over 18, which seems completely reasonable to me). She just wants to get the birthdate of her (deceased) little brother on her shoulder blade, which I am, of course, extremely sympathetic to. However, her father and I have been extremely clear that she can get this tattoo when she is 18, and not before.

Well, last week she came home with a fresh tattoo on her shoulder blade (to her credit, she did not try to hide it), and after some frantic and pointed questioning, she owned up that my half sister had filled out the permission paperwork and pretended to be her guardian. (Apparently the local tattoo parlor is not exactly running the world’s tightest ship.)

I am so angry. I can’t find it in me to be more than a little angry with my child, because it makes me tremendously sad to think of our loss, and I don’t want to yell at her for wanting a permanent reminder of his short life, even though she went behind our back and did so against our explicit instructions (she is extremely grounded, obviously).

I am angry at my sister. I made a scathing call to the tattoo parlor, which helped me work some of that out, but I just cannot shake my anger at my sister. What can I do here?


Dear Boiling,

Of course you are angry! This was a betrayal. And you are angry at the correct person, the adult who lied on the form and allowed your teenager to get a permanent body modification that you had explicitly forbidden her to get. Two years is a short time, but a very long time in terms of brain development, and although I suspect she will not really regret this tattoo, you were very right to tell her she had to wait until she no longer needed your permission.

You can be angry. It happened a week ago! You have not said if your sister has apologized, or if you think this was a “fuck you” designed to get your goat, or even if you have spoken to her since.

Take some time. Take enough time that you are not imagining punching her. Write her a really angry letter on paper and then burn it. When you are only angry, and not boiling, have a sit-down and tell her how you feel. Ask her what her thought process was. Tell her that this has obliterated, at least for a time, your trust in her. She is barely older than your daughter, and I hope that this will help temper your anger a little.

You need not go to your grave cursing her name. You do not need to end this relationship forever. But you do need to move forward having said your piece. She needs to know what a fuckup this was.

Time will make this easier. Don’t yell. Wait. Then talk.

I’m tremendously sorry for the loss of your son.

Dear Care and Feeding,

This is definitely an “am I the jerk?” situation. My kids have to fly more frequently than most kids (long story, co-parenting across state lines, etc.), and we have found electronic tablets to be absolutely invaluable to the experience of getting them to their destination without them  becoming bored to tears and kicking the seat in front of them.

Well, one of our kids, who is 8, has some sensory issues that make headphones painful to wear (the other is fine with headphones). We keep the volume as low as possible, but on three separate flights, we’ve gotten dirty looks from other passengers (and one “this is bad parenting” diatribe). I know that other people should not have the responsibility to deal with my child’s disability, but I also don’t really know how to fix it. Do you have any magical solutions?

—Not Everyone Wants to Hear Frozen

Dear NEWtHF,

I will assume for the purposes of this answer that you have experimented with various types of headphones (kid-specific headphones, earbuds, over-the-ear, etc.) and have come up empty on this search. If I’m wrong, start there.

The volume is not low enough. Otherwise, people would not be coming up to you. Kids generally have better hearing than grown-ups, so taking it down two or three notches may in fact do the trick. It’s likely you’ve also tried this.

First, reload the tablet with a bunch of games that require no sound to play. But you are probably going to have to move beyond the tablet. Magnetic puzzles, coloring books, sticker books, fidget spinners … there’s a world of options out there that are both silent and engaging. Go to a toy store together and shake the bushes until something falls out. I have also found that my toddler is happy as a clam to watch a movie with zero volume on a plane, and your 8-year-old might actually find a no-volume movie with captions to be both satisfying and a boost to their reading ability.

I’m cheering for you to find a solution, and I am also proud of you for knowing this is your problem to fix, not the problem of other passengers to ignore.

• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 11-year-old, “Jackie,” is very funny and loves performing little skits (which are legitimately hilarious even to people not in her extended family and friend circle). She desperately, desperately wants to start a YouTube channel. My wife thinks there’s not much harm in it, but I have a lot of reservations. Can you help be the tiebreaker? We love your advice and have pledged to abide by it, either way.

—Not Rose’s Turn

Dear NRT,

You are correct. An 11-year-old cannot make an informed decision to be Extremely Online. If she was 16, I might feel differently. It’s too soon. There are weirdos and creeps and stalkers, but above all, we are only now starting to get a sense of the emotional and psychological impact of being seen by strangers and performing for them from a very early age. She can make videos on a private channel that can only be seen by people you give permission to—that’s fine. (For many kids, a closed channel populated only by their relatives and friends is entirely satisfying.) But she’s too young to be out there in the stark light of the open internet.

Dear Care and Feeding,

On Monday you said that many of us write in already knowing what we have to do and are just seeking firm reassurance to just … do it. I think that’s where I’m at.

My girlfriend and I are in our late 20s. We have dated for five years, and we’ve never been on the same page about having kids. I know I want to be a dad; she doesn’t want to be a mother. Obviously, for those five years we’ve both been quietly hoping to converge on one side or the other of this question as we are very, very much in love.

I think we need to split up. Do we need to split up?

—I Know

Dear I Know,

Yes. But you also need to grieve. This is a tremendous loss. I will not lecture you for not breaking up sooner; people do change their minds, but the situation cannot be altered at this point.

Because you love her so much, and she you, I recommend sitting down and explaining exactly why you cannot be with her anymore, and then I encourage you to say that once you’ve divided your things and said your goodbyes, you will need to go no-contact for at least six months. (Here’s a great Reddit support group for people going no-contact with their exes.)

When a relationship has to end because of circumstance or irreconcilable differences, as opposed to what Rilo Kiley calls “the slow fade of love,” it’s far too easy to fall back into each other’s arms, and that will only bring you pain.

I’m so sorry, and I hope you both have lives that bring you what you want most.


More Advice From Slate

My wife and I have a dilemma: My mom lives just downstairs from us and is 90 percent awesome with our 5-year-old son. She helps with school drop-off and pickup, does a few hours of child care on the weekend, and is always ready to randomly babysit whenever we need. The 10 percent: Whenever he goes down to visit her, he gets banana bread, trail mix with M&Ms, lemonade (not cut with water or seltzer), and other things we would consider “sometimes” foods. The notorious “free” babysitting strikes again! What can we do?