To My MIL: Stop Smoking & You’ll See My Kids More

There is something about my MIL that has bugged me for a long time, but now that I have children it’s almost a relationship deal breaker: She is a serious smoker. The kind of smoker who smokes cigarettes everywhere (and yes, even tries to light up in our house) — you know, the kind that smells like an ashtray. And it is disgusting.


When I started dating my husband, I didn’t love that his parent’s house smelled like smoke, but I was polite about it and kept my mouth shut. Later, when I fell in love with him, I started to get mad about her smoking. I also began to see his mother, a sweet woman who stayed home his whole life and took wonderful care of him otherwise, as a very selfish woman. Because here’s the thing: My husband is almost certainly going to have to deal with his mother’s decision to smoke in a serious way — either because she gets gravely ill from decades of smoking, or he gets sick from growing up in a house full of cigarette smoke for 20 years. She already coughs constantly and has aged well beyond her years. She is frail, has osteoporosis, arthritis, and she has a history of lung cancer in her family. 

Now that I have my own children I have set very strict boundaries when it comes to my MIL. She is not allowed to smoke around my children. We do not stay in her home when we go visit my husband’s parents (luckily we don’t live close by, so we don’t have to deal with this often). She has to change her clothes and wash her hands before she holds my baby or plays with or hugs my older children. (Even then, I can still smell smoke on their clothes after she touches my kids.) Anytime my husband visits his parents, his entire suitcase full of clean clothes reeks of smoke. Anything she sends in the mail has the scent of smoke on it. It’s that bad.

We have had countless incidents of hurt feelings and resentment because of these boundaries. She is especially offended that I have never let my kids spend the night in her home because it smells so badly of cigarette smoke. I’m sure she thinks I’m a b*tch. She probably thinks I’m overreacting. My husband has confided that she probably feels I’m judging her as a mother because she smoked around her son but I won’t let her do the same around her grandchildren. But you know what? I don’t care.

My husband is torn and feels put in the middle. He agrees that it isn’t good for our kids to be around cigarette smoke and understands my strong feelings, but he also feels that he grew up living in a house where she smoked all of the time and he is just fine, so one sleepover isn’t going to kill them. I am sure he’s right, one sleepover won’t kill them. But all I can think is that it isn’t worth it! Why should they have to breathe in smoke and toxic chemicals, even for 24 hours, just to appease a woman who isn’t willing to stop smoking to get more time with them in the first place? I want to allow them to be with my MIL for my husband’s sake, but I won’t allow myself to be guilted into something that I feel is unhealthy for my kids.

I think my MIL could choose to make very different decisions regarding her habits and her choice to smoke, which would give her more access to her grandchildren. I am choosing to do what I know is best for my children. To me, her decision to continue smoking is not only irresponsible and unhealthy, it is also making a conscious decision to have less of a relationship with my kids and her son because it keeps us at a greater distance. And it also means she is doing something that will likely prevent her from being around to enjoy her grandchildren as long as she could if she didn’t smoke. It is going to keep my children from getting to know and enjoy her as older children, teenagers, and adults. 

I know smoking is an addiction and it is much harder to kick than saying “I quit.” But to me, there is no question which choice to make between having a relationship with your grandchildren or smoking cigarettes. To my knowledge she has never even tried to quit smoking. She’s the one who chooses the cigarettes, so she’s the one who is in the wrong — not me for doing what is best for my children (even if it does hurt her feelings).

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