There's no question that parenting is hard, and that sometimes making it through the day with young children can be a challenge.
And while jokes abound about mothers who get the kids together for a play date under the guise of having a glass of midday chardonnay, there are others who use a slightly less accepted coping strategy.
Mary Smith* (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) was just 21 when she first smoked a joint, and after a decade-long hiatus, the 32-year-old, Ontario-based mother of one says she regularly smokes weed in order to calm her anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms.
"As a mother I'm constantly having to think ahead and be in multiple places mentally on a daily basis," she said. "This allows my mind to return to home base. To focus on me and what is truly important. To recoup myself in a way that I previously had never experienced."
Smith says she considers marijuana to be a safe and cost-effective means to immediately relieve stress and slow her mind down.
Katherine Jones,* a mom of two young boys in Vancouver also uses cannabis for its calming effects.
"I vibrate at 100," she said, "But when I smoke pot I come back down to a 10, and I feel like I can deal with things in a calmer way."
Like Smith, Jones* (whose name has also been changed to protect her identity) first smoked pot in her twenties, and at 33, admits to smoking "all day every day" in order to cope with the stresses of life. She acknowledges that raising young kids can be very hard, and says that she finds she is happy to let the little things go after smoking.
Nearly half of Canadians have used marijuana
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), nearly half (44 per cent) of Canadians say they have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime, so it's not surprising that more and more parents are coming out of the woodwork and talking about their cannabis use.
In fact, there are entire Facebook and other social media communities devoted to moms who smoke pot. And while backlash is beginning to grow against promoting alcohol consumption among parents, the current track of marijuana legalization could reduce the stigma felt by those who use the drug.
Ashley Black* (her name has been changed to protect her identity) runs a tech company in Toronto, and the 48-year-old says she regularly uses cannabidiol oil, also known as CBD oil, to unwind after a long day.
"Instead of having a glass of wine (or two) at the end of the day, now I use CBD drops instead. They help me relax and unwind and get me ready for a good night's sleep. This helps me re-charge so I can be ready to tackle the next day starting at 6 a.m.," she said.
While Black dabbled a bit with weed in high school, she says she didn't start using again until her two sons hit their early teens.
"Life, launching a tech company, two busy kids, an active husband, and a dog take a toll, especially when I'm largely running the show," she said.
A coping strategy
Olivia Scobie, a Toronto-based perinatal social work counsellor, says that many of her clients use cannabis as an effective coping strategy in their mental health toolbox.
"Mothers in particular have a really difficult time turning off their brains from the mental load, from all of the emotional work and all of the remembering work," she said. "Some of them say to me that pot can do that for them."
Her clients find that they get the same relaxing effect of having a glass of wine or two, but without the hangover the next day.
"There's a lot of policing that happens with how people cope, particularly in their children's early years, and I think this comes out of a fear that children aren't going to be protected or they're not going to be well taken care of," Scobie said. "And mothers' experiences of [parenting] those little children get erased, and just how challenging it can be."
I am not a bad mom, or a drug addict. I am just like you. This is just my way of dealing.Katherine Jones*
Jones acknowledges that judgment from other parents contributes to her feeling guilty about her pot use, even though she believes it helps her in a big way.
"I am not a bad mom, or a drug addict," she said, "I am just like you. This is just my way of dealing with this f---ed up world."
Smith agrees, adding that in her ethnic community, marijuana use is something that would never be accepted.
"I am not a confrontational person, and the thought of defending my motherhood to someone with an already set opinion doesn't interest me. So, I keep it to myself for the most part," she said.
Risk of impaired judgment
There are a lot of concerns when it comes to marijuana use, or any substance use, in parents, says Dr. Michael Dickinson, the president of the Canadian Paediatric Society.
Mixing drugs and parenting would be on the same scale as mixing drugs and driving.Dr. Michael Dickinson
What often starts out as an innocent habit can sometimes turn into more regular use, which can morph into dependency and addiction, which has significant ramifications for both the parent and the child, Dickinson says. There's also the issue of second-hand smoke to consider if a parent is smoking marijuana, he says, but most importantly, marijuana is a substance that impairs your judgment.
"Just like we don't want people using marijuana and getting behind the wheel of a car, we don't want people using marijuana and trying to parent as well. Your young children need you to be at your mental best, so doing anything that impairs your judgement is not going to be in the best interest of your child," Dickinson said.
Alcohol happens to be the legal choice right now, but soon marijuana will be a legal and, likely, socially accepted choice, Dickinson says.
"Anyway you slice it though, mixing drugs and parenting would be on the same scale as mixing drugs and driving," Dickinson said.
There are red flags to watch for
Scobie finds for her clients that as long as parents are getting the desired effect from pot, then it can be beneficial to them. She does note red flags such as not being able to function without using, being heavily under the influence around one's children, and no longer getting the desired effect as reasons to check in with one's health care provider.
It makes me much more patient. I am able to cope with my own issues and the everyday mundane tasks of being a mother.Mary Smith*
She's clear to differentiate the difference between substance use, abuse, and full-blown addiction. A parent who consumes a small amount in the evening when their child goes to bed (which is when most cannabis use seems to happen) is no more or less compromised than a parent who's drank a glass or two of wine, she said. It's just that it's more socially acceptable to pop a top after a long day than to sit down with a special brownie, Scobie said.
For Smith, using cannabis has allowed her to connect with her child in a way she wasn't able to previously.
"It makes me much more patient. I am able to cope with my own issues and the everyday mundane tasks of being a mother," she said. "I struggle connecting with my child and when I smoke, I feel I am much more at ease with who I am, and with who he is. I find myself appreciating the quirks and behaviours that previously irked me. It allows me to ease up and be a child myself, while enjoying and appreciating my child's company."
Scobie notes it is important to realize how our perceptions of parents who use marijuana are often quite class-based and racialized — even more so than drinking. While affluent or white parents who use pot may be considered "artistic," low-income or black parents are often considered "criminals."
"Every person or parent out there deals with life the way they see fit. So live and let live," Smith said.
Scobie said she believes that ultimately, the decision surrounding cannabis use should be up to each family.
"Unless you're dealing with somebody who's in the throes of addiction, I really trust parents to know where that line is for them," she said. "They love their kids, and they want to do well by them. They're not out to harm their children; they're just being human."
"We're not talking Cheech and Chong here and I am no 'stoner'," said Black. "Marijuana can take many different forms, and I hope moms can be tolerant of what each of us needs to be the best we can for our families, friends, and colleagues."
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