I moved with my kids from the conservative suburbs of Michigan to the town of Hippies in Argentina. They had access to drugs and alcohol from a young age, which made them even more responsible.

Courtesy of Kathy Brown

  • She moved from suburban Michigan to a small town in Argentina in 2009.

  • My kids at the time were 8, 6 and 4 years old.

  • Drugs were everywhere when my kids were growing up, but now I know how beneficial it is for them.

In 2009, I moved from the conservative suburbs of Ada, Michigan, to a country cottage in the Andes outside of what’s known as El Bolsón, Argentina’s most popular hippie hut.

On the first day, my kids, who were 4, 6 and 8 years old at the time, went exploring in the Cypress Forest where I organized our place.

My 6-year-old daughter, Stella, sped home excitedly, bringing with her a huge handful of flower-grown branches of what appeared to be a wild marijuana plant. Panicked visions of her having accidentally crossed into a drug cartel’s plantation hidden in the mountains raced through my head. But she told me it was a welcome gift from our neighbor, “Don’t you smell it, Mom? And see how it shines.”

I haven’t returned any parenting book for this moment.

This was more than a decade ago before legal recreational marijuana became a thing in Michigan. Decent soccer moms where I came from didn’t have a big bouquet of gorgeous herbs displayed in a vase on the dining room table.

Fast forward to another neighbour’s decorated birthday party where I happened to meet two of my kids’ primary school teachers who were elated at eating acid, and I guess the whole reality is where I’ve been raising my kids.

My kids had access to everything, but not in a bad way

What I didn’t understand at the time was how much of a gift such a humble attitude toward substance abuse could give to raising teens.

My daughter Stella, now 20, explained how accessible everything is.

“The herbs were grown in the garden next to the islands, and if I ever decided to try mushrooms, I knew I had to ask one of the local doctors who grew them,” she said. “I made that accessibility so there was no rush to try anything, because I knew it would always be there.”

When I was a teenager in the States, we stole vodka from the home liquor cabinet and hit it up with friends on a Friday night, to refill what we drank with water.

Here, my kids can walk into the grocery store at ten and walk out with a bottle of wine. But culturally, wine here is accompanied by asado or homemade pasta.

My kids grew up drinking a small amount of high-quality malbec with dinner, and now they associate alcohol with what it can bring to a meal, not with drinking, or getting drunk.

I’ve always known where they are

In a town this big, my kids were watching them all over the place. Every waiter, every bus and taxi driver, every person on the street knows them and tells me what they’re doing and with whom; We were a supportive village raising children together.

Because of this, sneaking was pointless – the teenagers had no choice but to be honest. Stella came to me when she was 16 and was curious about “magic” mushrooms. She told me how she chose her dose and who she got it from, told me where to take it, promised to keep her phone charged and in case she wanted me to take it.

Not exactly what I envisioned in the early 2000s driving minivans in the suburbs to raise my teens, but looking back, I’m thankful I was able to raise my kids in Argentina’s small, liberal culture.

I will always prefer this level of honesty and conscious exploration over uninformed teens who feel they have to sneak in.

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