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When Smoking Grandparents Just Won’t Quit…Or Compromise

By Amalah

Photo by Xurble

I have been having issues with my in-laws for the past two years. I have asthma. My in-laws both smoke in their house. They said that they would go outside when the baby in there. But I don’t think that is good enough. So when I was pregnant my husband and I decided that we wouldn’t take my son in to their home. It is a tiny two bedroom. When I go into the house I had a hard time breathing, also with my son having a fifty percent chance of having it himself. I told my in-laws if they wanted to see my son they would have to come to my house. They are refusing. It is getting really hard again, because holidays are coming up. I offered to have it at my house. They said no. Now my mother in law is treating my husband and I if we don’t bring him over he will not get a present. They haven’t seen my son much, because they won’t come over. They say they don’t do it for their other grandchildren, so they are not doing it for my son. Now I am pregnant again. Please help me, what should I do? Am I being too hard?


You know, we’ve covered the imperfect grandparent topic before, and in your situation, my opinion remains the same: Yes, the relationship is important, and we as the parents and go-between should respect the relationship and do everything we can to facilitate it…TO A POINT. To the point of our personal dealbreakers. We all have them — its the stuff you simply cannot tolerate exposing your child to.

Once you cross over the line of “my mother-in-law insults my cooking!” or “my father-in-law talks crazy conspiracy theories at the dinner table!” and into stuff like…oh, I don’t know, spanking without permission, health risks, drug use, pervasive use of racist or homophobic slurs, general irresponsibility…being an involved grandparent becomes a PRIVILEGE, NOT A RIGHT. No one has the “right” to your child if they are going to put your child in danger. And that danger can be actual abuse, neglect, risk of injury or really, anything from your list of dealbreakers. If the grandparents (or other relatives) are willing to make changes and accept that such-and-such will not be tolerated, then you can go ahead and cautiously move forward.

In your case, your dealbreaker includes smoking. And by extension, asthma and the general respiratory health of your children and yourself. I…think that’s entirely reasonable. My father smoked when I was young, and I was plagued with asthma and chronic bronchitis until he quit. Not until he “smoked outside” or only when I “wasn’t in the room.” Quit. Second- and third-hand smoke is no joke, particularly for people with existing breathing problems. Particularly PREGNANT and/or VERY YOUNG people with existing breathing problems, or who are at high-risk for potential breathing problems.

Plus, you have offered an entirely reasonable compromise: You aren’t barring access to their grandchild until they quit, you’re simply asking them to see him on smoke-free grounds. (I’m assuming they would be allowed to smoke outside while they visit — read my column and the comments here on third-hand smoke and how they can further reduce its effects on your house and health.) They’ve refused, on the basis that they didn’t do it “for the other grandchildren.” They’re trying to blame the appearance of favoritism instead of the more likely, more painful truth: They are simply choosing cigarettes over family. That hurts. I know. It really, freaking HURTS when family members choose a vice or addiction or ANYTHING over a relationship with you or your children. Because good people wouldn’t do that. And we want to believe that our parents are good people.

So. What do you *do?* I don’t really know. If you simply needed to hear that you aren’t being unreasonable, then I hope I’ve done that. But you can’t make them change. You can’t make them change their priorities and stop being so stubborn. You can let go of any guilt you have over any lack of close grandparent/grandchild relationship being *your fault.* This is their choice, as bizarre of a choice as it seems to be. So they’re threatening to not send their grandson a Christmas present? Jeez. Whatever. That’s very small and petty and again: NOT YOUR FAULT.

I say stick to your guns, though I ALSO think it’s your husband who should be communicating the rules and offers to them (and maybe he is, and it’s just how your question is worded that makes it sound like YOU are personally delivering the ultimatums and invitations). And the only other option I can possibly suggest is that if you do end up caving and visiting them, stay in a hotel. The cost probably will mean not as many grandparent visits as you might like, but seriously, you are entirely within your rights to protect the lung health of your family…and yourself.

Published December 4, 2009. Last updated March 27, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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