Dealing with Grandparents Who Smoke

My of today's grandparents smoked throughout their adult lives, and now that they are in their 60s, they feel they do not need to quit. Some even still think that the risks of smoking are exaggerated, because they have been lucky so far, and have not become ill. Now that their kids are parents themselves, they want to protect their kids from their smoking. Here is how to set boundaries around your parents, and parents-in-law, smoking around your kids.

Setting boundaries with parents is difficult for the adult children of people with all kinds of addictions. The roles are reversed when you set boundaries around your parents' behavior. Setting boundaries around parents smoking is particularly difficult, because smokers cling to their "right" to smoke, while exposing your child to increased risks of smoking themselves, and of the health risks of second hand and third hand smoke.

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 seeing an influential adult, their grandparent, smoking. Therefore, you must set boundaries with your parents smoking in order to protect your child.

When setting boundaries with your smoking parent, start with the most gentle boundary setting, and work up to more assertive and rigid boundaries only if your initial efforts fail.

First attempt: Ask you parent not to smoke in front of your child -- or yourself if it bothers you. If this is successful and your parent does not smoke in front of you or your child, you don't need to set any further boundaries.

Second attempt: If your parent smokes in front of your child, remind them of your previous request, and say that if they insist on smoking, you will take your child away from their presence.

Follow up with a frank discussion, perhaps on the phone, about how important it is to avoid exposing your child to second hand smoke, and suggest trying to work out an agreement whereby they can refrain from smoking during a specified period of time, or in a situation that will allow your parent to take a "smoke break" away from your child. But remember, third hand smoke also carries risks.

You may find that your parent is more respectful of your boundaries in your home than in their own home, or in some public places more than others. Choose your meeting locations accordingly, and don't give in to pressure from your parent to come to them, only to have them smoke around you and your child because it is "my house, my rules."

Final attempt: If you parent continues to smoke in front of your child, or engages in manipulations to pressurize you into tolerating them smoking, I would suggest you limit physical contact between your parent and your child. This may be distressing for both of them, but it sends a clear message about the importance of this issue.

What it boils down to is how much your parent values time with their grandchild -- if they care about spending time with your child, they will quit or at least restrain their smoking.

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