I Told My Kids I Sometimes Smoke. Guess What? They Still Love Me.

I told my kids that I occasionally smoke cigarettes today. What was I thinking?

I'm simultaneously anxious that I've willingly ushered out the image of perfection they may have held me in, and completely sure that nothing in this life is more important than always telling the truth.  

Even when you're scared. Even when it takes you off a pedestal.

Maybe especially then.

Here's what happened:

My kids have these new friends . They're exactly the kind of friends we want for them, relatively unplugged and wildly imaginative. Our kids go back-and-forth to each other's houses with ease. Sleepovers happen regularly.  These two new friends  live with their mom, who occasionally smokes. I was amazed to learn that she didn't hide this fact from them.

I don't remember exactly what she said when I asked her about it, but it was something like, "I want them to know the truth about me."

I was impressed and a little bit bashful.

A few years ago, after I stopped drinking for real, I craved an occasional escape. Half an American Spirit worked like medicine, at once calming my brain and making me feel bad, like a had a vice left.   I'd been steadfast in my decision to never, not until I absolutely needed to, tell my kids about my once-every-month-or-two cigarette habit. 

But as my kids have gotten more and more friendly with these new kids up the road, they've gotten to see someone they know and respect  - their friends' mama - occasionally smoking. 

The unspoken- but-implied-words 'good people don't smoke' started to feel cheap and unfair. 

So today, after school, when I was sitting in the sun next to my daughter, I told her.

"You know how I've always told you that cigarettes are totally gross?  Well, they are. And sometimes I smoke them."

Her head spun around.

"What?" she said. 

She looked giddy.

"About once a month I smoke a cigarette."

"Oh my gosh, Mama!  Are you going to tell Osi?  You have to tell Osi."

And so, a bit later, I told him, too.

And then I drove the car to the bakery and we each picked out a treat.

Because on the day you may have willingly knocked yourself off of the perfection pedestal, and on the day when you've shown your kids that, yes, you're a real person, too, everyone deserves a little something special.

As you know, I tend to post very private stuff on the internet for public consumption.  I don't really know how I ended up doing this.  It was never my intention to become a bare-it-all writer or person.  I just got really tired of hiding who I really am, I guess.

I've had people say, "But your *kids* are going to read that," in response to pieces about cutting and drinking and abortion.  

I've never understood their outrage.

Of course my kids are going to read these things.  But before they read my secrets on my blog, I'll talk to them - face-to-face - about the things I tell you.  

I'm no longer trying to hide these things, friends - from my kids or anyone else.

Because hiding our shit, especially from our kids?  It's so incredibly self-serving.  (Actually, it's completely self-sabotaging, but that's another post entirely).  Fighting to keep the mask of perfection on in front of them for as long as we can just strips us all of our humanity.

It's our job to help our kids realize that hard is normal and struggle is normal and confusion is normal and mistakes are normal.  

If they know those things are normal, they'll learn what living's really like.

Check out this quote from my boyfriend (Tim knows, it's okay), Louis C.K.:

"That's all you can really be for your kids, is present. I think in the end that's the best thing you can do for your kids when they come to you with real problems is try to understand how they feel and try to give them a place to say how they feel so that they can sort it out. And give them what you can about your past, you know? I think to tell them that the world is this place where you're supposed to act perfectly and represent that you did is a huge disservice to your kids." - Louis C.K.

*Swoon.*

And YES.

The only way my kids will ever know that they can be real with me no matter what, is if I show them how.

To the real,

 

Emily Ballard1 Comment