It’s upsetting when a family discovers that their child is smoking pot. Obviously. When it isn’t your kid doing it the capacity to not panic and remain calm is a lot easier than it is for the parents. So when a pair of parents slunk into my office with a plastic bag full of weed smoking materials I was not surprised by their anxiety. Dad was enraged and wanted to lock the kid up and throw away the key; mom had selected a fancy wilderness camp to the tune of $75,000.00 for 60 days (camping supplies included). No one was all that interested in my suggestion to breathe.
I began to review some interesting data on substance use and suggested things that might be helpful but they weren’t paying much attention. Dad sat staring off into space and jiggling his leg; mom kept glancing down at her ipad with the pretty mountain vista on the homepage of the wilderness camp. Finally I wised up, shut up and just let the whole thing blow up.
Mom accused dad of being cruel and thoughtless and loud and mean; Dad charged that mom was in denial about almost everything but especially about the reality that they didn’t have $5,000 much less $75,000 available to send a pot smoking, disrespectful and disappointing adolescent male to a camp that looked like a reward for good behavior. Eventually they wore themselves out and silence fell.
I told them that I did not have a quick solution to their problem and that I was sorry that this wasn’t like taking a car into a shop for a tune-up. This journey was going to be more marathon than sprint. Big sighs were shared. However, I did have one thought. I reminded them that the world was a harsh and contemptuous place. I recounted what they had already told me about their kid - crushing injury that killed his chance to play a sport he loved, three family moves in five years and a recent breakup with the girl of his dreams. I told them in no uncertain terms that their boy was under a lot of stress and their response would either add to that distress or not; much of that depended on them being able to get their own acts together, manage their own anxiety and depression and heartbroken expectations AND respond to him in a way that took all these factors into consideration. We had to discuss a bit this idea that I threw out about how I was concerned that both of them were reacting to their son’s pot use in a way that was managing their anxiety MORE THAN figuring out how to address the problem in a way that would give him the best chance of seriously considering their position. Barely convinced but willing to set up a follow up meeting I left them with one thought: in a world that will smack us down in a New York minute, go home and just be nice to your kid. Be gentle. Be kind. Practice that for one week and then we will come up with the next step.
Here’s the deal. In any and every situation, even from a long distance, we can be kind and wish others well - even our vilest enemy. I’m not saying it is easy; I am suggesting it could be a more congruent response to broken relationships than praying for smiting! Which fits your core values better?