As my kids get older, I find there’s a delicate balance as a parent when employing the word “no”. In fact, it’s bigger than that: it’s figuring out how strict Mrs Adams and I should be.
To be clear, I’m not talking about homework or allowing your kid a pack of chocolate Buttons. I’m thinking of the big stuff: alcohol, drugs, sex, use of social media and so on.
As my kids are young, some of these issues haven’t really presented themselves yet. When they do, I want to be prepared and know how Mrs Adams and I are going to handle them.
I’m going to use a rather bizarre example to demonstrate this: tattoos. Truth is, I’ve always had a soft spot for tattoos.
Even when I was a young kid, I loved a good tattoo. I still do, but I struggle with the modern trend of covering every part of your body with ink, especially necks and hands. Call me old-fashioned if you must, but I think it’s best if they can be covered up.
In fact, a couple of months ago, I came face to face with a woman with a cupcake tattooed on the right temple of her head. While superbly executed, I couldn’t help feeling this was, shall we say, an interesting choice of tattoo on an unmissable part of the body.
What’s this got to do with being strict and employing the word “no”? Quite a bit as it happens.
My immediate and extended family are not tattoo people at all. Growing up as a boy, tattoos were on the “banned” list. They were spoken about in hushed tones and disapproval of tattoos was made explicitly clear from a variety of directions. “No,” I was never to get one.
I then reached the age of 17. One by one, my friends and I obtained driving licenses. With cheap cars, licenses to drive them, no responsibilities and a six-week summer holiday to fill, a group of us headed up to Blackpool for a dreadful camping break (it seemed like a lot of fun at the time but if I lived my life again…).
It was one of the first times I had been away from home without family. Taking full advantage of this situation, I tracked down a tattoo parlour and got myself inked the moment we arrived in Blackpool.
Needless to say, it was a rubbish tattoo. I’m not going to tell you what I had done, I’m not going to tell you where it is, but to this day I carry that sign of misspent youth with me.
All I will tell you is that it was of an insect. Yes, a fricking insect. In fact, it’s simply the outline of an insect and part of the reason I only had the outline done is because it hurt so much.
No, I am not going doge the awkward truth, this was such odd choice of tattoo and it sits squarely in cupcake territory. I have to face the even more awkward truth that Cupcake Lady showed the correct level of commitment and actually went through with the entire thing so her tattoo was coloured in.
Even so, I thought I was the coolest kid around. I didn’t appreciate the derision from my peers was honest and heartfelt. I thought they were either jealous or joking.
As time passed, I came to realise just how daft I had been. A tattoo is for life, not just something that fades after your stupid teenage years.
Some years later, I went through a major relationship break-up. As part of my I’m-rebuilding-my-life process, I found myself at a tattoo removal place on Harley Street in London (don’t you just love the way the post break-up brain works?). I had a free session with a laser removal specialist. A tiny bit was removed but it would have been so costly to get the entire thing done it remains on my person.
The one saving grace is that I only had a small tattoo done in a place that is easy to cover. It’s so small you can cover the tattoo with a standard-sized HD memory card. Believe it or not, I managed to keep it secret from my mother for over 20 years.
I’m obviously casting my mind back a long time, but I know part of the reason I behaved this way is because of the way tattoos were spoken of at home. Sure, it is down to my own character and I take responsibility for my own actions but tell a young person something is forbidden and they may show up at the next family gathering with an insect tattooed upon their person or a sponge-based confectionery tattooed on their face.
It goes without saying my kids get strong guidance about working hard, respecting others, apologising when they upset someone and so forth. These are all big issues in their own right, when we start getting on to behaviours that could truly harm my kids, that’s when things get very awkward.
Even at my kids tender ages, we have had to discuss issues like alcohol dependency because of things they have witnessed (not at home, I should add). Discussing these issues and running your household in a way that doesn’t make them into issues, that’s the trick.
I must also be realistic. If one of the worst stunts I pulled off was to return home with a small, bad tattoo, things didn’t turn out too badly (there were other stunts, but this none of them left me permanently marked). While I am realistic to the fact my kids will pull off the occasional stunt I won’t approve of, I hope Mrs Adams and I can steer them away from the harmful stuff.
While perhaps not harmful, I do include tattoos of cupcakes on the face on that list. Oh, or insects anywhere. No cupcakes or insects please.