High Impact

High Mom: Why I’m (Mostly) Honest with My Daughter About My Weed Smoking

After she’s outed as a smoker to her daughter, Jamilah Lemieux reflects on generations of single Black motherhood and weed.

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R29Unbothered’s High Impact is rewriting the rules of wellness, wealth, and weed for Black women with real and dynamic conversations that put US at the center.
My Baby Boomer mother was always much more of a crunchy granola hippie-type when it came to parenting me than she was the narrow stereotype of what “Black mamas be like.” Now that I am, like her, a single mother to a daughter, I’ve taken on a lot of her parenting style.  
Like her, I am opposed to using violence—physical or otherwise—as a means of controlling my child, and like her, I have no interest in shaming and over-moralizing around sex, drugs and whatever other temptations that will one day call her name before she is old enough to properly answer. Like my mother, I agree that these are not inherently bad things to desire.
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But how much we’re willing to disclose to our kids about our lives outside of motherhood is one clear place where our parenting pedagogies part, and our respective approaches to the topic of marijuana, something introduced to each of us at radically different times in the plant’s history in the public imagination, is perhaps the greatest example. 
Illustration by Arantza Pena Popo
My mother was a bohemian activist “child of the 60s,” who had been a regular smoker most of her adult life. But when I was a kid, she told me that she’d tried weed “once or twice” and simply did not like it. She also claimed that she didn’t drink very much because alcohol makes you ugly and she’s too vain for such a thing. (Neither of these claims did anything to dissuade me from seeking them each out as soon as they were available to me, but what she said about booze was true.) I was a college sophomore when she admitted that she’d actually only stopped smoking when she got pregnant with me at thirty-five, which meant that she’d had a good amount of adult life to smoke!

"There was a social stigma for the girls who blew trees that our male counterparts didn’t face and that didn’t sit right with me at all."

When she finally opened up about her weed era,  it made my own long-time curiosity about the drug make even more sense, and made me feel closer to her at a time where I was as convinced as ever that we were two drastically different people and that she’d never understand me.
By this point, I was considered a stoner among some of my friends, due in part to some not-great party behavior during a few of my first major highs, but also because I was an open weed smoker and most of my female classmates, especially those who had any aspirations on the campus of Howard University, either did not smoke, did so infrequently, and/or made sure you didn’t think that they did. Though overindulgence in booze was certainly frowned upon, being a regular drinker and a regular smoker were not regarded in the same way and that bothered me. Granted, marijuana was not yet legal in the area or nearly anywhere, but there was a social stigma for the girls who blew trees that our male counterparts didn’t face and that didn’t sit right with me at all.
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I don’t know if I foresaw a point in which marijuana would be legal for recreational use in every city I’ve ever lived in — including my college town, and it brings me joy to see young girls seemingly freer than I ever was on campus — but I knew that I’d be more honest with my kids than my mom felt like she should be with me. This resolve was put to the test during a joint urgent care visit with my-then five-year-old daughter. When the doctor asked if I smoked and I replied, “Not cigarettes, ahem,” thinking she would get the hint and move on; instead, she blurted out “So what do you smoke?” before pausing and answering her own question: “Oh. Weed!” 
Not wanting to hide my marijuana use was one thing, but having to explain it to my kid when she was that young wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined.
Illustration by Arantza Pena Popo
When my daughter asked, not hours later, what weed was, I explained that marijuana aka cannabis was a medicine that I take with the blessing of my doctor to treat a number of chronic issues that she was aware of, and that there were other adults in her life that had it for the same reasons. In subsequent conversations, I added that it had a social life, like “Mommy Juice” and “Daddy Juice,” and like alcohol, it was something that adults—and only adults—could enjoy socially, and that like anything else pleasurable, it can be abused, used at the wrong times and/or otherwise find us in trouble. Over more time, she’d come to know that criminalization had been critical to overpopulating prisons with Black people. 
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Those were the easy parts, believe it or not.
Besides, what had being repressed about sex, drugs and other complicated indulgences netted our parents? Perhaps if my mother had given a more honest (the key word is “more;” you don’t need to tell your kids everything but dang, don’t leave us high and dry when there is sweet tea!) accounting of her own experiences with weed and had offered some more realistic guidance aside from “DON’T,” I might have been less pressed to get to school and blow my meager pocket cash on nickel bags.
Speaking of, I’ve got about five to eight years before my daughter decides that everyone was impoverished in the 1990s, depending on how deep she dives into  the now-old-school hip-hop that I obsessed over at her age, eight. The other day, I called myself putting on some family-friendly rap music in the car, including the Digable Planets’ first album, which led to me having to explain a five-dollar bag of weed to a kid who, thanks to inflation, has gotten as much from the Tooth Fairy on at least one occasion.
According to my mother, weed simply didn’t fit in her life anymore once she became a parent. She didn’t have the amount of solo time that my custody arrangement with my ex allows me, and she was also susceptible to drug testing at work. I was an unexpected “geriatric” pregnancy after she’d been told by doctors for years that she could not conceive due to the severe fibroid tumors that would later cause her to have a hysterectomy. 
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The distinction between our respective generational sensibilities is laid bare when I consider how parenting reshaped — or didn’t — our lives; when my mother gave birth at 36, she was long-ready to be a mother, having watched most of her friends and younger sisters do so before her; plus, she was tired of partying and had no problem giving up the weed-infused social life she once knew to focus on me. Now thirty-six myself, I am one of the most seasoned mothers in my social circle, having given birth long before nearly everyone I know. Though most of my mid-thirty-something crew moves a bit differently than we did say, a decade ago, we’ve also never stopped partying and never stopped wanting to put on tight clothes and run the streets together. 
Despite all of our responsibilities and such, we seem to “adult” very differently as millennials than a lot of those folks who came before us, which is an essay for another time. “Da club” may have given way to bars and lounges more often than not, but at no point have I felt like parenting required or compelled such a drastic overhaul of my own life. 
Once my mom felt safe and comfortable as a retiree who only had herself to take care of, she started using the mighty herb again; she’s not quite comfortable smoking with me yet, but she has allowed me to smoke in her presence at least once and she also allows me to purchase all of her weed--the least I can do for someone who gave it up for me as long as she did! Ironically, she’s only now susceptible to the same conservatism I experienced in college, complaining at times that people in her peer group are “pro-Jesus and anti-reefer,” both of which render her an outsider. 
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What my daughter knows about my weed usage (well, that it exists, not necessarily how much I consume, or that I rely on it to get through a number of events and occasions where she is present) isn’t the only way in which I’ve shared more with her than my own mom had by this age. She’s a little more clued in on my love life, aspirations, insecurities and feelings than I was ever allowed to be for my mother. There’s a fine line between keeping a kid informed and overwhelming them with information, one I have not always navigated artfully. Yet, it’s a balance I’m intentional about seeking because keeping it real-ish with my daughter is something I have to do in order to survive the rigors of motherhood. 
There’s also that subtle difference between disclosure and endorsement, something my own mom was deeply afraid of violating if she’d been more transparent about any number of indulgences. Can I be a Pot Mom without being a walking commercial for pot use?

