At what point, as parents, do we learn to wind back that dial of emotional attachment to our children? At the point of where they have left home, gone to uni, married, started working or after they have demonstrated their maturity….? Perhaps never… I've often found myself pondering this question every time any one of my children would make a decision that would make me cringe inside. It’s not like you have an “on or off switch” for parenting, right? BTW: I have three kids plus a nephew who I refer to as our proxy child. Their ages range from 13 years to 24 years.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I grew up during a time where smoking was more common than McDonald restaurants. Just like all the people around me, I too smoked. In my previous blog, I wrote about my own personal experience of quitting smoking, and how my children were the catalyst for that change. However, in my decision-making process to quit smoking, I never really gave too much thought about how I might feel (conflicted or otherwise), should any of my kids start smoking, anyway.
From the moment we found out our son was smoking, we thought "this was just a typical situation where kids were experimenting. Not too bothered, we chose to support the school management to deal with the situation, and go from there. He was 14 years old and seen smoking in the park down the road from school with a group of boys (by a well-meaning neighbour). Thankfully our son wasn’t in his uniform, unlike some of the others, so he wasn’t stood down. Unfortunately – he was the one who supplied the tobacco and lighter to the group, which meant he had consequences to face. When asked where he got the tobacco and lighter from (in NZ, it's illegal to sell cigarettes to a person under 18 years of age), to our amusement and to my father’s horror: our son told us how he raided his Granddad's secret stash. I say “secret” because while he hadn't smoked in more than twenty years, my father kept a secret stash of tobacco papers and a lighter, as a "just in case" measure.
The irony? Despite my best intentions, my first born goes there anyway….
Here I was: a stop smoking specialist with a son who had taken up smoking. This was one of the most complicated challenges I had ever experienced professionally, and personally. In my professional role, I understood the power of nicotine and tobacco addiction. I was working with people everyday who depended upon the reassurance and comfort smoking gave them, and influence smoking had over them socially. However, as a parent this knowledge only made the situation feel worse. I knew the potential hold nicotine would have if he became addicted, and what it would take if he was ever going to be free of it. After a period of me asserting my knowledge and his determination to run from it, I was forced to rethink my approach. Dial back that attachment......!
I'm pleased to say that he is now smokefree and has been for more than two years. Not just abstaining from smoking, but smokefree. He made the decision to stop in order to secure a job he wanted. His commitment to realize change for something more, was nothing short of complete focus and determination.
As his mum, I learnt a lot about emotional attachment, and the importance to dial back that ever pressing need to want to let him know that I knew best. It would be fair to say that my very first experience of having to dial back the emotional attachment was an all-round crap time. But it was totally necessary, and worth it. My job was to learn not say anything unless asked, and trust that he could and would work things out for himself. Which he did after a couple of years, and with a little support from his dad and granddad.
Our proxy child and the eldest of them all, smokes now. He started out as a casual weekend socialiser with smoking. And when the stress of adulthood kicked in, so did his need to smoke more regularly. He has an ever-present desire to be smokefree, but is still searching for that intrinsic motivator to help him commit to change. You would think that the financial cost of smoking would be a motivator for change. Evidently that logic doesn’t apply to all, and certainly not to our proxy child.
Of course, he could be smokefree today with some direct support and NRT, but my professional opinion says that this would only be a temporary and pragmatic solution to a situation that requires a long term and personal commitment. You could argue, “well, at least get him started…” but knowing our proxy child, the short- term solution wouldn’t necessarily stop him from going back to smoking in a month or two. He works in hospitality….so you do the math.
What I learnt the first time around with our son, has made me a more patient parent, and supportive one too. Now, at least with our proxy child, I can trust that when he is ready, he’ll front with the same commitment to change, just as our other son did. Just as every person who wants to quit will need to do, if they really want to be free from smoking.
Dialing back the emotional attachment means wanting something more and better for him – but being OK to wait until he’s ready. We talk regularly about the benefits of being smokefree, and the many different ways people have freed themselves from it, but long term success, means he has to want it for himself. While I’m still the parent, I am also a stop smoking specialist!