I got out of my minivan, and I could smell it in the rec center parking lot. Minutes later, my 11-year-old could, too.
Our first discussion about the new Colorado law that legalizes marijuana began with her asking, "What's that smell?" It forced a conversation we needed to have anyway about marijuana, its effects on behavior, and the new laws that might make that smell more common. "You mean it might smell like this all the time?" The only response I could offer was, "I don't know."
I'd learned she'd already talked with her grandmother, my mom, about the people standing in lines outside storefronts for their first chance to buy recreational marijuana legally. In Denver these days, it seems everyone's talking about the Broncos or marijuana.
Adults haven't quite made sense of it all yet, so it's even harder to explain to kids. It's legal in Colorado, but still illegal under the federal law? How will this all play out in a year? Five years? Ten years? Will the jokes ever go away, or will we keep hearing Jimmy Kimmel make cracks about the "Mile High City"? When will the craze of hemp-minded tourists peter off? Will we see more crime, or simply more tax revenue?
Parents can't help but ask themselves even more questions: Will pot be more accessible to my teenager next month? Next year? How about my pre-teen? Will the marijuana "edibles" packaged as candy make their way into my kids' hands?
Though parents are perplexed and looking for guidance on how the new law trickles down to the kitchen table discussions, I've found only a single local news story about parenting through it. A Denver Post article that ran the first week of January: Teens and pot use: Parents, here's what you need to talk about.
The reporter interviewed local healthcare professionals to debunk common myths about the drug. The experts state that pot use is dangerous for developing brains. That teenagers and young adults carry a higher risk of becoming regular users because of how their brains interact with the drug. That there can be long-term damage to a young person's IQ, plus respiratory harm if the marijuana is smoked. Pot use is not good for young people's bodies and minds. And now, we can assume it will be easier than ever for our kids to acquire.
As John Piper writes in his recent blog post Don't Let Your Mind Go to Pot, we must convey to our children that their bodies are vessels of the Holy Spirit, to be cared for because God lives in them (1 Cor. 6:19-20). There are lots of activities that are both legal and fall within the social norm that I do not want my children to participate in. Whether legal or not, socially accepted as "no big deal" or not, my kids have God-given free will that may lead them to make choices I disagree with in all kinds of areas. I know laws alone don't dictate our children's behavior or outcomes, but I do know my husband and I appreciate when the laws feel like a help rather than a hindrance in steering my kids toward our moral framework. Piper notes:
When my mother told me not to smoke, for example, or not to have sex before marriage, because my body was the temple of the Holy Spirit, it clicked. That made sense. It was an immovable barrier between me and self-destruction. My body belonged to God. It was not for my recreational use in just any way I pleased. It was for his glory.
I hope this reasoning makes sense to my children as well. As parents we will pray for such clarity in them, but we won't rely on it. Our family requires a continued discussion around health and behaviors and working towards God's best for our lives. Our parenting sets up boundaries to limit their risks of exposure to risky behaviors, which loosen as they mature. We reinforce our words with modeling a care for our own bodies and minds because we want to honor what God has offered us.
We are neither purists nor protectionists. By this I mean my husband and I do our best to demonstrate good health, and we drink alcohol and caffeine in moderation. Still, we don't exercise half as much as we should and eat our fair share of junk food. As far as treating our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit we fall short for a myriad of reasons, ranging from life with four kids to our fallen nature.
And we don't parent in a vacuum. We are attempting to raise our kids to become real adults in a real world. When they grow up and leave our home, we want them to be prepared to handle the realities of our society, marijuana and all. We're partly terrified, but this is the "in the world" life we're called to live, and it comes with potential risks.
I wish there were a step-by-step process for ensuring this drug and my children don't mix. But I'm starting to suspect the reason there haven't been many local news stories on how to tackle this new parenting dilemma is because there aren't clear talking points. I'm left with the parenting basics Christian parents have used for centuries: boundaries, prayer and continued conversations with my kids about their value to God and the free will he's given them.
Alexandra Kuykendall is Mom and Leader Content Editor at MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers) a ministry to moms of young kids. Her memoir, The Artist's Daughter, explores her own journey of identity development and significance from childhood to marriage and motherhood. Connect with her at AlexandraKuykendall.com