When Your Child Says, “Mom, I Started Smoking.”

Posted May 21, 2012 by

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We all measure our abilities as parents. We measure ourselves against our friends’ kids and even strangers’ kids. We don’t talk about it, but we all do it. My boys are not perfect. My oldest son had emotional/behavioral issues and could not succeed in a comprehensive public school program. He never had a Bar Mitzvah like my friends’ children. He was not driving at age 16. I knew he was succeeding in other ways, but still, I couldn’t help feeling a bit jealous of my friends. Or even wonder if any of his shortcomings were my fault. Deep down I knew I did the best I could and was proud of him for his successes. At 21 he is not in college but he is working. He does not drive, but gets himself to and from work on the bus. He has a girlfriend and an active social life.

One thing I was proud of was the fact that he did not drink or smoke. In fact, I took excessive pride in that. My mother died from emphysema and my sons saw her suffer. Their dad recently, at age 41, had a heart attack and has high blood pressure. He survived but what a scare that was for them! My brother is a drug addict, in and out of recovery. We have alcoholic cousins and uncles. Our family is flooded with addiction, but we broke the mold.

A few days ago my son said he wanted to talk with me. We walked towards the basement where his room is. Typically when we talk, he stands at the bottom of the steps and I sit on the steps. I do not know how we came up with this routine, but it was standard for important discussions. The last one was when he wanted his girlfriend to move in with us (no — we did not allow this to happen). But he walked down the steps into his room and invited me to sit on his couch and closed the door behind me. He started with, “Promise you won’t get mad at me.” He told me he had been trying for a while to get up the nerve to tell me this news. We all know this means something BAD has happened. Of course my first thought was that his girlfriend was pregnant.

After a few false starts he told me he recently took up smoking! I was almost hoping his girlfriend was pregnant because this news was more of a shock to me. That could be accidental (well, kind of…) but this was ON PURPOSE. A choice he was making. He has always talked about not smoking, especially having watched his grandmother die the way she did. My brother recently quit smoking and told us it was harder than getting off of heroin!

How could he?  He told me he only started a few weeks ago and it helps him to relieve stress. To me, that’s worse than trying to be “cool” or giving in to friends. This means he likes the way he feels after a cigarette. He has had friends who smoked for years. They hang out here but go outside to smoke. After all these years I thought the “threat” was in the past.

I am at a loss as to how to handle this. Obviously he is 21 and can make his own choices and assured me he will never smoke in the house. He wanted me to know from him, not find out by accidentally finding a pack of cigarettes. I told him I am disappointed, especially because of the dangers to his health, the addictive nature of our family, and the expense of cigarettes. I told him he should speak to his doctor about his stress and maybe adjust his medications or go to therapy. I bought him a card telling him how much I love him want him to be healthy. I even bought him some pretzel sticks (some people who’ve quit told me pretzels were helpful).

With all of the issues we have overcome, this one sent me over the edge. At least I could say my children stayed away from drinking or smoking…until now! Time to turn in my Mom hat…


I am a mom of two boys, ages 16 and 22, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. I have remarried and my husband has 2 boys, ages 13 and 16. The 13 year old lives with us, and has some behavioral problems and attachment issues. There is always something happening at our house!

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