The other day, the wee ones and I were out shopping. As Mister Man returned the cart to the row of carts, Little Miss and I waited for him in the vestibule between the store and the outdoors. She turned to me, her nose wrinkling, and said, “It stinks in here, Mommy. I can tell lots of people have been smoking by here. Are you friends with people who smoke?”
I stopped for a minute. She was right; it did stink. I personally am not a smoker. The smell nauseates me, to be perfectly frank. My dad smoked heavily for years and years, and I used to dream about the day when I owned my own car and house and could tell him he wasn’t allowed to smoke there. Fortunately for all of us, he quit smoking before I graduated college (for good this time), so I never had to have those confrontations.
My goal – for a whole lot of reasons – is for the wee ones to dislike smoking as much as I do and to never have any interest in even trying it. So far so good, right? Little Miss hates the smell of smoke. But this question isn’t as straightforward as it seems.
I have this thing about lying to the wee ones. I just flat out don’t like to do it. It makes me feel wrong, and I don’t want them to look at our conversations in three or five years and say “whatever, my mom just tells us what she wants us to think. She’s a hypocrite, and I’m not going to listen.”
So I took a deep breath.
Well, Little Miss, I said, not sure how this was going to turn out, I’m going to tell you that I’d give you a very different answer now or when you’re in high school or college than I would if you were an adult. When you’re in high school and college, the people who smoke there tend to define themselves by the fact that they smoke. They hang around with other people who smoke, and they want their friends to be like them – helping them justify their own choices and feel good about them – by smoking, too.
When you’re an adult, smoking may be something you do, but it typically isn’t what defines you. You have so many more interests and hobbies and facets of your personality. (Why yes, I do use unusual words when talking to the wee ones. It helps build their vocabularies.) You care less whether the people you’re friends with do the same things and think the exact same way you do. If you’re a smoker when you’re an adult, it’s more something you do rather than something that defines you.
I’ll be honest with you that I do have a few friends who smoke. But I don’t hang around them when they’re smoking. They don’t ask me if I want to smoke. I don’t like the fact that they smoke, but I’m friends with them because they’re good people who care about me, and I care about them.
When you’re in high school, if you’re friends with smokers… it’s far more likely that they’re going to try to get you to start smoking, too. And we both know you don’t want to smoke because it’s gross. And it’s expensive. And it makes you sick. If you have friends in high school or college who smoke, the only times they have to smoke are likely to also be the only times you have to hang out with them, so you’re going to be around all that smoke, and you’ll smell like you smoke, too.
So no, if I were in high school or college, I wouldn’t be friends with someone who smokes. As an adult, I do have some friends who smoke. Does that make sense, Peanut?
And with big eyes, she looked up at me and nodded. Smoking is gross. I hope none of my friends ever do it. Because then I wouldn’t want to be friends with them anymore.
And internally, I heaved a sigh of relief. At least for now, Little Miss gets it. And I’ll keep reinforcing this message. I hate having to give her shades of grey answers, but life is like that way too often. I just hope by the time she has to figure out where in the land of grey she stands, she’s mature enough to get it.
How would you have answered this question had it been your child asking it?