By: Cheryl Chiew

There is nothing scarier than telling your Chinese mother that you have tattoos. 

I think the permanence of ink on the skin is what my mom disapproves of most, and it doesn’t help that Singapore’s older generation assumes that only gangsters are inked up.

When I was 18, I had tattoos on ribs and was able to keep them well hidden. However, my sweet, brave (and arguably very stupid) younger sister decided she was going to get, not 1 but, 3 very visibly-placed tattoos. And because there’s no way she can keep them a secret, she had to tell my mom, I decided to ’fess up too.

The good news is we survived. For those with parents who disapprove of tattoos and are wondering how to break the news to them, here’s how we told our mom.

Step 1: Cover up your tattoo 

You want to be in control of the situation, and by showing your parents the tattoo too soon, can catch them off guard, and result in them yelling at you. Instead, it is best to cover your tattoo and approach the subject matter on neutral grounds. 

Step 2: Sit down with them face-to-face

For Asain parents, getting a tattoo can be a big deal. When I told my mother, I was afraid she was going to pass out.

Jokes aside, having them sit down in a private and comfortable space sets the tone of the conversation. This allows you to convey that you have something important too, you respect them, as well as taking the time to address their questions and concerns.

Step 3: Be direct and composed

When delivering the news, try not to make too much small talk with your parents, as it can make them even more anxious. Instead, say, “I have something to tell you, I got a tattoo,” in a calm voice, and wait for their response.

It is also important to accept that they may be angry or show signs of agitation. If they begin to show signs of abusive behavior (e.g. yelling or hitting), extract yourself from the situation, while still keeping your composure. Remember to express to them that you understand their anger and can continue the conservation when they are ready.

Step 4: Be ready for their questions

After they recover from their initial shock, prepare yourself to answer some of their questions.

These are some questions my mom asked:

  • How many did you get?
  • How much was it?
  • Did you think about it for a long time?
  • Are you going to get more?

At this point in the conversation, you can allow them to lead it while addressing their concerns, as well as reassuring them that getting the tattoo was not a rash, immature decision.

 If you’ve reached this stage without any tears or raised voices, ask if they would like to see the tattoo.

Step 5: Negotiate boundaries

Be sure to let your parents know sooner than later if you’re considering adding another tattoo to your collection, so you can try to work out a compromise. If they’re still vehemently against the idea, offer to keep it covered. 

It is also important to remember that in some circumstances there is no type of agreement that can be made, even if it’s your body and your choice. No matter what the turn out is, do not lose your temper.

Luckily, my mom handled the news gracefully, and told me, “I can’t deny that I am a little disappointed but the one on your arm is still acceptable, and it looks quite cute.” She also said, “But I must say if you get [them] anywhere else like on your legs or more all over your arms, you need to get out of my house.” Remember honoring your parents is very important in Asian culture. 

Assuming all has gone to plan, you’ve survived to tell your parents about your tattoo. Congrats!

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