Dear Doulas and Team, My son is 18 months old and my husband and I are both non smokers and feel very strongly about not having smoke around our child. Unfortunately, most members on both sides of our family smoke cigarettes, particularly my mother who is around him more than other family members. I have tried so many different approaches to this issue with her, all with them ending in huge arguments and no solution. Smoking has always been a major issue for me (physically and mentally) growing up with a parent that smoked and even more so now with all of the research, knowledge, and evidence that I’ve learned about it, especially with second hand smoke. I’ve even tried compromising with her to at least smoke organic or “healthier” cigarettes when she is around. I make her wash her hands and remove offensive smelling clothing before touching our son. I’ve tried getting her help, but sadly I don’t see an end in site for her addiction. Any suggestions or insight on how to handle this situation is appreciated. Thank you.
The Misocapnist Mama
Dear Misocapnist Mama,
I have some news. Some of it is positive and some of it may be challenging. Let’s start with the bright side. Sounds like you have tried many different approaches. It seems as though you have presented your best possible argument. You are well-informed of why smoking is not congruent with healthy living and you have communicated that with your family. Why is your wealth of information and varied approaches good news? Because it means you have tried everything you know to try. People in relationships with folks who are in active addiction often try logic, love, bargaining, pleading, and everything in between. Often times, they end up feeling just like you are feeling: frustrated and at the end of their rope.
Here’s the thing- it’s not the boundary you set, it’s why you are setting it that is really important. When we set boundaries or present information with the hope or expectation that the other person will change their behavior, we will inevitably end up frustrated and disappointed. It’s the boundaries that we set out of self love and perhaps in your situation, love for your family, with no expectation attached, that end up sticking.
So, ask yourself, what would feel loving for you and your son? Would it be no exposure to cigarette smoke? Or limited? Or hand washing every time? Your answer to these questions may mean that your relationship with your family may experience some changes. For example, if you decide that the most loving thing for you and your family would be to never be around cigarette smoke, then you may be exploring alternate child care options, or alternate ways to interact with your family. Perhaps you decide to only meet in public where smoking is not allowed.
Whatever you decide- make sure you communicate your boundary as a rule- not a request. Have a consequence in place and stick to it every time. This may sound something like, “Mom, I respect your right to choose what you do with your lungs and I would ask that you respect my right to care for me and my son’s health. Because I am responsible for my own well-being and the well-being of my son, I will not be attending any more family functions where smoking is permitted. We can meet at restaurants for lunch occasionally, but the minute someone lights up, my son and I will be exiting the premises. Not as punishment for you, but out of love for our health and respect for our bodies.”
Will this change her behavior? Maybe. If she is ready to change her behavior. But, that is not a guarantee. However, your act of radical love for yourself and your son may just inspire her or others to take better care of themselves. Self love is an act of revolution and its impact is beyond anything we can imagine. When we really take care of ourselves, we give others permission to do the same. Take a deep breath of fresh, clean air mama, and keep rocking out this motherhood thing!
Monica LeBlanc LPC, LCAS-CSI
Do you have a burning question that you haven’t had a chance to ask a care provider or are maybe too embarrassed to ask? We’ve got your back! The 411 is like a “dear doula” column where you get to (anonymously) ask about all those things you think you’re alone in wondering, or that you might be struggling with. We’re here to affirm that no, you are not alone. With evidence-based answers from not only birth doulas, but childbirth educators, experienced moms, lactation educators and more, we’ll help save you from falling down the Google rabbit hole. We wanna know what’s on your mind! Submit your question online.