Can Illegal Drug Users Make Good Parents?
WritingLover tells us about an online discussion in which people were asked if a person who abused illegal substances could be a good parent . She was surprised that the majority of people didn't just flatly say no. There is a common assumption that anyone who uses drugs is a complete mess, and can barely take care of themselves let alone a child. There's also just this sort of ominous fear associated with the illegal drug trade and with people who use street drugs. They are criminal and they run with a dangerous crowd. How could such people make good parents?
But are these just stereotypes? Are there people who use illegal drugs, and who can actually parent effectively? Is it possible that there are a significant number of good parents who actually use drugs without anyone realizing it?
What Makes a Drug User a Bad Parent?
Instead of having a knee-jerk reaction, why not look at why we fear that a person who uses drugs would be a bad parent. Is it the illegal part? Is it the potential for addiction? Is it the fact that street drugs need to be bought from a dealer? Let's take a closer look, and see if these concerns are realistic.
Good Parents Shouldn't Break the Law
Illicit drugs are by their very nature illegal. Purchasing, possessing, and using them is breaking the law. But does breaking the law itself, make someone a bad parent?
Tax fraud is breaking the law. And as the whole world saw in the case of Martha Stewart, people go to jail if they are caught. But is Martha Stewart a bad parent because she committed tax fraud? If one of the writers here failed to report his writing income on his taxes, he's be breaking the law. Does that make him a bad parent?
Obviously, as parents we'd like to set a good example for our kids as much as possible. And respecting the law reduces the possibility that we might be taken away from our families. But these things tend to fall in line with things like making sure your kids see you reading, exercising, or eating well.
We all want to live a healthy life and model responsible lifestyle choices for our kids. But none of us is perfect. And at what point does doing the “wrong” thing make someone a bad parent? I'd like to think it's when the behaviour interferes significantly with our ability to care for our children's needs. If a person who breaks the law still manages to keep the kids clean, feed them and supervise their homework, get them to school on time, and support them emotionally and intellectually, how can we say that breaking the law causes bad parenting?
Good Parents Should Use Mind-Altering Substances
So maybe it's the “drug” part of illicit drug use that causes a person to be a bad parent. Certainly, we find it harder to care for our kids' needs when we are altered. And we don't want our kids to see us inebriated, or to think that escaping into a bottle at the end of the day is a positive way to cope with stress.
But what about parents who regularly have a glass of wine with their supper? Or parents who step outside to have a much-needed cigarette every now and again? And what about parents who admit to being quite addicted to coffee – or to Facebook, Pinterest, bingo, or crocheting for that matter? Are they bad parents?
Our friend WritingLover allows that it's probably OK to use illicit drugs (presumably marijuana) for medicinal purposes. And a lot of people who read this would probably agree with her. Many North Americans agree that medicinal marijuana should be legal – but then again, many North Americans thing recreational use of marijuana should be no more an issue than having a beer on the patio when it's hot, or going out for cocktails with friends.
We accept that mind-altering and potentially addictive substances are a part of normal life: alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine top the list. But there are also the so-called natural highs that people can get from doing an enjoyable activity or from he physical exertion of long-distance running.
Parents who achieve that natural high are put up on a pedestal. “I could never do it myself!” exclaim the couch potato set. “How do you ever manage?” ask those who never seem to be on time, and who spend a good part of the day counting down the minutes until the kids' bedtime.
Parents who confess to a smoking addiction may be chastised for not quitting, but nobody would ever suggest they aren't good parents. Parents who drink regularly – even if it seems a bit too often – are never questioned unless drunken episodes begin to interfere with parenting. And any parent who guzzles coffee by the gallon is sure to get a knowing smile from anyone who has spent some time in the parenting trenches!
Let's face it, even if an addiction does interfere with a person's job as a parent we can be tolerant. A nice, uncomplicated addiction to prescription pain killers gets explained away as a complication of the original injury. Especially if the parent in question is a professional mom who serves on the PTA and volunteers as as a soccer coach, and whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower. As long as the neighbours don't have to witness anything embarrassing, it's all good! She just needs a little rest and rehab, but she's a great mom and she'll be back to her family before they know it. We can all understand that...
No, the fact that a parent indulges in a mind-altering substance isn't the problem either – as long as it happens away from the kids and doesn't interfere with their proper care or their emotional well being. So maybe it's the criminal element that parents have to go to if they want to buy illicit drugs?
Good Parents Shouldn't Spend Time with Criminals
I think we can all agree that associating with criminals can be dangerous. Especially the ones who are known for being violent. Biker gangs and foreign drug cartels are scary, and sometimes it's really not healthy to know people who belong to these groups. The risk can even carry over from the individual to his spouse and children. Good parents want to reduce the chances that they'll be taken away from their families because of something the criminal element does. And they certainly don't want the criminals to become involved in their kids' lives. Good parents stay away from criminals
Except for the police officers, judges, lawyers and other officers of the court. And the corrections and parole officers, the health care workers, social workers, prisoners' rights advocates, chaplains, security guards, customs agents and many other professionals who have a daily contact with dangerous criminals because of their jobs.
But nobody thinks those jobs make an individual a bad parent, do they? I didn't think so.
When we think about it, a lot of the contempt that we have for people who use illicit drugs is rooted in fear and ignorance. It's made worse by the news media and the entertainment industry, who are only too happy to stoke the fires of racism and classism, and to perpetuate the stereotype of the poor black crack whore, doing the chicken walk in front of a tenement block.
The local drug dealer could be that clean-cut college kid who lives in his parents' basement. It could be the guy who runs the pizzeria, and coaches his kids' hockey team every winter. And the parent who uses illicit drugs might be no different than the couple who down a bottle of Chablis after the kids go to bed at night.
Good parents just parent well. They keep a roof over their kids' heads, food on their plates, and clothes on their backs. They help with homework and attend ballet recitals. They go to parent-teacher interviews, and get just as excited as the kids when a cool new family movie hits the theatres. The presence or absence of illicit drugs – or even a drug addiction – is no guarantee that any of this would change.
It's just a lot more complicated than that. We need to stop treating questions like this as if the world were just black or white.
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Image Credit » https://sketchport-hrd.appspot.com/drawing/4670922216701952/1gram-of-marijuana