An Open Letter to Mothers Who Smoke

ashtrayMy mother has smoked for my entire life. She's more or less smoked for her entire life, actually. My earliest memories of her involve the mingled scents of peppermint and tobacco, because the two constants in her pocketbook were always unfiltered Camel cigarettes and Doublemint gum. I remember her favorite ashtray in the same way one might remember her mother's wedding ring: Silver on the outside, bright yellow on the inside (under the charcoal gray coating of ash, that is).

My mother still smokes, and the truth is, I feel like it's kind of my fault. Because in the past 35 years, I've never really asked her to stop. I've never told her how it turns my stomach to hear the endless coughs, those coughs that sound like they could rip her frail body apart. I've never admitted how much I hate the stale smell of smoke that clings to her room, her clothes, her car.

I've never told her how I always felt like cigarettes were more important to her than me.


I'm telling you this because if you're a mother who smokes, there's a good chance your daughter feels the same way, even if she's never spoken the words aloud.

I want to make something clear: I'm not judging my mom, and I'm not judging you. I don't think of smoking as a character flaw, nor do I think of smokers as threats to society. I smoked on and off for years myself (mostly because my parents did, but still, it was my choice). I don't think of smoking as the worst of all possible vices. If my mother were morbidly obese or destroying her liver with booze, I'd be writing the same letter about overeating or alcoholism. Smoking doesn't make my mother or anyone else a bad person.

What it will make her, and is already beginning to make her, is a sick person. That's my concern, and always has been.

My mother is an amazing grandmother. My two kids adore her. So it's heartbreaking for me to imagine how devastated they'll be when she's too sick to make it to their high school graduations or take pictures at their proms. If she even lives that long.

It makes me sad, but it makes me angry, too. I've always tried to spare my mother from the reality of what her smoking has done to me, because ... because she seems so incredibly hurt whenever anybody brings it up, I guess. But now that I have kids of my own, my mother seems to have no problem pointing out my every inadequacy as a parent. For example, she tells me I'm selfish for having a boyfriend (I'm divorced).

It's unfair and it hurts, but I still can't bring myself to look her in the eye and say what I really want to say: Selfish? Where do you get off calling ME selfish?

But the anger fades quickly, replaced immediately by the familiar worry and sadness.

Then there are the practical concerns. I'm an only child. My mother has no health insurance. How am I going to take care of her? I have no idea.

But what it all boils down to is this: I don't want my mother to die, and I've been terrified of her dying for as long as I can remember. I lost my father last year, and I doubt I'll ever get over it. I will miss my mother so much when she's gone.

Your daughter will miss you so much when you're gone.

Are you a mom who smokes? Did you have a mother who smoked?


Image via Peter Lovstrom/Flickr

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