Mothers Are Slightly Insane

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PHOTO: My son and I, on his third birthday

My mother was born in Mexico City in 1940. She attended an all-girls Catholic boarding school until she was 17-years-old. She was a child bride at 18, leaving her parents’ home to move in with my father, and had all her children before the age of 24.

As her cultural experiences influenced her, so did the conservative era of the 1950s and 1960s in Mexico. I don’t ever remember a conversation about boys, sex, alcohol or drugs. This was not uncommon in my neighborhood or among my group of friends. As all children do when left with an informational vacuum, we found out on our own.

Needless to say, I was not an angel growing up. I was fortunate to have spent my formative years when law enforcement viewed teenage experimentation with alcohol or drugs as a “rite of passage” best handled by parents, the school or medical professionals. And, like President Obama, many other politicians, and many law enforcement officers I know, we survived our youthful indiscretions without stigma, criminal histories or other consequences that would forever alter our lives.

In The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger stated “mothers are all slightly insane.” I believe it is because all our brains have been

My mom, on the far right.

My beautiful mom, on the far right.

sucked out of our heads during the birthing process, but maybe it’s just nature’s way of ensuring the human gene pool survives.

You have to be slightly insane to venture upon the parenting path. It is simply a perpetual emotional roller coaster where you pray that you have made the right choice. The insanity is that our parenting manuals have been handed to us through our experiences, both nature and nurture creating who we were and are, and ultimately influencing who our children will become. No license requirements, no parents’ handbook needed, just your love and ability to navigate the thousands of choices and decisions that will hopefully help your child achieve some measure of success in our world.

When I was a teenager, my mom called the dreaded mother’s curse upon me by calling me out in her cute Cheech and Chong accent “Mija, I can’t wait until you have a teenage girl of your own.”

This curse was rained upon me both in Spanish and English, haunting me until I became a mother myself. I thought I beat the curse by having a son, but alas, the teenage years and all their angst still found their way into our lives.

Fortunately, being a cop before being a parent taught me that it was those parents who were involved with their children but also taught them how to make decisions based on their personal safety that managed the harms associated with uninformed and dangerous choices.

This “safety first” concept can be applied to all risky decisions: engaging in premarital sex, drugs, alcohol, fights, driving and tobacco use. The list is endless on what can endanger our children if they don’t have credible information.

Clearly, I don’t promote or condone drug and alcohol use by children, but can state unequivocally the enforcement of prohibition is far more detrimental to our children’s future than if we engaged in harm reduction strategies and taught them the risks and consequences associated with engaging in any high risk behavior prematurely.

“The enforcement of prohibition is far more detrimental to our children’s future than if we engaged in harm reduction strategies and taught them the risks and consequences associated with engaging in any high risk behavior prematurely.”

What I found most effective was honest conversation and education, which was scant when I grew up, but was present throughout my son’s teenage years largely thanks to technology.

Between my professional experience, our family’s history of addiction, and credible resources, I opened a line of communication with my son that firmly established a relationship where he still seeks out my advice. He knows that I won’t judge him, but will guide and help him to make decisions promoting his safety first.

What I learned is that as parents, we must discern information on drugs without relying only on government sources that have evolved from ideology and rhetoric. The DARE program was, and is, one such program based not on empirical research but on a photo opportunity. It is viewed as a failure by most academics and researchers, but still notably embraced by those who have the most to gain from maintaining the status quo.

My older brother and sister and my mother, pregnant with me.

My older brother and sister and my mother, pregnant with me.

In my speaking engagements for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) I find I am still frequently asked about the “Gateway Theory.” What academic research and my experience tells me though is that prohibition is the true gateway into other substances. Yet, the Gateway Theory is a rallying cry by the forces for prohibition that continue to use moral panic to drive policy by pretending to “protect our children.”

2006 study illustrates the importance of using research and empirical evidence to help parents find credible information or programs that give them the skills to communicate the risks of drug usage to their children. What is also important in this research is it shows easy access is the determinant factor in choosing what type of substance is used. The researchers found:

“While the gateway theory posits that each type of drug is associated with certain specific risk factors that cause the use of subsequent drugs, such as cigarettes or alcohol leading to marijuana, this study’s findings indicate that environmental aspects have stronger influence on which type of substance is used. That is, if it’s easier for a teen to get his hands on marijuana than beer, then he’ll be more likely to smoke pot. This evidence supports what’s known as the common liability model, an emerging theory that states the likelihood that someone will transition to the use of illegal drugs is determined not by the preceding use of a particular drug but instead by the user’s individual tendencies and environmental circumstances.”

The findings further noted:

“The emphasis on the drugs themselves, rather than other, more important factors that shape a person’s behavior, has been detrimental to drug policy and prevention programs,” Dr. Tarter said. “To become more effective in our efforts to fight drug abuse, we should devote more attention to interventions that address these issues, particularly to parenting skills that shape the child’s behavior as well as peer and neighborhood environments.”

Based on these findings, my experience and other research, I would advise every parent that reads this article to use the Drug Policy Alliance’s parent education guide, “Safety First.” This guide will give you the ability to create open and honest dialogue with your children concerning the topic of drugs. It is through this dialogue that we create safety barriers for our children, helping them to critically think as they evaluate risks associated with potentially hazardous behavior.

Though motherhood made me a little bit insane, I was not insane enough to understand that I needed to reach outside of my comfort zone to recognize that an abstinence only discussion with my child was more harmful than helpful.  By doing so I have helped my son navigate his path to adulthood where his mistakes have not resulted in  life-altering consequences.

“Though motherhood made me a little bit insane, I was not insane enough to understand that I needed to reach outside of my comfort zone to recognize that an abstinence only discussion with my child was more harmful than helpful.”

And though my son is close to achieving his independence, I recognize I have an obligation to do everything in my power to ensure that not just my child has this knowledge, but all our children and their parents have access to information based not on rhetoric and ideology, but on science and evidence.