Care and Feeding

My Daughter Knows Not to Use Drugs. Should I Let Her In on My Secret?

A mother talks to her daughter.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Tetra Images/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am looking for advice on how to talk to my 12-year-old daughter about my drug use. This past January, I was diagnosed with brain cancer. I’m on many different medications, and I start my second round of chemo this week. The problem is this chemo is new to me and the side effects are terrible. With my last chemo round (different type of chemo) my biggest problem was nausea. At the advice of a fellow cancer patient, I tried smoking marijuana. It works amazingly well at curbing the nausea, but only by smoking. Edibles and oils do not help. I only smoke outside after work in the evening and then freshen up before joining my family in the house. I know I must smell like smoke, but my daughter has not said anything. My husband has been supportive because he knows the other side effects are awful and this really does help.

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I need to talk to my daughter about it. She must know something is going on, but she doesn’t say anything about it. I want her to know that sometimes drugs can be very helpful to a person who is suffering. I don’t want her to think drug use for recreation is OK. She’s in middle school and kids there are already talking about it and trying to convince others to try it. But what do I say? How do I convey to her that most drugs are very bad and terribly addictive? I am using marijuana to help with ongoing chemo side effects, not for fun.

I have gotten my daughter into therapy so she can deal with her emotions of my diagnosis and the changes she sees in her mom. Perhaps I should discuss this with her therapist? Prior to my cancer diagnosis, we had many conversations about drug use, addiction and how it can affect a person’s life negatively. I don’t want her to interpret my usage as a green light for her to try drugs. Any advice, books or websites to review would be very appreciated.

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— High But Not Suffering

Dear HBNS,

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My answer to your question is complicated depending on how marijuana is policed in your state. I will assume that marijuana is, at minimum, legal for medicinal use where you live. If that is not the case, you will have to consider the advice more carefully.

I would be very open with your daughter about the fact that you are using marijuana, and why. Explain the side effects of the chemo and why they are serious, and how the marijuana helps. If this is something you started on the recommendation or with the blessing of your physician, you might mention that too. If marijuana is fully legal in your state, you can draw comparisons to alcohol—something you keep in the house but to be used responsibly by adults, not kids. If marijuana is only legal medicinally, I would instead liken it to Vicodin and other controlled substances that are medicinal in nature. Depending on your politics, this might be a great opportunity for you and your daughter to discuss the criminalization of marijuana so that she fully understands the past cultural stigmas of the drug and their impacts on criminal justice, certain communities, and healthcare. You can discuss all of this while still underscoring that just because something is legal does not mean it is safe in large quantities or for still-developing minors.

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My guess is that, with such a serious diagnosis, she will be in favor of you doing anything that makes your quality of life or your survival prospects better. Your job is to explain the context and be as transparent as possible. I wish you good outcomes from your treatment.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Where do you stand on parents bringing babies or toddlers to wedding or funeral ceremonies? I’m usually frustrated by the former, as I really want to hear the speeches and struggle to do so even if a baby is far from me, due to the echoes in the space. If I’m being honest, I find loud shrieks or additional noises teeth-grindingly annoying, especially when I then can’t hear my friends say their vows.

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Today, I went to a funeral and there was a baby at first babbling, then crying during the service. That almost felt one step further in annoying or disrespectful. I assume there is nothing you can do but grin and bear it. At this point I’m thinking of taking my vows to become a vicar just so I can be up front and hear what’s being said. (I don’t ever know the guests involved if that’s any help for context.)

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—Can’t Tune Them Out

Dear CTTO,

Since you asked my opinion, I think it’s lovely to have babies and small children at these events, even though I recognize that it can be distracting. At my husband’s funeral, the pastor made a point of telling the parents in the room that young children were more than welcome to stay, because they are members of the community and have just as much right to God’s house as the adults, and they remind us that life is cyclical and bigger than any one person. I appreciated the pastor saying this in the greeting, not only because my two-year-old was being a doofus in the front row most of the time, but also because I would hate to have someone miss out on the communal experience of grieving my husband because they feel they need to take their baby to the hallway.

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As a parent, it’s really hard to feel like you are a social pariah because you have a child who cries. Kids get upset at weddings, funerals, restaurants, airplanes—the list goes on. I can guarantee you no one is more mortified than the parents, yet folks act as if the parents have performed some audacious act by daring to be out and about in the world as a family. Infants aren’t pets or accessories that can be easily left at home, and even if they were, isn’t it understandable that a parent would want to experience funerals, weddings, and other life events alongside their kids?

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It is totally fine to be annoyed when these solemn events are disturbed by shrieks and cries, but that is just part of being in a community. And while I wish that more pastors (or vicars, in your case) would better learn the art of pausing and projecting their voices to compensate, I think grinning and bearing it is really your only option.

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Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter started sixth grade this year and seems to be having a hard time adjusting. Subjects in elementary school seemed to come easy for her so she did not have to do much studying. It did not help that her school had a “no homework” policy, so up to this point she had not had to figure out how to do work on her own.

Right now, she is failing math. She didn’t tell me she was struggling, and the teacher never reached out to let me know. I only found out when I checked her grades on the parent site (which I do weekly) and saw the grade. We are working together nightly on the unit she is having problems with, but while she seems to be able to do the math at home with me, she is still getting bad grades on tests and quizzes.

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I am considering getting her a tutor, but I am a single parent with a very limited income who would rather not spend the money (and take it away from something else like bills or food), and she is near the end of this unit. Should I wait and see if it was just this one thing holding her up, or should I get a tutor now and be preemptive for the year?

— Middle School Is Hard

Dear MSIH,

I would start by talking to the teacher. What is he or she noticing from the school day? How does your daughter behave during tests? Does the teacher have a practice test your daughter can do at home to see if perhaps it’s the timed nature of the exam that’s leading to your daughter’s errors? Basically, use these next few weeks to do some fact-finding, and make a plan to talk to the teacher again after the new unit starts so that you can compare notes. And before you invest in a tutor, see whether the teacher holds office hours or after-school time for kids who need extra instruction.

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My last thought is a friendly reminder that learning disabilities like ADHD are often undiagnosed among girls and can go undetected through elementary school. For many smart kids, it’s not until the subject matter and workloads become more challenging that the disability appears. If your teachers indicate any suspicions in this realm, don’t hesitate to get her assessed. Receiving accommodations and learning coping strategies early can make a significant difference for people with these diagnoses.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

When my son James was 4, I divorced my abusive ex-husband Mark. Mark and I got equal custody of James. Mark then moved in with his girlfriend, Martha, and her toddler daughter, Katie. Mark has since gone to prison for serious charges, and after Mark’s arrest, Martha and I became good friends. We live close to each other. Because I was working from home and Martha was working in-person, even at the height of the pandemic, I often watched Katie.

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James is now 8, and Katie is now 5. The two of them have a really sweet relationship. Martha has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and will die within a few months, and Martha has asked me to be Katie’s guardian. Katie is an amazing kid, and I am more than happy to take her in. There are two issues that I am anticipating that I would like advice on how to deal with.

One is that Katie really doesn’t look anything like my son and me. We’re all white, but James looks exactly like me (darker skin, curly darker hair, typical Mediterranean features) while Katie has fair skin and light brown hair. I have been caring for Katie while Martha is dealing with her illness. When we go out, people often ask if we’re related, which makes Katie feel upset. I know it isn’t an issue to the same extent as it is for parents of mixed-race or interracially adopted children, but is there any way to minimize these statements or make them easier for Katie to ignore?

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Another thing is that Martha’s home has very different expectations and boundaries than my home does. For example, Martha expects Katie to eat everything that’s put on her plate, whereas I do not. My kids have a strict bedtime with very few exceptions, and Martha doesn’t. Katie’s life is going to be very tumultuous, and I want to make sure that she has the smoothest possible transition into my home, given the circumstances. At the same time, I’m not entirely sure I want to change a lot of the rules in my house for Katie, only to change them back when things settle down. How can I help Katie transition into our home comfortably?

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I am not comfortable in chaos, and when immersed in it, I know I tend to fixate on things that I have control over. So, are these even things I should be worrying about?

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— We’ll Be a Family

Dear WBaF,

I am so sorry that your friend is dying, but I’m happy that Katie will have a familiar and warm home to welcome her when that day comes. To know that she is loved and wanted is the most important thing you can offer her in this transition, so although you want to try to plan for all the things ahead, please know that you already have the big stuff covered.

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Structure and context will also be important for Katie’s adjustment to your home. I would recommend that you keep your household rules as they have always been, but have explicit conversations with Katie so that she understands the rules and how they differ from what she is used to. You want her to recognize that she will have to acclimate to the new space and routine, without feeling like she’s at sea. That said, find opportunities for her to have a say in things when possible. Work her favorite dinners into the rotation, or incorporate the bedtime routine she had with her mom (even if you’re stricter on the actual bedtime); these are easy accommodations that can help the transition feel more like blending a family and less like piling changes on one little girl.

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As to the inquisitive strangers out in the world, sighhh. Craft a few responses to have in your pocket. Phrases like “we are a family” don’t offer strangers any information they aren’t entitled to, and it signals to Katie that she belongs and that you have her back. (It also avoids words like “I am her mom” which might feel to Katie like she’s betraying Martha.) You’ll find lots of inspiration for responses online—this mom has some great perspectives on the topic. Unfortunately, from what I know of the adoption experience, questions like this are unlikely to go away anytime soon. Even well-intentioned people can use language that hurts; phrases like “given up for adoption” or comments that paint you with a saintly brush for “taking in this poor child” are engrained in our verbiage but can nonetheless sting. You can’t prevent it all, and it may be hard to predict which ones will hurt for Katie, so focus your efforts on weathering the storm together as a team of three.

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—Allison

More Advice From Slate

Our daughter (17F) sat us down last night and explained that she was in love with the (16M) neighbor next door. Instead of being delighted, as we’ve known the boy since birth and they’ve been friends almost as long, my husband threw a fit and forbade her from seeing him ever again. An argument ensued and our daughter accused my husband of being racist. (We’re Filipino and the neighbors are Black) When he shared his reasons for reacting the way he did, my world changed forever. And I don’t know what to do with this information.

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