I’ll never forget a dad I saw one of the first times I ever took my toddler to a playground. As I nervously followed my son around, this dad and his daughter—she must have been around six—were engaged in a completely immersive game of make-believe. They were running around, hiding behind stuff, shouting code words and urgent communiqués across the play-structure. They referred to each other by special names during the game, and I never saw the dad break character. “Quick, Bumble-Bee! Use your transmission beam to confuse them!” he shouted. “They’re coming up over the slide! Duck down, Yellow Jacket!!!”she yelled back.
They played like that for a very long time before breaking for snacks. As I watched them in awe, I silently apologized to my son: This could be us but I’m not playin. Because the truth is, I’m not great at playing. It pains me to admit this in writing, more—like, a lot more—than it did to write about getting an abortion. True fucking story.
To cheer myself up about this, I try to remind myself that childhood is a social construct that’s only about 150 years old. I feel like generally I do a good job of honoring my children’s mysterious child-ness. But I have limits, and make-believe is one of them. I suck at it, I have no patience for it. It makes me feel really tired. My husband’s pretty awesome at make-believe, but even he needs to be in a very optimum mind-frame to engage in one of his highly coveted evening-long games of Robin Hood.
I’ll go in for some Lego, drawing, low-key baking. I’ll do sidewalk chalk till the streetlights come on. But play, in general, is something that I find hard. I’m ashamed to admit it. To be a good mom is to be good at play, right?
It turns out that there’s a way to make playing with your kids—really getting down on their level—easier and more fun! I’ve been looking into it. It turns out a lot of people do it. All you have to do is get high on weed. I would try to sound like less of a narc and write “smoke weed,” but that’s inaccurate in this case. Most of the people I spoke to for this piece don’t smoke around their kids; they vape, or consume edibles. It’s the future, man.
Marijuana is being gradually decriminalized across North America, so it’s not hugely shocking that people are using newly available, less psychologically potent, more precisely tailored strains of it for recreational use. And, as pot decriminalization is happening alongside a huge, tragic opioid epidemic, the debate around legal drug use is freighted with strong opinions on either side. In the middle of this tangle is a group of people you never, ever hear about: Parents who occasionally smoke some weed to have more fun playing with their kids.
I’m not much of a pot smoker myself. But I have a few parent-friends who consume pot semi-regularly, so I recently tried vaping, and was given a nug to bring home and try around my kids. (Please refrain from wigging out. My husband was home, it was the end of the day, no one was endangered.) The vape is a bit weird, honestly, if you are like me and unimaginatively associate weed with hippies and the earth. The vape experience is vaguely Patrick Bateman. The hardware has a light that goes on when it’s ready to use, and the inhale was so smooth that I was surprised when I exhaled a little cloud.
Being a little stoned around my kids was, frankly, excellent. It was a Sunday evening and we had made homemade ice cream earlier that day. (Mom of the year, I know.) When I set their bowls in front of them and we started eating, I normally might have said something like, “Pretty good ice cream huh guys?” But tonight, I waited until the kids had a few bites and said, “If you could make this ice cream better in any way, how would you improve it?” Needless to say, I was speaking my five-year-old’s language and we spent the next several minutes speculating about the deliciousness of different flavor combos. Some of his ideas were so intense that he had to come and whisper them in my ear, to protect his little brother from having his mind irrevocably blown.
Here’s what I noticed when I spoke to people about their pot-and-parenting habits: They keep their habit hidden from their kids, even if hanging out with the kids is part of the reason they’re getting high. By contrast, people who recalled their parents’ pot-smoking habits—we’re talking by and large about baby boomers here, raising their young kids in the late ’70s and early ’80s—described a very different approach.
“There were always roaches around in ashtrays and roach clips,” recalled Allison, a mom of two, of her childhood. (All names have been changed in this piece out of respect for privacy.) “I definitely remember [my parents] smoking. My mother used to blow smoke into my face—right into my mouth. I don’t remember it changing the way they acted, to be honest… All the grown ups I knew well smoked occasionally and my mother definitely had friends who grew their own stuff and kept it in jars on the kitchen counter.”
Sasha, mother of a two-year-old girl, had a dad who smoked pot regularly when she was a kid. “He played totally trippy games with us,” she wrote in an email. “My dad’s smoking pot made me anxious because I got a lot of war on drugs propaganda from school,” she added. Today, she’s not a regular smoker, but her partner is. They intend to keep the habit hidden from their daughter for the time being. “It strikes me as a bit of a double standard, when we’re going to have wine around her… I suspect attitudes will change with legalization.”
Rich, a dad who smokes daily, agreed. He’s the only person I spoke to who smokes joints, and he smokes on the back porch, where his two kids won’t see him. “I see no point in explaining it to them at this point,” he said. “But when they can comprehend rational arguments, the argument for weed is pretty convincing.” Why does he smoke? “It helps me surrender to the flow,” he told me. “It gives me patience! Patience is the most important thing when raising kids.”
Another friend, Julia, has three kids under five. “I was feeling like I was drinking too regularly,” she wrote me on Facebook. “My dear friend suggested weed candies. She’s a newly single mum and loves it for chilling with her daughter.... And 90 percent of the time it really works for chilling with the kids. Primarily, because I become very kid-like. And I get that crazy stoner focus. Art projects, any projects really, are hilariously fun with the kids. I enjoy these things sober, but stoned...it’s fun to not care about mess or anything, really. I just roll pretty carefree.”
“When I’ve been a little stoned around my kids, I’m less busy,” said Joy, also a mom of 3 little kids. “I have a running list of thing I have to be doing all the time, and instead of trying to get stuff done I’ll just sit down and listen to them,” she said.
“I’m less distractable,” said Mitch, father of two young kids. “I think the best thing was that I was totally focused on them. No smartphone.”
No one I have spoken to said anything explicitly negative about smoking weed around their kids, and I enjoyed my experience quite a bit. But that’s not quite enough to convince me that I want to start smoking pot around my kids regularly. And I am compelled to add, out of consideration for people who have dealt with drug abuse and addiction in their families, that this kind of recreation is not for everyone, and is not always safe. Addiction is not one of my struggles, but if it were, I probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable writing this. There are many people who do not need any encouragement when it comes to recreational drug use, and I don’t mean to diminish that truth with my own, relatively low-impact experience.
What I mean is just that contextual social values play a large role in what determines our behaviors—the way we use drugs, and why. Today, we’re expected to want to engage with our kids in creative play. We’re not supposed to park them in front of the TV all the time, which means more time engaging with them—entertaining them, in many cases. (You can talk to me all you want about the cognitive benefits of boredom, and I agree that they are myriad, but bored kids can often be super whiny and annoying.)
In this case, smoking weed recreationally around our kids is understood partly as a way of being better parents, and of satisfying social norms around how parents should treat their kids. 30 years ago, this would probably have sounded counterintuitive. Back then, smoking weed was understood to be a way to assert your independence from convention—not to conform to norms. Kind of wild, but I shouldn’t overthink it, right? That’s a pothead’s downfall.
Kathryn Jezer-Morton lives in Montreal with her husband and two sons. She’s 33, her kids are 2 and 5, and she’ll be contributing a semi-regular parenting column called Hey Ma here on Jezebel.
Illustration by Jim Cooke