I had such fun writing my last post on talking with kids about pot, especially concocting the subheadings. But it had gotten past the length of one post, so here are some follow-on thoughts, specifically about comparing marijuana to alcohol.
Weeding out my thoughts
A few weeks ago I was interviewed about moms and kids and Colorado’s new marijuana laws by NBC’s Today Moms. The reporter was thoughtful and probing and brought up an aspect I hadn’t thought of before, a snag in my plan to simply equate using pot to drinking alcohol. Jacoba Urist asked:
Many of the moms I’ve spoken with have no problem drinking a glass wine in front of their child. But none of them would consider smoking a joint in front of them. Why do you think that is?
I had to puzzle that one out. Why would I never smoke a bowl in front of my children? I cannot fathom ever doing so. But why — why the immediate and viscerally strong reaction to that idea?
What would your answer to the reporter’s question be?
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
For me it’s not the taking-the-edge off aspect. The kids know I have a nightly glass of wine and that I relax a bit because of it. If they choose to do the same one day — imbibe in moderation when they’re of legal age — I will be okay with that.
So why not feel similarly comfortable using marijuana in front of them?
Two insights eventually came to me. The first is that when it comes to alcohol vs pot, the delivery method makes a difference. There is the smoking aspect: I hope my children choose never to smoke, never to bring toxic chemicals into their lungs. I would not model the opposite.
Feed your head
Another way to use cannabis is to ingest it. But I can’t see myself making magic brownies for my husband and me and eating them in front of the kids. Or hiding them and eating them in secret.
Secondly, many people in my generation have spent our entire lives thinking drugs were bad, illicit, dangerous (indeed, sometimes we did them for those reasons!). There is an emotional charge around using pot.
I admit I have it. My kids — will they have it when they are parenting? Who knows. Much like they are digital natives and I am a digital immigrant, Tessa and Reed are growing up in a very different world than I did. I would never smoke a bong in front of my kids because in the back of my head, programmed into me by societal osmosis, is the thought: drugs are bad. Don’t pass The Bad onto your kids, Lori.
But. Wine is good! Wine is French and Italian and brings gaiety and fosters friendship and complements food (hey, cheese — you’re beautiful!) and makes for funny quips on Twitter and Pinterest. For me, and for others who have spent years drinking responsibly and in moderation, wine has no aura of being forbidden.
So my answers to Jacoba’s question include the delivery method and a subconscious judgment I carry, likely a product of my time.
What do you think? How do you feel about drinking a glass of wine vs lighting up a joint in front of kiddos? How are the two similar or different?
Image of marijuana leaves courtesy of Paul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Like many Colorado moms, I’ve had to prepare for how to talk with my tween/teen about cannabis in light of a new law that allows adults to use marijuana recreationally. The libertarian in me is pleased that we have become more consistent in how we handle pot vs alcohol and tobacco, but the mom in me has had to figure out a few things.
After all, when we frequently drive by places with names like “Kush Club” and “Giving Tree,” the kids ask questions. And I’m grateful that they ask them of me rather than seeking answers elsewhere.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned from addressing tricky conversations previously.
1. Have a series of little talks rather than The Big Talk. Holly van Gulden and Lisa M. Bartels-Rabb talk about “dropping pebbles,” throwing out possible conversation starters and see if your kids are ready to pick up any. This is a way of spreading out the emotional charge for your kids — and maybe for you.
With a story about marijuana on the news just about every day, there are lots of opportunities to seize on one and see if your tween joins you. A dropped pebble might sound like, People are putting marijuana in food? Look what they’re saying on this news story. Or, for the older child How many words do you know for marijuana?
Timing is tricky. You want to be the one to introduce the topic rather than having someone else beat you to it, and you also want to catch your kids while they’re still receptive to such talk coming from you. You don’t want to start too early with your child (say, under 10 or 11), but starting these talks too late can be risky (say, after 14 or 15).
Note: you know your situation best, so take all your factors into your own timing decisions.
2. Assess what is being asked and what is needed. Is your child seeking facts? Does he need assurance or direction? Is this a chance to offer asked-for guidance — the best kind? Tune in, ask questions to gain clarity, and deliver what your child needs. Keep an open stance, emotionally speaking, to let your tween know s/he can always ask you questions.
3. Decharge the topic for yourself. Deal with your own issues with the topic prior to having conversations with your child. Any emotional charge you bring to the table will affect the clarity of your message for your tween. You want to be as matter-of-fact about the subject as you can — aiming for unflusterable — which may mean you first need to do an internal assessment about your own views on marijuana usage. Parents can no longer rely on it’s illegal as a reason to not to use/abuse this drug when the child becomes an adult. Instead, parents must find ways to make their children — who will one day be grown — want to make reasoned and conscious choices now and later.
If you’ve never tried pot, tell your son why you made that decision and what the implications have been. If you have used it and you’re nervous about revealing so, figure out how to defuse that within yourself so you can be up front, appropriately, with your daughter.
