Ready to say goodbye to cigarettes? We've got parent-only strategies for dealing with daily stresses and curbing cravings in those crucial first smoke-free weeks.
Quit for Good
Last month, we introduced Parents Quit for Good, the magazine's partnership with the American Legacy Foundation to help moms and dads stop smoking. If you've already thrown away your last pack, or if you've set a quit date and are ready to move ahead, congratulations on making this important commitment to your family's health. If you -- or your spouse -- are still on the fence, it's not too late to read Part 1 of our series and join our online community of parents who are encouraging each other along the way.
Of course, the first weeks of quitting -- when ex-smokers have physical withdrawal symptoms -- are the toughest. If you haven't decided to use medication (nicotine replacement or one of the two prescription drugs that can increase your odds of success), you may want to consider it now. "If you've seen other smokers quit cold turkey, you might assume that you should too," says Richard Hurt, MD, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and director of its Nicotine Dependence Center. "But smoking is a neurobiological problem. If quitting were simply a matter of willpower, 80 percent of smokers would stop." You can also benefit from counseling, which is so effective that a recent update of federal guidelines calls it "a critical part of smoking cessation." The nationwide 800-QUIT-NOW phone service, which automatically routes you to your state's quitline, makes it easier than ever to get free one-on-one guidance. The more support you get, the better.
No More Excuses
We know that making the decision to quit is a huge deal. As your Q-date approaches -- or even in your first days without cigarettes -- you may get cold feet and rationalize why you shouldn't stop now after all. As an ex-smoker, Cheryl Healton, DrPH, CEO of the American Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting kids and adults from smoking, realizes how easy it is to come up with these reasons to back out and offers ways to motivate yourself to stay on track.
"I need those two-minute breaks when my kids act up." You can still go to another room or slip outside for a short, deep-breathing, head-clearing moment -- but now you'll be inhaling fresh air instead of smoke.
"I've already cut back." Any smoking at all is still hazardous to your health, especially if you have a family history of cancer or heart disease. It also sets a bad example for your children.
"What's wrong with a few cigarettes after the kids go to bed?" You can find healthier ways to reward yourself and wind down, like taking a bath, giving yourself a pedicure, or getting your spouse to give you a massage.
"Life is too stressful for me to handle withdrawal right now." Nicotine-replacement therapy can appease your brain's receptors while you quit, so you'll avoid the worst symptoms while you learn how to get through the day without cigarettes.
"I don't smoke around my children." If you smoke anywhere in your home or car, new research shows that your kids will be exposed to toxic chemical particles that get embedded in everything -- including your clothes.
"It's my only vice." If you want to be around for your children and, someday, your grandchildren, it's a vice that you absolutely need to put behind you.
Since cigarettes have been intertwined with so many aspects of your life, you'll need to plan ahead for how you'll handle the urge to smoke throughout the day. At parentsquitforgood.com, you'll find specific ways to deal with the most common triggers, including your morning coffee, talking on the phone, seeing your kids go off to school, driving to work, dealing with your boss, feeling bored, spending time with smoking friends, and drinking alcohol.
Since you can't avoid all of these situations, try to change them in some way. For example, switch to iced tea in the morning or hold the phone in your opposite hand. "When you do things even a bit differently, you're less likely to automatically think about a cigarette," says Wendy Wood, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. Try to steer clear of the places where you used to smoke.
Little things can make a big difference: Keep your hands and mouth busy by drinking water, chewing gum, squeezing Silly Putty, or taking up a craft like knitting. Exercising as much as possible will help burn off any extra calories you're consuming and also reduce withdrawal symptoms. When you're feeling stressed, try writing down how you feel or calling a friend.
You'll increase your chances of success if you convince your spouse or friends to quit with you, according to a large study from the National Institutes of Health. If your partner won't stop, ask him not to smoke around you -- or distract yourself when he does. Although Kim Jester, of Menifee, California, quit in 2007, she still has cravings when her smoking friends hang out at her pool. "I go straighten up my kitchen until the urge passes," she says. "What gets me through? Knowing that when I pick up my sweet-smelling daughter, I won't be drenched in the stench of cigarettes."
Mom, Are You Okay?
Your kid may sense something's up. Jonathan Bricker, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the University of Washington, suggests talking points.
What you should say: Nothing
Why it will help: Toddlers don't really understand smoking or the concept of quitting. If withdrawal leaves you cranky or edgy, simply admit that you're not feeling very well.
What you should say: "Mommy is going to try hard to stop smoking so I can be healthier. If I get sad or angry, that's the reason why. It isn't because of anything that you're doing."
Why it will help: Kids this age know their parents smoke. (Young kids of smokers were much more likely than kids of nonsmokers to buy cigarettes at a pretend store, one study found.) Your child may feel guilty if you're moody.
What you should say: "One of the reasons I'm quitting this unhealthy habit is because I don't want you to smoke when you're older. But quitting is very hard for me." (If you've tried to quit before and failed, be truthful with your child about that fact.)
Why it will help: Your honesty may lead him to think twice when faced with the choice of smoking in the future. And letting him know about your struggle with quitting will help him see that some things in life require time and patience.
What you should say: "Quitting is something I'm doing for my health and yours. I have other adults to help me try to succeed -- which I might not be able to do. If you want to ask sometimes how I'm doing and cheer me on, that would be great."
Why it will help: Involving your child can strengthen your bond, but you don't want to make him your primary support because he might blame himself if you go back to smoking.
True Stories from Real Moms
San Antonio, Texas
Kids: Bruno, 8, and Marco, 7
"In my first weeks without cigarettes, I was pretty miserable and unproductive. I slept a lot and I read everything I could about giving up smoking. I was moody and told my kids to be patient with me. I stayed away from coffee because that was my biggest trigger. The patch was a blessing -- I focused on changing my mental habits and hoped that the physical cravings wouldn't be bad when I went off the patch. On day 10, I was alone in my car and happened to find my old 'emergency cigarette' in my glove compartment. I broke it in half and threw it out the window. It felt so good!"
Kids: Alex, 10, and Justin, 7
"On day 4, I remember thinking: This really stinks. If I had stuck to one of my prior attempts at quitting, this would be over by now. But I was actually feeling pretty good. I was using both nicotine gum and lozenges and drinking a lot of water. On day 5, I suddenly realized that I hadn't had a headache since I'd quit. I'd always had very bad headaches and blamed them on the kids, the hubby, the traffic, the weather, the season, the dogs, the laundry -- just about anything! Then I had a revelation: They were probably caused by a lack of oxygen. Smoking is an awful addiction. I am ready for my life back!"
"As funny as it sounds, one of the hardest things about quitting has been not feeling sorry for myself. I've heard people say that giving up cigarettes is kind of like giving up a friend, and it's somewhat true. When I get a craving, it's easy for me to think, "I deserve a break" or "One won't hurt." But one would hurt -- I'd have to start all over again. My son has been a big motivator for me. I don't want him ever to be a smoker and have to struggle with quitting, and I don't want him to have to watch me die of a horrible disease someday because of my smoking."
Originally published in the March 2009 issue of Parents magazine.