Care and Feeding

My Ex Insists on Getting a Tattoo Right Now

How could he put our kids at risk for COVID-19?

A man crossing his heavily tattooed forearms.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by ashlarc/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,

I have three elementary-age children and am currently going through an amicable divorce. My soon-to-be ex recently became fanatical about tattoos and has collected over a dozen large ones in less than two years. I’ve forbidden him from getting new ink during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since we live in a state seeing one of the highest spikes in cases. He just informed me that he has waited long enough and made a new tattoo appointment for early next month.

I’m not a fan of these to begin with, but sitting inches away from another person who routinely sits inches away from many people each day seems especially dangerous right now. I informed him that if he proceeds with the appointment he cannot see the children for the 14-day symptom waiting period recommended by doctors. He is now alleging that I am trying to control him, and this has the potential to unravel a significant amount of the goodwill with which we have entered the divorce process.

I don’t want a fight, but the kids’ (and heck, my) safety have to come first. What are some good tactics I can use to deescalate his frustration while standing my ground? And if he goes forward with the appointment, what is an age-appropriate way to explain to 10-, 8- and 7-year-olds that they can’t see Daddy for two weeks because he can’t hold his darn horses during a pandemic?

—Think Ink

Dear TI,

I do think you should focus on the issue at hand—your family’s safety—rather than the tattoos, of which you clearly aren’t fond. Don’t lend any credence to your ex’s argument that this is about control or disapproval; stick to the facts.

The fact is that whatever risk your ex is undertaking (and I’m not saying tattoo artists aren’t doing their best to practice their trade and be responsible about public health!) is not necessary. He’s allowed to choose this for himself, but he’s not allowed to be irresponsible about his family’s health.

So try again! “Mike, this isn’t about tattoos, or me controlling you. You’re free to do as you wish, of course. But I feel strongly that we need to limit our family’s exposure, and I think you’ll agree that our kids’ health comes first no matter what. If you keep your appointment, let’s please work together to observe a recommended couple weeks’ quarantine. We can talk to your doctor together and get her recommendation on the matter if you think that would be helpful.”

You really don’t need to explain this to your kids! At any rate, don’t wade into the muck and imply that this is because of some choice their dad made, of which you don’t approve. If they ask why they need to wait two weeks to see their Daddy, say it’s important for everyone’s health and that they can video chat or talk on the phone if they’re missing him a ton; once 14 days have passed they can see him as usual.

If your husband flat out refuses, which I hope won’t happen, you might want to think about working with a mediator to help facilitate the complicated bumps in the divorce. Good luck.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are new parents, and our parents are all first-time grandparents. My dad never makes a decision lightly, including what he wants to be called as a grandpa. After scouring lists of names and polling everyone he knows, he decided on Papa and asked us to confirm that my father-in-law had a different name in mind. We asked my in-laws what they wanted to be called (multiple times!) to make sure there was no conflict. They refused to pick names and said the baby would eventually call them something cute and that’s what they’d go by. We gave my dad the green light for Papa, and he’s been so excited by the name ever since.

Just before the baby’s arrival, we told my in-laws that my dad chose Papa, and my FIL said that he wants to be Papa since all the men in his family have always been Papa. I told them that that’s why we asked multiple times, but they insisted that the name was very important to him and we’ll just have to do Papa [Last Name] for each grandpa.

We said we don’t like that and want unique names, but now that the baby is here they are insistent on using Papa, even buying items like shirts and mugs that say Papa. Any time we express discomfort, they say it’s perfectly fine for both men to be called Papa. I don’t have the heart to tell my dad, and I’m not sure how to handle the situation. The baby is now 3 months old and the families haven’t seen each other because of the virus, but I know we can’t hide this issue forever.

—Papa Papa

Dear PP,

This is a great example of how families can make us crazy, but it is not, strictly speaking, a problem.

Your father-in-law is making your life complicated, but he’s not wrong; There’s no reason your kid can’t someday call one grandpa Papa Joe and the other Papa Matt. (I find using a surname here sort of formal, but that could work too!) I don’t even think you’ll necessarily need to do that. Think of it this way: If you grow up with a sibling, odds are you both call your mother Mama—that doesn’t diminish what she means in your individual lives. It’s likely you and your husband both call your respective mothers Mom—there’s no confusion there about who is meant. In my own household, I’m Daddy and my husband is Papa, but the kids regularly invert this, or confuse it, or call us both interchangeably, and there’s never a communication breakdown as a result.

What is in a name, or a term of endearment like Papa? A lot less than you seem to think. Your kid is only 3 months old; I promise you this situation, which feels like a problem to you right now, will not feel like a problem to your baby. And while your father might feel slighted or downright angry at first, this is one of those things that is simply not worth getting mad about, and I’m sure that eventually it will blow over. Let this be the kind of anecdote you tell when you want to communicate how exasperating your family can sometimes be, but otherwise, let it go.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m not pregnant, but I plan on having children soon, and I’ve been thinking about baby clothes that I’ve seen my friends and family buy and put their kids in. I hate those terrible, gendered, ugly baby onesies that say things like “Nice boobs, can I try one?” or “Daddy’s other chick” or “Ladies Magnet.” I see friends and family buy these occasionally because they’re funny. I find them offensive and tacky, and dread the idea of someone buying one for me. I don’t want people to waste money on something I will never use. Is there a way I can express this to people in my life who might get one of these for my baby? Or do I have to suck it up, take the gift, and hide it in a closet until it won’t fit anymore?

—Clothes Call

Dear CC,

I hate ugly kids’ clothes too. But the point of a gift is the gesture, not the thing itself. You can accept the loving spirit in which whatever sexist outfits you receive and donate or hand down the clothes themselves. Easy!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 13-month-old loves books more for the pictures and page turning than any of the words, and he prefers books with photographs of people and animals. He pulled a book of photographs about the Beatles out of the grown-up library and is obsessed with it. We have a range of books for babies that have been intentionally chosen to present a variety of races, orientations, and gender expressions, but what makes him happiest these days is to page through a big book of white male faces. This worries me! Do I hide it? Am I a jerk for taking away something that makes him happy? I hope that everything else in his life helps balance it out, but I can’t help but worry that he’s so attached to it. On top of that, I can’t help but worry that he isn’t interested in the words of any of his books at this age. This book is a microcosm of many fears I have for my white son, and I’m tempted to “lose” it next trash day.

—Lucy in the Sky With White Fragility

Dear LitSWWF,

My former, very beloved babysitter gave our son a beautiful board book of kids’ faces when he was an infant. He loved it. It’s become my go-to gift for new parents; I think babies are hard-wired to want to look at human faces.

Don’t get me wrong, babies are a mystery, but I’m sure what your kiddo likes about the Beatles is their placid, pleasant faces. I don’t think letting him page through that book is going to inculcate racial or gender bias in him! If it makes him happy, let him be happy.

You’ve given him a ton of books to help form his worldview; you’re going to be there with him throughout his life, helping guide him. Raising him to be someone who understands and values all ways of being is a worthy task, and letting him look at the Beatles in no way sets him off course. Also, remember that at 13 months he’s very young still, and it makes sense to me that he’d be disinterested in words. Read aloud to him as much as you can, but I wouldn’t expect him to grasp the relationship between words printed on a page and the sounds from your mouth for a while yet.


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