If asked directly if you’ve ever used marijuana, it’s highly important not to lie. Never lie to your child. You can deflect (or try to): Time to get ready for basketball practice. You can privatize: That’s private for now. You can temper: Yes, I experimented, or There was a time in my life when I did. You can buy time: Yes, and I’d like to tell you about that sometime. This gives you a chance to figure out how to best handle (and perhaps ask your own counsel of wise people in the mean time*).
But never never never lie to your child. Your kid’s trust in you is too important to risk losing.
4. Use “What’s In It For Me” reasons (and me = your child). You could preach on morality terms (good people don’t do drugs). You could strike fear over eventually becoming that person who runs out of veins to shoot heroin into and has no teeth (the gateway aspect).
But more powerful are the more practical and imminent aspects — why should your child choose not to use pot? Remind your teen:
Marijuana use is illegal for minors. If you choose to use, the consequences to you (your teen) could be dramatic — legally, financially, reputation-wise, and time-wise.
Marijuana use has physical implications. Research with your teen just what happens to the lungs, the brain, the circulatory, nervous and respiratory systems, the reflexes, and the energy level, when one uses marijuana. Stick with facts and fight the urge to opine so that you keep your own emotional charge from coming into your conversation. You want your child to make this decision for him/her, rather than for you because the former can be a more enduring and sustainable stance.
Marijuana use could have other consequences regarding athletics, academics and work performance. It can add difficulty to your life while taking away the ability to care about and rectify it. Make this a two-way dialog in which your tween imagines ways that pot use can affect one’s life.
When judgment is impaired, there can be life-changing consequences regarding situations like driving a car, having sex, and getting involved peripherally with other people while they have impaired judgment. Talk with your teen about how it would be to face such a situation (a car accident, having sex not-so-intentionally or even being raped, being caught driving while impaired) and how choosing not to use pot helps avoid these potentially devastating scenes.
The ever green message
The message I will continue imparting to my kids is that I want them to live mindfully and intentionally. Like water dripping steadily on rock, I aim to etch into their psyches these sentiments:
“If you’re getting stoned (or drunk) to escape your problems or numb your feelings, that isn’t the same as actually dealing with your problems and feelings. In fact, that adds a layer of problems for you to also feel bad about later. So let’s just deal as things come up. And not let things happen to you accidentally because you’ve abdicated your role as chief in your own life.
“And as for peer pressure, this is why it’s so important to be able to find your core, your center, your inner voice that can tell you if something is a good idea or not — for YOU, not for your acquaintances and friends, who tend to come and go throughout your life. YOU will be with you forever. Tune into YOU. Think about consequences to YOU.”
By now you’re probably realizing these tips are less about pot (or adoption or sex or death) and more about connecting with your growing-up child. And when it’s high time for you to have such talks with your growing-up child, now you have some tools to use.
Tessa and I had been on edge with each other all day. Finally in the early evening I invited her to cuddle with me on the couch.
“Neither of us slept well last night. I think we’re just tired,” I offered an explanation why we were both cranky.
“But mom, YOU don’t have a hurt hand, like I do,” Tessa raised her splinted wrist.
“That’s true, Sweetheart. But I’m carrying around a hurt, too. Just not the kind you can bandage up.”
“Really…? What!?” She bolted straight up, eager for some drama from her mama.
“It’s a silly thing, really.” I told Tessa about a conflict I’d been having with someone. Even though this woman was on the periphery of my life, I was giving the conflict with her way more prominence than it merited. I couldn’t shake the malaise. It had probably contributed to my cranky.
Tessa, ever spirited, sprang to my defense. “Mama, you CALL that lady and tell her she’s a B-WORD and she should just SHUT HER MOUTH!”
I was shocked by Tessa’s force. It was as if my inner child, wounded from events of the last few days, were speaking through my child-child.
“I could do that, and I kind of felt like doing that,” I explained, “but if weapon-words did come out like that, in addition to hurting her they would eventually hurt me.”
“Besides,” I said, repeating to her what my parents had often said to me, ” you should never allow anything or anyone to lower the standards you set for yourself. If you think it’s right to behave a certain way, then you don’t let anything that another person does change what you know is right.”
“And another besides, Tessa,” I continued, “this lady has had a lot to deal with, a hard life.”
“What??” Tessa asked, and I told her some of the woman’s story, which caused her to softened a little.
“You know, don’t you,” I said, “that everyone is walking around with a story and that’s why we should always be mindful of being kind.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” I explained, “I didn’t know what kind of week this lady was having. You didn’t know what kind of day I was having. And when Sophie was mean to you this afternoon, she didn’t know that your hand was throbbing. If any of us had known, we might have been kinder. So why don’t we all just be kinder?”
She schnuzzled into me and we sat in silence, no longer cranky.