Becoming a foster parent is one of the most selfless things you can do, but the rewards come with big responsibilities. It’s your job to teach your new son or daughter how to live a healthy, happy life, and that means setting a positive example when it comes to smoking.
Fostering a child may change your life, but it is both transformative and overwhelmingly positive for the child in question. After a difficult childhood, the value of having a dependable caregiver and a place to feel comfortable and welcome is hard to overstate. Needless to say, if you’ve decided to foster children in need rather than have your own child, you have done something incredible. But it also comes with responsibilities. As well as teaching your child how to get by in the world, helping him or her with schoolwork and helping him or her grow, you need to set a good example every step of the way. That’s why the issue of foster parents and smoking is complicated, but ultimately, quitting is the best thing you can do for yourself and your new child.
The Role of Foster Parents
Being a foster parent is a lot like being a biological parent, but there are some added challenges that can’t be ignored. Children in need of fostering are much more likely to struggle with emotional or attachment-related issues, and it’s your job to help the child grow and overcome these issues. You need to do everything any parent has to, but you also have to establish trust with a child who may be troubled, and help them move towards a happier life. What you’re doing is wonderful, but undeniably challenging.
The Importance of Setting a Positive Example
All parents have to set a positive example, but for fostered children who may not have had strong role models for much of their lives, the need for this is even greater. You need to be a stable, positive influence in every way you can be, and that includes your relationship with smoking.
Parental smoking habits have been shown to influence adolescent smoking in peer-reviewed research, with teens with parents who smoke being 2.8 times more likely to start smoking than their peers with parents who don’t smoke. This effect was reported to be even bigger for children whose parents smoked when they were under 13 years old.
Given that children – fostered or biological – are influenced by their parents in many ways, results like this aren’t surprising. Studies like this clearly show that if you’re looking after a child, smoking will have a negative impact on their future.
The bigger problem for foster parents is that smoking is often linked to psychological issues. For example, stress and depression are closely-linked to smoking, as people turn to nicotine as a “quick-fix” to make them feel better. However, this apparent relief is only short-term. Smoking is a faulty coping mechanism for psychological issues, and in fact, the cycle of craving and withdrawal from nicotine often makes it worse. For a child who had a difficult time growing up, this makes the risk of them starting to smoke in adolescence even greater.
Are Foster Parents Allowed to Smoke?
The points above show why foster parents and smoking aren’t a good combination. All children are influenced by their parents’ behavior, and fostered children are at greater risk for starting to smoke even without this influence. That’s why you should avoid smoking as a foster parent as much as you can.
This isn’t just a suggestion, though, because many states have explicit rules about foster parents and smoking, either banning smoking in foster homes or in vehicles where the foster child is present. You can ordinarily still smoke outside – and this will reduce the visibility of your smoking and thereby minimize the influence – but the best advice for you and your foster child is to quit entirely. This will make you a more promising candidate for fostering or adoption, and will also protect the health of you and your family more generally.
Quit Smoking Before Fostering
The message for foster parents is simple: you are free to smoke if you want to, but it will be better for you and, more importantly for your foster child, if you quit as soon as you can. Ideally, if you’re considering becoming a foster parent, quitting smoking should be one of your first priorities.
There are many approaches you can use to quit, including alternative nicotine products, medications and behavioral counseling, and all can increase your chances of success compared to attempting to quit without support. Choose whatever works for you, but remember that willpower is a big part of the battle. Think about your foster child (or future foster child) and work through the cravings for them.
The good news is that the study referenced earlier also found that teens with parents who quit smoking were actually no more likely to smoke than teens with never-smoking parents. In other words, even if you are a foster parent already and you smoke, successfully quitting can make a huge difference for your child.