Sisterhood Blog

Making My Daughters Wait — and Wait — To Get Their Ears Pierced

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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I read Elana Sztokman’s post about her daughter’s nose piercing with great interest, as for years now I’ve been fending off my daughters’ pleading requests to get their ears pierced.

Now, I know that ear piercing is no big deal in our culture – my own ears are pierced, with three holes in my right ear.

There are two in the lobe and one in the upper cartilage. I still like the way a small diamond stud looks there. But it was sore for over a year after I got it, and I can’t recall my mother ever getting as angry about anything as she did this rogue ear piercing, which I did at 19, after I’d been out of the house for a couple of years at boarding school and overseas and felt like an independent woman.

But my mom also made me wait, until I was 13, to get my ears pierced for the first time, and I remember how special an experience it was (and no, I don’t think getting the other piercings was a rebellion against having had to wait for the first ones).

After years of yearning and anticipation we went to The Jewel Box, a tiny store on The Green (the park at the center of town) in Morristown, N.J., and went to the back behind a small velvety curtain, where I got the first of the holes put in.

My girls periodically whine that all of their friends already have had their ears pierced, and I know that it’s true. But my sweet girls will wait until they are 12. It’s not that they are insufficiently mature to take care of newly-pierced ears.

My girls, who are now 10 and 8, will wait because I want them to experience deferred gratification.

We live in a culture where everything – and I mean everything – feels instantaneous. Not just the speed of emailing and on-line surfing, but also in the way that the cheapness of goods means I can replace worn out sneakers the next day with a quick trip to Payless and pick up whatever else they need promptly at one of the many stores in our Brooklyn neighborhood.

To be sure, they must wait for Chanukah or an “old enough” birthday if they want something special, like an iPod, and Aliza, my older daughter, has been hocking me for a cell phone for the past two years. She will get (a basic) one this year, though, along with her own house keys, because she’s walking more places on her own now and has proven her ability to care responsibly for things.

But getting their ears pierced requires waiting even longer.

It’s a way in which the girls will mark (quite literally, on their flesh), becoming bat mitzah. At our Conservative shul it is policy for girls, like boys, to celebrate it at 13, but Jewish tradition says the age of responsibility for girls begins at 12, and this is one place where the tradition regarding females is different but not inferior. Since we don’t have the option of celebrating their bat mitzvahs at 12 within the context of our shul community, one of the ways in which we’ll honor it privately is by getting their ears pierced.

But that’s really secondary.

Mostly, I want them to anticipate the big day as much, and for nearly as long, as I did.

Though I’m sure I hated the waiting when I was their age as much as my girls profess to now, over the ensuing decades the it has become a sweet memory – and one of the life lessons for which I am so grateful to my mom.

Hopefully one day my own girls will come to regard my making them wait the same way.

Leah Berkenwald Sat. Aug 29, 2009

My parents made me wait until I was 14 to get my ears pierced. When I finally turned 14, I didn't really care anymore. Ten years later, I still don't have my ears pierced. But I did get my nose pierced... hmmmm...

Elana Sztokman Sat. Aug 29, 2009

Debra, I just want you to know that since my 16-year old got her nose-ring the other day, my 5-year old has been asking as well -- for both earrings and the nose ring! So the deal I tried to make with her is that we'll do her ears at her next birthday, and the nose ring could wait until she turns 16. She was not happy with that, so we settled on when she turns ten. So she's been telling people all that day that she's getting her ears pierced soon, and her nose ring when she turns ten! I'm hoping she'll have a few turns of the heart between now and then... Anyway, I love your point about deferred gratification. So very, very true... B'vracha, Elana

Laura Jaffe Sun. Aug 30, 2009

Did you know I had multiple body piercings? I also had to wait until I was 13 to have my ears pierced, but after watching all my friends' "complications" (off-centering was the biggest one I feared) I waited until I found someone I could trust. My mother was always about "you've got one body and one life with it." She had already been pointing out bad plastic surgery to me since I was nine. So it took 5 more years, but I've always been pleased with the results, and have the fondest memories of ice and potatoes...really.

Then I moved to San Francisco where the modern primitive culture was rampant. I never liked how tattoos and nose piercings looked on the old folks so I was pretty cured of those. If the T-word happens for Henry he's going to Biker's retirement club!! I loved navel piercings and nipple piercings, even on the 60somethings they looked great, but again it took me forever to do it. What happens when you have children? Pregnant stomach? Nursing? I was 19 and still optimistic.

