My Daughter Wanted Her Ears Double Pierced. Why Did I Care So Much?
oMy daughter was sitting in the chair, getting her ears pierced for the first time, when she asked: “Mom, when can I get a double piercing?” I kid you not. I was surprised, partially because she asked the question while the piercing instrument was poised at her earlobe and she was squeezing my hand so hard in fear I thought my pinkie would break. And I was taken aback because this kid had waited until age 10, two years after first having my permission to get her ears pierced. For someone who had bided her time to take the plunge, all of a sudden she was in a big hurry to populate her earlobes twice over.
And I’m sorry to say I made a mistake, and I responded in classic parental knee-jerk fashion and said: “When you’re 15.” Why did I blurt out that age? I have absolutely no idea. It’s not an age tethered to any rite; it’s not related to any age of consent; I never got a double piercing so I have no frame of reference. I guess it felt “old enough” to me, whatever that even means.
This was not the first nor the last time I would set a limit that had nothing to back it up, but this moment was different. It was a harbinger that life would become so much more of a give and take between us and I was unprepared for how much in the years to come her burgeoning self-expression would put us at (mostly) respectful odds.
Fast forward a few years and my daughter started agitating for the right to get double pierced sooner than 15. So much so that when we recorded an episode of The Puberty Podcast all about negotiating with kids, the ongoing double-pierce-discussion was my example. I fully admit that my age choice was arbitrary, but I hadn’t budged in the intervening years because I feared a future where she would then expect me to negotiate on every point of conflict. What made it more complicated was that my 11-year-old niece had just gotten a double piercing, deepening the chagrin of my 14-year-old daughter.
I heard from a shocking number of people whose parents forbade them to get a second piercing who did it themselves in secret and promptly got infections (or placed the holes in the wrong spot). Those stories gave me serious pause for thought about the limit I had set for my daughter and what an inadvertent outcome might be.
Already softened toward changing my mind, I went to my 16-year-old son, a trusted advisor on such topics like social media access and clothing standards, so I teed up this particular dilemma. Without skipping a beat, he said to me: “Mom, of course you should let her get a second piercing. It’s a form of self-decoration and self-expression. Everyone has them. It’s not like when you were young — it’s different now.” From the mouths of babes…
That night I told my daughter that I would allow her to get a second piercing. I explained to her that the limit I had initially set didn’t have any real reasoning behind it and admitted that I had been wrong or at least not particularly thoughtful.
Her response? “Both ears, right Mom?” Wait what?!!! In my day you only got one. But, it is no longer “my day” and I needed to adjust.
I decided that if we were going to do it, we would do it right: safely, enthusiastically and with a sense of ceremony. So I took her to Rowan, a beautiful, specialized piercing boutique where licensed nurses perform the piercing. (I was scarred by all the stories of unhygienic, infected piercings and wanted some place really professional.) We made a day of it, taking pictures and going out for a special lunch.
Since then, I’ve barely thought about her second piercing. Mostly because the main subject of discussion now is the length of her shorts, but that’s a topic for another time. However, I do think a lot about how and why I make certain rules for my kids. I usually parent a lot by instinct because I have always been someone who trusts my gut. Except in this case, I learned that my gut reaction isn’t always the best guide.
Instead, with murky topics on which I don’t have a firm position, the approach I now use these days when my kids ask me “When can I…” is to turn the question back on them and ask: “What do you think is fair?” More often than not their answers are excellent and thoughtful. But that tactic doesn’t always work, because sometimes adults have to be the limit-setters on an issue that is either totally new to this generation like social media or one where cultural morés have changed so dramatically like piercings. In that case, I’m learning to get more comfortable with things being fluid (FYI I’m not great at going with the flow), and instead not answering right away, but rather giving myself time to consider a response. My new best skill is this: “I’m not sure. Let me think about it.”
For me, my daughter’s second piercing was not really about a piercing at all. It was about my comfort with her self-expression and how much I should weigh in on her choices. It was truly about how, when and in what ways I set limits for my kids: Do I lean on my own lived experiences? How much do I listen to their preferences? Is it appropriate to wait out the negotiation?
Here’s the hard part: there is no one right answer on this. There are many right answers and the important thing is how you get to the right answer with your kid. In this particular instance, my initial approach was incredibly weak but I think I got there in the end, partially because I openly admitted that I had made a mistake. I wish I knew then what I know now. When in doubt, a good response is always: ““I’m not sure. Let me think about it.”
Vanessa Kroll Bennett is the co-host of The Puberty Podcast; the founder of Dynamo Girl, a company using sports and puberty education to empower kids; and the author of the Uncertain Parenting Newsletter, musings on raising adolescents. You can follow her on Instagram @vanessakrollbennett.