"Can I be a Pot Mom without being a walking commercial for pot use?"

A true Mommy’s Girl, my child often indicates favor or interest in most anything I seem to like. She wants to wear makeup because I wear it, feels like she should stay up late because I can. She knows that tobacco is dangerous and something that I do not use, and so she has taken to asking if someone in a movie or on the street is smoking a cigarette or weed, expressing disappointment or disgust at the former, relief at the latter. It’s funny the first time a kid says “Hopefully, it’s just weed,” and it’s funny the second time, too. But there is the little voice inside, not unlike my mother’s, that constantly reminds me to be careful not to let her get too comfortable with the subject too soon.
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My girl is still Tooth Fairy-years-old, so I’ve got some time before I have to worry about smokable marijuana being a likely source of temptation for her. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to feel if she’s inclined to experiment with it in highschool like I so desperately wanted to (none of my close friends smoked), or if it would be any better or worse than the early experiences I had with alcohol. Will knowing that her mom and other loved ones are regular weed users make her more comfortable trying it? Or will she be turned off because it’s a ‘Mom Thing,’ and is that, perhaps, a blessing until she’s 18, or even 21?
Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention that my child is not only being raised in the era of increased legalization and social acceptance around marijuana, but in the state of California, where cannabis dispensaries and billboards abound. Also, present is the ability for a kid to consume cannabis completely unbeknownst to anyone.
Edibles — always brownies — were something I’d only seen joked about in movies and TV until I was in college, where I made myself sick overdoing it the first time I actually had one. Today, not only do I regularly purchase candies, cookies, teas, syrups and other MJ food products, I even have an infuser to make them myself. I keep these things largely out of sight and out of reach, and we’ve talked about the warning symbol on these items that distinguishes them from kid-safe foods.
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I also told her that she can’t consume so much as one bite, one puff, one little bit of it at her age, or else she’ll have to be rushed to the hospital for painful shots and surgery that may do little to prevent the likelihood of death. I’ve made it painstakingly clear that it's totally fine and safe when you’re old enough, but not even a moment sooner. And no, if you were unclear, I do not believe this to be true, and I completely made these “facts” up with absolutely no evidence in order to frighten my child. You know, just keeping up the family tradition of lying about weed.  
Shout out to all the mamas out there who are rewriting the narrative, keeping it realer than anyone ever kept it with us and also just as scared as any of our own beloved moms were about what happens when the world gets its hands on our babies.
Jamilah Lemieux is a writer and co-host of Slate’s “Mom and Dad Are Fighting” parenting podcast.

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