More research revealed that piercing done well meant the rest will take care of itself. It did. Although I was pregnant 24 years later, I thought I would have found something in writing about nursing with 6 holes instead of 2. I digress. Let's just say Hurray for you Debra!! All these young ladies could eventually come to want more than just sweet little earrings, and by honoring the ear piercing as the real major change that it is (now a facelift is a major change), you are teaching them that it is a turning of age, there is no going back from body manipulation--it's a passage.

And maybe they won't end up looking like the rest of these young people with a credit card and "plastic surgeon".

frances rodriguez Sun. Aug 30, 2009

a different perspective. in my latin culture, a baby is simply not recognized as a girl unless her ears are pierced. you could dress your baby up entirely in pink clothes, and even to this day, others latino will not necessarily think of her as female. i was, therefore, "born" with pierced ears, about a week after my birth date. i think your piece is really interesting in explaining our cultural (or religious) need as humans to imbue all sorts of actions with special meaning -- it is what marks our life with purpose. but how to do that is ultimately an arbitrary choice. i am not arguing that ear piercing is a bad one - just pointing out that we should be aware that the way in which we choose to teach our children the important lessons in life is up to us, and that there are many ways in which to do it.

Sarah Sun. Aug 30, 2009

The whole ear-piercing thing is weird. Not that I don't have pierced ears, and not that I didn't beg my parents to do it earlier, of course. (The age in our family was supposed to be 12, then one sister was allowed when she was 11, so I had precedent.) But it's just a strange thing to do to ourselves! I dread the day my daughter asks me for it. It's bad enough when I have to take my kids for shots to keep them healthy - I should watch while someone puts holes in them that they don't need?!

Michele Mon. Aug 31, 2009

I believe my father had the same outlook as Sarah, concerning the "holes they don't need" about pierced ears. After seeing the holy heck my sister (a year younger than I) received when she got her ears pierced while in high school, I waited until I went off to college. The campus health center offered a low-cost pierced earrings clinic once a week and on the day I went, the room was packed with female students. (Piercing of ears was NOT a guy thing back in the mid-1970s ...) Evidently, there were a lot of parents who objected to the idea. My mom had no problem with it; she had grown up wearing migraine-inducing clip-on earrings. But even she didn't have the guts to get her own ears pierced. My dad didn't like us wearing slacks to high school, either. This even though the (fashion) times were changing, the school dress code allowed them, and Central Illinois in the winter was one cold region. Male power and control, in this case, dies hard.

Sharon Fri. Sep 4, 2009

I got my ears pierced for the first time when I was 10. I still remember my grandmother being horrified. She said I looked like a gypsy and asked what I was going to do when pierced ears went out of style. That was 35 years ago. If she only knew!

My son begged me to let him get one ear pierced for a long time and I finally relented when he turned 13. He shocked quite a few people when he showed up with his new ear stud at his bar mitzvah. Surprisingly, my mother said she liked it. She threw an absolute fit when my nephew got is ear pierced, but I guess the advantage of being the second grandson is having someone else pave the way.

Elise Dee Beraru Fri. Sep 4, 2009

I'm 55 and I never got my ears (or anything else) pierced. So many of my junior high school friends either developed infections or had their lobes torn by catching their earrings on something that I never asked my mother for permission. Since neither my mother nor her mother had pierced ears, I wasn't sure I would get permission. Since I became an adult I've never been tempted, even though attractive clip earrings are hard to find. I think parents are too lenient in allowing their daughters (and sons) to get their body parts pierced. Many employers are conservative about piercings when it comes to hiring. I don't know where some of these multiply pierced young people are going to find work. Maybe "delayed gratification" should wait until these young people are legally adults, when the decision (and consequences) are their own.

Laura Solomon Tue. Sep 8, 2009

I think the deferred gratification lesson is so important, and also like the idea of tying it to bat mitzvah, as the responsibility to take care of pierced ears requires maturity and a level of "adulthood." I would echo Elise's sentiment, though, and also add that, notwithstanding the religious designations of adulthood, we as parents need to help our kids/young people understand the future implications of piercings and tattoos. While the piercing of other body parts and tattooing are becoming more prevalent, it is still the case that, for many people, it's off putting, perceived as low class and/or unprofessional. It's our job to help our kids understand this and, where appropriate, forbid it, since there's no way a 13 year old can possibly contemplate or understand how that fabulous looking tattoo is going to look on her 20-30, or 40 year old body!

Flasker1951 Sat. Nov 28, 2009

Anyone who would let his/her child get a nose piercing is irresponsible. Not only does it look discusting, but if the child ever decides to get rid of it (which any adult planning on getting a job would do), there will be a permenant scaring -- i.e., a whole in your nose.

I would never hire anyone with a pierced nose or anthing more than conventional ear piercing (i.e., only one per ear) for a woman.

I certainly would never hire a male with any piercings.

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