The times have changed. In the 1970s, 1980s, and even 1990s, it was not uncommon for parents of young children to smoke and drink alcohol around them. While some still do, many younger parents rightly choose not to drink or smoke at all. Recognizing the harm to health of babies and children from secondhand smoke, and being aware of the impact of role models on future behavior, discourage younger parents from drinking and smoking with their children.
But for grandparents who have smoked throughout their adult lives and are now in their 60s, 70s or older, many feel like they don’t have to quit.
Many people who drink alcohol in excess underestimate how much they are consuming and do not believe that their behavior or alcohol use is problematic.
Some believe that the risks of smoking and drinking are exaggerated as they think they are in good health because they have not been diagnosed with a serious illness.
While difficult to understand, even some of those diagnosed with serious illnesses, including those directly related to smoking and drinking, refuse to change their behavior in relation to these substances. Still, younger parents can find it difficult to confront their own parents, or even ask them not to drink or smoke around their grandchildren for fear of offending or angry with their parents.
The need for borders
It is difficult for the adult children of people with all kinds of addictions to set boundaries with their parents.
The roles are reversed when you set boundaries to your parents’ behavior. Setting limits on parenting smoking is especially difficult as smokers cling to their “right” to smoke, exposing your child to an increased risk of self-smoking and the health risks of second- and third-hand smoking.
Alcohol can be even more problematic if your parents are drinking and getting intoxicated with your child or children. While previous generations may have “laughed at”, parents are now better informed about the effects of drinking on adolescents. Not only can it encourage them to consider drinking normal and harmless when grandma or grandpa does it, but drunkenness can lead to inappropriate language or behavior, which can lead to a range of results, from embarrassment to abuse.
Making excuses for your parents rarely works. Children can sense their parents’ discomfort, and it can be difficult to explain your parents’ behavior to your children or even answer their questions about their grandparents’ behavior in a way that feels honest and informative. If you allow these behaviors to continue, it can create rifts in the family that can ultimately affect your feelings, if your children spend time with their grandparents at all.
As an adult child, you are no longer obliged to follow your parents’ instructions or to tolerate their unacceptable behavior. As a parent, you have a responsibility to protect your own children from the harmful effects of smoke and to see an influential adult, their grandparents who smoke or drink alcohol. Hence, to protect your child, you need to set limits when your parents smoke.
When are limits set?
Before asserting yourself with your parents, it is helpful to clarify exactly what you think is unacceptable, the reasons for it, and what your parents should do instead.
There is a huge difference between having your parents absent-mindedly flashing up in front of the grandchildren or drinking alcohol early in the day and getting drunk and violent. If any of your parents are aggressive, violent, or verbally abusive to you or your children, it is a good idea to keep your children from spending time with them until their behavior changes or your child grows up.
You are neglecting to protect your child when you allow them to be with someone who is abusing them, even if you love that person and believe that they should spend time together.
Likewise, you should not allow your children to spend time with a grandparent who uses illegal drugs. When you do this, your child will be exposed to drug use modeling, making it more likely that your child will be using drugs themselves. Children can also be harmed themselves from accidental or experimental use of drugs, which they can potentially do when in a drug use environment. They can also be injured or infected by utensils such as lighters and needles.
Choosing a safe meeting point
You may find that your parents respect your boundaries more in your home than in their own home, or in some public places more than others. Choose your hangouts accordingly and don’t give in to pressure from your parents to come to them just to have them smoke around you and your child because it’s “my house, my rules”.
You may also be able to avoid confrontation with your parents by choosing places where your children can spend time with your parents, where it is not easy or even possible for your parents to smoke, drink, or use drugs. There are many public venues that offer family entertainment and activities that are smoking and non-smoking, such as shopping malls, libraries, playgrounds, restaurants, and movie theaters. The big advantage of choosing these locations and meeting your parents right inside rather than outside the building is that the enforcement aspect is taken over by someone other than you.
You can also involve your child in deciding where they will meet their grandparents by giving them two or more safe place options to choose from.
This is a great way to explain to your parents that the activity was something your child specifically asked their grandparent to do if you share the location of your choice. This can be an effective way to keep your child away from the bad influence of your parents while encouraging them to develop a close relationship.
When setting boundaries with your parents, start with the gentlest limit setting and only work on more assertive and rigid boundaries if your initial efforts fail.
First try: Ask your parents not to smoke or drink in front of your child (or you if they bother you). If your first attempt is successful and your parents don’t smoke or drink in front of you or your child, you don’t need to set any further limits.
Second try: If your parents smoke or drink in front of your child, remind them of your previous request and say that if they insist on smoking or drinking, you will keep them from their presence. If you think your parents are reacting explosively, you can do so outside of your child too, so that you don’t upset your child or open up to manipulation by your parents (e.g., “Look, you are disturbing the children!”).
Then, have an open discussion with your parents, possibly over the phone, about the importance of not exposing your child to secondhand smoke or alcohol, and suggest that they work out an agreement that they cannot smoke or drink while doing so Period or in a situation in which your parents can take your child a “smoke break”. Remember, however, that third-hand smoke – which refers to the particles and gases that remain after a cigarette is extinguished and remain on virtually any surface in an area where someone smoked – also poses risks to your child.
Last try: If your parents continue to smoke or drink or manipulate in front of your child to pressure you to tolerate smoking or drinking, I would recommend limiting physical contact between your parents and your child. This may seem harsh and distressing for both, but it sends a clear message about the importance of the issue.
It boils down to how much your parents value their time with their grandchildren – if they want to spend time with your child, they will quit smoking, or at least limit it. Regardless of what your parents say, they are able to function without smoking or drinking, even if only for a short period of time, say an hour or two, which is usually as long as most little ones Children want to take part in an activity.
If your parents are very addicted to nicotine, they can use nicotine substitutes during the time they are with their children, such as when they are together. B. Nicotine gum or a nicotine patch. And if you can’t function without alcohol for a short time during the day, you probably have a very serious problem with alcohol.
A word from Verywell
It can be difficult to hold your own against your parents. You don’t want to embarrass them or provoke an argument, especially one that you can’t win. However, it pays to persistently find a way to bring your parents and children together for their relationship without exposing your children to its harmful influence.