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I’m a mother of 3 children all under the age of 18. My husband and I have always prided ourselves on being very open and honest with our kids about our struggles in life including my husband’s past struggles with alcohol and pain pill use. My husband went through significant counseling and therapy for many years, which was difficult on our family, and especially our kids. We discussed the ups and downs of my husband’s addiction with the children and always gave them an open door policy to talk with us about their feelings. Now the roles have changed. My 17 year old daughter has been struggling in school lately and I found some marijuana in her car the other day. I approached her about it and she said it was her boyfriend’s marijuana (which didn’t necessarily make us feel better). We are concerned that she is smoking marijuana too. She just hasn’t been herself lately and has really pulled back from us. I want to love and respect her blossoming adulthood but I also don’t want her to fall into the same trap my husband did.
-Worried and Concerned Mom
Dear Worried and Concerned Mom,
The fears of a mother are not those that can come and go easily. These fears are in your bones and they make you want to protect your daughter. While these fears are well founded and valid, there is another side to this as well. The way your daughter feels. While she may be just waiting for you to reach out so she could open up to you, it is also possible that she isn’t using marijuana at all and if she is, she doesn’t consider any of this problematic. The key for you is finding a balance. How can you express your love and concerns for her while also giving her the benefit of the doubt and respecting her autonomy as a soon to be adult? Given your dedication and understanding through your husband’s struggles with substance use, I suspect you can also put yourself in your daughter’s shoes. I can see by your letter that you have always approached your children in an open and transparent way and I believe that will serve you particularly well now.
We know that marijuana use is becoming increasingly culturally accepted and it is becoming increasingly accessible. If you live in Washington, Colorado, or Oregon she would be able to legally purchase marijuana in a few more years and by the time she is 21, she may be able to purchase it legally in several other states as well. Regardless of legalities, as your daughter leaves the home in the upcoming years she will be faced with the challenge of making her own decisions about the boundaries she wants to establish with substances.
While expressing your concerns about marijuana use to your daughter may work for you, engaging your daughter in a genuine but supportive conversation with some facts and information about marijuana could make the most impact. In the event that she is smoking marijuana, approaching her in an open ended way may actually pique her interest in order to hear more.
By focusing on respecting her autonomy now, it will likely further strengthen your bond with her over the long run..
Despite increasing cultural acceptance, there are some misconceptions about marijuana use including that it is harmless. While some evidence suggests that marijuana is less problematic when compared to other substances such as alcohol and tobacco, data does support that marijuana can have harmful side effects, particularly in regards to lung and cognitive functioning. Marijuana can be addictive, with about 9% of regular users meeting criteria for a Cannabis Use Disorder (compared to roughly 15% of regular Alcohol drinkers).
Ultimately, how you go about this conversation with your daughter is up to you. My guess is that the bigger goal for you right now is for her to feel respected by you and to make an informed choice about marijuana use. By focusing on respecting her autonomy now, it will likely further strengthen your bond with her over the long run and allow her to be more honest with you if or when she is ready to reach out.
Dear Worried and Concerned Mom,
My first thought after reading your entry is that you are a strong and supportive mother and wife. Standing by your husband’s side throughout his addiction battle and being transparent about the struggle with your children is no small feat. Addiction can be a lifelong struggle and ongoing journey for a family. Way to hang in there. It can’t be easy.
It also can’t be easy seeing your daughter pulling away and acting differently, especially after an incident like finding pot in her car. Not only are you worried about her safety and decision making but the boyfriend’s integrity as well. This is tough. Really tough. And so is being a teenager.
This is tough. Really tough. And so is being a teenager.
Where to start? You wrote about an open door policy for your children to ask you and your husband questions. Have you or your husband thought about having a one-on-one conversation with your daughter? It is important to reiterate that while you do not want to be a nosey mom, you do want to be forthcoming about the legacy of addiction. Let her know that she is loved and not alone.