'Cannabis Strengthened Our Bond': Can Pot Make You a Better Parent?
An Oregon mother posted a photo last year of herself breastfeeding her baby while she took a bong hit. Naturally, the image went viral.
Amid the expected backlash, some much milder criticism came from Jenn Lauder, an Oregon cannabis activist who co-founded Splimm, a newsletter on pot and parenting, with her husband. Lauder chided the breastfeeder for exposing the baby to smoke and for the “optics” of the image.
“That mom could have made better choices,” Lauder told me recently. The former teacher has said that while she did not use cannabis when pregnant with her daughter, she resumed shortly after giving birth, and while breastfeeding, to mitigate postpartum depression.
Lauder added: “I’ve yet to see compelling evidence that a lactating mother’s cannabis consumption produces any negative effects for a nursing child.”
Doctors would not agree. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is transmitted in breastmilk, according to a recent study. And while the effect on newborns hasn’t been intensely studied, the chemical is widely believed to impair brain development.
Yes, it’s jarring to see a woman in a quintessential act of motherhood, with her face in a bong. But the reality is some parents believe cannabis improves their child rearing. That number is bound to increase as cannabis use becomes more acceptable with legalization. And vape pens and edibles make it easy to do discreetly.
No cannabis brand I’m aware of directly markets to pregnant women, but scores promote themselves as health and “wellness” products, a message pregnant woman can absorb as easily as anyone else.
Aside from the more fraught area of breastfeeding, marijuana, as cannamoms and cannadads see it, relieves the tedium of parenting while helping them engage with their children. The phrase that keeps coming up is “being present”.
With marijuana, “I’m able to sit and play Legos for an extensive period of time or make dinner and make it more fun rather than something functional,” said April Pride, founder of Van der Pop, a line of stylish cannabis accessories for women.
She said it also helped break up the monotony of spending more time at home.
The drug’s complex legal status makes it difficult for researchers to study the phenomenon of parents who use cannabis or what it might mean for the children. As with so much else in the marijuana world, supporters see parenting and interactions with other parents as an opportunity to destigmatize weed and draw a favorable comparison with alcohol.
A New Jersey restaurant owner and dad, who asked that his name not be printed, said he had continued to use cannabis in moderation as a parent, but didn’t involve his “super well-adjusted” kids in it. “There’s too much taboo about it. It’s the equivalent of having a couple glasses of wine in my life.”
Pride said: “For me, alcohol feels more like an escape … And cannabis feels like something I participate in because I want to be more involved in what I’m doing.”
Marijuana, as cannamoms and cannadads see it, relieves the tedium of parenting.
Living in Seattle, Washington, a liberal city in a legal state, Pride says it’s not especially awkward to discuss weed with the other parents. “People are more curious than judgmental,” she said. “I’ve found if people have opinions they keep it to themselves.”
As with many things marijuana related, one of the worst things that can happen when one combines responsible use while parenting is to get caught with it. Even in some legal states, evidence of pot smoking by parents is enough to call in child protective services. And when parents split, cannabis use can be used against them in custody hearings.
When a parent is an open cannabis user it can also change the tenor of conversations with kids about drug use. “Cannabis has strengthened the bond I have with my daughter because I’m honest about something that’s important to me,” Lauder said. “At age 10, she’s incredibly social justice minded.”
Lauder doesn’t give cannabis to her daughter because of the risks it poses to brain development, but she hopes when her daughter gets older she’ll consider marijuana as an alternative to alcohol. “For her, it’s just another kind of medicine.”
Garyn Angel, CEO of MagicalButter, a company which makes devices for infusing cannabis into cooking ingredients like butter and oil, said: “Parenting is about consciousness and cannabis makes you very conscious.” If nothing else, he said, it cut down on alcohol consumption, which he says improved his parenting.
As for what other parents think, he isn’t concerned. “If my kids were screw-ups that would be a different situation,” he said. “But my kids are amazing.”
For a different perspective, I reached out to an old friend whose father is a daily pot smoker. As a kid, he said, his father was unhappy with his work. He knew after dad came home and spent some time in the basement, he’d be in a better mood. “He was a lot chiller,” my friend said, and “more likely to give in to stuff.”
My friend saw other individuals use different drugs and suffer dire consequences but the only negative side-effect my friend noticed with his father was that he had a “memory like a Wiffle ball. I never knew if he was going to remember if we had a conversation or not.”