You have to let go of your children, or they'll do it for you

I wouldn't pay for a tattoo. I wouldn't drive them to a tattoo parlour. I would hate a tattoo. But I would try to ...
I wouldn't pay for a tattoo. I wouldn't drive them to a tattoo parlour. I would hate a tattoo. But I would try to respect the decision to deface a body that's not mine, not even a bit. Photo: Jason South

At midnight they woke me with giggles and an unidentifiable rattling so I went to the bedroom door and grumpily told them to be quiet, not for the first time.

My 14-year-old daughter and her 14-year-old friend were lying on the carpet playing Connect Four – that was the rattling.

The giggling, that was just being together and up late on a long weekend. I was tired but allowed myself a smug mother moment: those lovely girls, playing an old game, not on screens, just enjoying each other's company. How benign.

And then they were quiet – or quiet enough for me to sleep – and when I woke up this morning and fed the cat, dog and fish, they were asleep and quiet still.

I walked the dog, grabbed no-school-day supplies, hit the computer.

Hours later, when they got up, my daughter gave me a hug and asked how I was (strange) and looked at me quizzically (even stranger). I'm fine, I told her. How are you?

She flicked her head to the side. The reveal. Really good, she said. I pierced my ears. Her "seconds", a tiny sparkle in each ear, above the parent-approved holes she'd had at the chemist last year.

Don't worry, I did it properly, she assured me, showing me a needle, disinfectant and a slice of apple. Apple? You hold it to the other side of the ear to stop the needle, she told me. Right, method approved by YouTube then.

There's a lot of letting go in parenting and these teen years are a lot about letting go of their bodies. The bathroom door shut. The bedroom door shut. Their bodies absent. And their bodies changed: the razors, the sudden fringes, the holes in the ears.

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If she asked me if she could put a hole in her ear, I'd say no. In fact, she has asked and I have said no. And now she's done it anyway.

I'm not angry but I am a bit sad. When you don't let go, they let go for you. But that's good, I tell myself.

There are many things I'd like to give my daughters: having them confidently own their own bodies is a big one. So surely trying to control and manage these same bodies isn't right.

I wouldn't pay for a tattoo. I wouldn't drive them to a tattoo parlour. I would hate a tattoo. But I would try to respect the decision to deface a body that's not mine, not even a bit.

I see it with food too. Now that they have a little of their own money, they can make their own choices and their small rebellions include food that I judge as bad, food they don't see at home.

Maybe my wholefood queendom has pushed them all the way to the 7-Eleven: maybe trying to be healthy is just another way to get it wrong. You can put fruit in the bowl and sometimes it's used as part of a piercing plan.

I look at them: perfect and imperfect. I look at them with love and frustration and fear and wonder. Who knows what's coming?

I've told them – reminded them – that they were born from my body and it lands like the most irrelevant fact ever.

This journey from the ultimate dependence to the most flagrant freedom is the whole point.

It's the part to celebrate, even now, even when it's hard, when my main powers seem to be worry and the ability to stop paying for their mobile phones.

It's not easy and I don't know much but I do know I'm going to keep buying the apples.

Dani Valent is an Age contributor.

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