I am willing to spend time with her — if she's not smoking around my son or me. (Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez)
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
My mother is an unapologetic heavy smoker and has been literally my entire life because she brags about smoking while pregnant with my brother and I and that we're "fine."
We're not fine. We've both had extreme upper respiratory issues our entire lives; allergies, asthma, pneumonia, COPD, bronchitis, sinus problems, you name it, we have had it or still do. Both of us were hospitalized with URIs or pneumonia as children multiple times.
My 26-year-old brother who is otherwise active and healthy has COPD and now needs a CPAP machine to sleep. I've had some terrifying chest x-rays thankfully come back clear but still, being 29 and told I might have lung cancer after never smoking at all in my life pisses me off. After years of begging her to quit, helping her try to quit, I know not to have the supportive quit conversation with her anymore as she'll just blow up about it.
When my son was born I made it clear that she couldn't smoke around me at all anymore, period.
Not in my house, my car, or on my property and that she couldn't smoke around my son. She took it as a personal attack and didn't see my son until he was almost ten months old.
My sister-in-law is pregnant with their first kid, and she's a huge people pleaser. My brother put down the same rules: no smoking at all around them or the baby anymore; his wife says it's fine for her to smoke, that she doesn't mind it. It's their marriage and their issue to figure out.
I'm not looking to start a huge family rift — I know that I have a lot of anger towards my mother, who for all accounts, was a great parent except for the frequently exposing her kids to carcinogens part. I am willing to spend time with her — if she's not smoking around my son or me. With the holidays coming up it's uncomfortable to see how much my mom has made herself unwelcome by smoking; a lot of relatives and friends have put their foot down with her and smoking in their homes.
I don't want her to be alone for the holidays, but I also can't put my son's health at risk, or my own anymore.
I want to spend time with my brother and his family, but not if my mom is there and killing three packs in five hours.
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I am so very sorry that your mom willfully put your health and your brother’s health at risk for so long. While I know that previous generations may not have known better, the information has been out there long enough that your mother chose cigarettes over the health of her child.
An adult has every right to smoke. Fine. But putting other people at risk, ESPECIALLY KIDS, is wrong.
Your son’s health, and yours for that matter, is far more important than your mother’s comfort.
It is simple; she can spend time with you and your kid without cigarettes. If she needs a smoke break, she can go outside. That is a necessary and reasonable boundary.
If she can’t respect that, she can’t be around your child.
As for the rest of your family, you have no control over the boundaries they set or their house rules. Ask your brother if he is going to allow your mom to smoke inside over the holidays. If the answer is yes, then you can make plans with him when she’s not there.
I know it’s hard to set these boundaries with parents, but you have to do what is right for you and your kid.
As hard as it can feel to stick to the boundaries you’ve set, it’s far better than being put in a situation where your mother endangers your family. Sadly, you likely will not change your mom, but you can protect your health and the health of your child.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m listening to, what I’m watching, Herkimer Diamonds, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo