Carolyn Hax: Best advice for parents whose daughter has begun smoking: Butt out.

Carolyn Hax
Columnist June 1

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My husband and I are very anti-smoking. Both of his parents died before age 65 due to health complications related to smoking. My mom (a smoker for decades) has reached her 70s, but with a severely diminished quality of life.

We were, therefore, deeply disturbed when our daughter, a junior in college, came home with a suitcase that reeked of cigarettes. We asked her about it, and after the typical deflective responses (“Why were you smelling my stuff?!?!” “You’re always invading my privacy!”), she admitted that, yes, she “and a few friends” smoke sometimes.

We are unbelievably frustrated here. This is a topic we’ve been discussing since she was a little girl in the context of her sick grandparents — a direct one-to-one correlation that seemed to resonate with her. This is one thing we did not think we would have to worry about.


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

She is a legal adult, and we have no idea what we can do, other than to keep nagging her about the dangers. But we only see her when she comes home, which, as she reminded us, she “chooses” to do but may not always. What else can we do here?

Maryland

Nothing. You won’t accomplish anything by getting involved except to drive your daughter away; her defensiveness told you all you need to know about that. And since your whole issue with her smoking is that you’re afraid of losing her, there’s just too much irony in driving her out of your lives by harping on her choice.

A choice, mind you, that she made after your “discussing [it] since she was a little girl.” There’s little chance this is a coincidence. If she wanted to put some distance between her own identity and yours, then she couldn’t have settled on a better wedge, could she?

So, looking at it that way, the best thing you can do is not fuss over the cigs, but instead go the counterintuitive route of giving her your blessing to be herself. Say you love her, say you of course will worry when she makes harmful choices, say you will nevertheless keep loving her and supporting her right to make her own choices — however she needs you to. Butting out included. Shock the heck out of her.

She’ll believe you only when you stick to that promise at a time she knows you’re resoundingly unthrilled with her choices. And when she does believe you, her grounds for rebelling against you turn to sand.

Re: Smoking:

I recently quit after smoking for 10 years. Every smoker knows smoking is bad for you, and your hounding will make her want a cigarette. Your disappointed looks will make her want a cigarette. Your snide comments will make her want a cigarette.

My sister recently noted our road trip would go much faster now that we didn’t have to stop for smoke breaks. It made me want a cigarette (didn’t have one). There is absolutely nothing you can do to get her to quit. Nothing. When she’s ready to stop, she will and you can support her then. Otherwise, never mention it to her again. Seriously.

Anonymous

I wish I had a typographical framing feature [ ] for some comments. Thank you.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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