Dear Debra: Tattoo-Phobic Grandma, Conflicted Teacher



By Debra Darvick

Dear debra 2013

Got a burning question? Need some advice? Send your questions to and look for an answer in next month’s issue.


Dear Debra,

Every couple of years we have a family portrait: my husband and I, our three children and their children and now, our grandchildren’s spouses. We do the whole shebang — a beautiful setting, coordinated outfits, professional photographer.

This year will be the first time our newest granddaughter-in-law will participate. She has what they call nowadays “sleeves” (tattoos up and down both arms). She is a lovely girl — smart, good-looking, not a prima donna. But those tattoos will ruin the family photo the same way they did all the family photos from my grandson’s wedding.

Short of having the photographer try to position her so her arms are covered by other family members, what else can I do?

— Camera Shy Grandma

 Dear Grandma,

Alas, you are not camera shy. You are tattoo-phobic, a modern malady affecting many of your generation (and truth be told, some of mine). Here’s the deal: The tats are here to stay, and so, hopefully, is your lovely new, smart, not-a-prima-donna granddaughter-in-law. Be grateful for the big things.

Think twice about asking the photographer to position your grandson’s wife to obstruct the tattoos. S/He may very well have tats, too, and you don’t want to start off a photo session with an inadvertent insult.

If the tradition is to wear planned outfits such as jeans or khakis and a coordinating shirt, why not gift each family member with your pre-selected choice of one of three long-sleeved shirts?

The deeper issue, however, is your problem with your new family member’s tattoos and, Grandma, you are just going to have to suck it up and move past the ink. You have likely, maybe even accidentally-on-purpose, transmitted your feelings already by referring to “ruined” wedding photos. Hopefully, you haven’t let those feelings prevent you from ordering your photo album or framing any stills.

Challenging as it might be, don’t let the sleeves unravel what has the potential to be a lovely relationship. Who knows? One day your granddaughter-in-law may voice regrets over her tattoos. If you’ve developed loving rapport, you can be ready with a heartfelt offer to help pay for their removal.

Dear Debra,

I now have the son of a close friend in my class. When I saw his name on my class list, I didn’t imagine any conflicts, as he is very bright and engaging boy. Despite the time our families have spent together, I never realized what a bully he can be around other children his age.

When we were out to dinner recently, I tried gently mentioning to my friend some of his less-obnoxious behaviors. She brushed off my concerns by saying any issues he might have are because he is so bright and needs to be challenged better. I didn’t appreciate the not-so- between-the-lines accusation that I am not meeting her son’s academic needs. Admittedly it’s early in the year and I know that kids’ social skills can mature, but if things don’t get better, I am at a loss as to how to handle this come conference time without jeopardizing our friendship. My teacher’s gut tells me this boy needs more than gentle coaching in classroom behavior.

— Torn Teacher

 Dear Torn,

That you are friends with the boy’s mother colored your role as his teacher, especially because you broached his behavior in a social setting. Who wants her child’s shortcomings discussed over pad thai? Perhaps that’s why she brushed off your concerns with a comment about his need to be better challenged. She might not have meant to cast your professional abilities into doubt at all. If your gut is telling you more obnoxious behaviors are in the offing, be prepared to discuss your observations at conferences or even earlier if things are really out of hand.

Come at this as you would with any parent, from a place of concern and a desire to help the student better adjust to classroom dynamics. Keep all discussions within your professional realm. Does your school have a social worker on staff? Perhaps involve him/her for pointers on how to handle the boy. If other teachers have similar difficulties, the boy’s struggles won’t be news to the social worker.

You may not be able to save the relationship if your friend doesn’t want to face some uncomfortable truths about her child. It’s always sad to lose a friendship — sadder still to allow a child’s anti-social behaviors to disrupt not only classroom life but his own over time. RT


Debra Darvick shares her unique take on life, books and more at


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