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Ask Amy: Expectant parents worry about ‘third-hand’ smoke

DEAR AMY: My wife and I are expecting our first child. We could not be more excited. Thankfully, both sets of our parents are active in our lives and will be there for our child. However, my mother is
Columnist Amy Dickinson (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune) 
a smoker and I am concerned for our child’s health.
While she would never smoke around the baby, there is growing concern about the safety of “third-hand smoke” — a child inhaling toxins from the home, clothing or car of a smoker.
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Realistically, I do not believe my mother will stop smoking in her lifetime. Cutting her off from the baby would be cruel and ruinous for our relationship. However, concern for my son makes me nervous about allowing her to babysit, or even hold him.
What should I do?
Worried Dad
DEAR DAD: According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, (, “Thirdhand smoke clings to clothes, furniture, drapes, walls, bedding, carpets, dust, vehicles and other surfaces long after smoking has stopped. … Children and nonsmoking adults might be at risk of tobacco-related health problems when they inhale, swallow or touch substances containing thirdhand smoke. Infants and young children might have increased exposure to thirdhand smoke due to their tendency to mouth objects and touch affected surfaces.”
You are wise to accept that your mother is a smoker, and that this is simply a fact, and you are powerless to force her to stop.
Share this information with your mother, and be honest with her about your concerns. Don’t present this as a nonnegotiable, but more as a problem that you can mitigate together.
She should be willing to change her smoking habits (i.e. always smoke outside), and to have the interior of her house thoroughly cleaned. She should wear a jacket or shirt over her clothes when she smokes (and perhaps cotton gloves), and remove it before she comes inside. Babysitting should happen in your home, until she is able to thoroughly detox her own. Trust her to do the right thing, and don’t limit her contact with your baby. Babies have a wonderful way of bringing their grandparents toward new levels of awareness, love and sacrifice; I hope this happens in your family.
DEAR AMY: I’m responding to the ongoing discussion in your column of the role that stepparents can play in the lives of grandchildren.
In 1993, I was widowed at the age of 47, with a 12-year-old son.
A number of years later, on a teacher/student exchange with a Russian school, I met my current wife.
My mother-in-law from my first marriage had always been in close contact with my son, and she took to my new stepchildren (whose early explorations in English were tentative at best) as if they were her own. She observed their birthdays and Christmas, but more than that, she actively worked at knowing them as people.
She is gone now, having lived until the age of 95. (She died — appropriately — on Mother’s Day.)
I will always be grateful for her efforts to reach out to all of my blended family. I was very fortunate to have such a person in my life and so was my son, my wife and my stepchildren.
Brock, in Connecticu t
DEAR BROCK: This story is a testament to your mother-in-law, who lost a daughter, and later made loving room in her heart and gained a new family. This is beautiful and inspiring. Thank you.
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DEAR AMY: I appreciated your serious and detailed response to “Worried Gram,” who worries that her grandchild is in a risky living situation.
I wish that all children had such grandparents looking out for them. As someone who has fought (and finally succeeded) to save a child from abuse by a parent’s significant other, I would say the first and most important thing they must do is report their concerns to child protective services immediately.
Also write down everything you have heard and seen that concerns you in case the courts or law enforcement get involved. Get your grandchild into therapy soon. Reach out to Childhelp (, their free, anonymous hotline helps people who are concerned about a child.
Worried Gram should know that this is one of the hardest and most important things grandparents will ever do, but they must never give up until their grandchild is safe from abuse.
 Been There
DEAR BEEN THERE: Thank you for sharing your story and for offering an additional resource for anyone worried about the safety of a child. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline number is (800) 422-4453.
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You can contact Amy Dickinson via email: Readers may send postal mail to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or “like” her on Facebook.

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