Like many (maybe all?) moms, I often feel guilty about my parenting choices. Do I let my kids have too much screen time? Should I force them to eat more vegetables? Do I yell too much? I am ruining the environment just by raising a family?
That last question is one I have asked myself from the moment I had my first child. Living in an apartment at the time with a communal laundry room, cloth diapering was not practical option, so I used disposables. But, not just any disposables, mind you; I had to have the most natural, sustainably made diapers your could buy (read: the most expensive).
Using the fancy “eco” diapers made me feel a bit better. Still, I was worried about all the garbage I was adding to the world. I decided to try elimination communication, or the concept of letting babies/toddlers go diaper free as much as possible. I guess I did manage to reduce my diaper use, and my oldest did potty train on the earlier side, but I am not sure all the time spent cleaning up messes was worth it in the long run. When my second child came along, I was often too distracted by other matters to really focus on teaching him to use the toilet. He was in diapers much longer than my oldest.
Over the years my guilt over my family’s impact on the environment, has evolved to include, worrying about how much packaging we’re throwing away, wondering if we are being energy-efficient enough, and thinking about how to be less car dependent.
I also constantly consider choices that are best for my family and compare them with their impact on the environment. Like my choice to use disposable diapers, often my desire to help the Earth and my family don’t always align.
A more recent example, is driving. Where my family currently lives, we need a car to get to most places safely. You may ask why someone like me, who cares about the environment would live in such a place, but again, sometimes needs don’t always align. Right now, this is the best choice for my family.
So, how do I reconcile this choice, and do what I can to minimize the harm owning a car can have on the environment?
I am very mindful of when and how I use my car. When the weather is warm enough, for example, if I need something in town, or further away, I try to park in a central location, and walk to multiple destinations. As a family, many weekends, we use our car sparingly, if not at all. This means a lot of time spent at home, or exploring around our street. The bonus, is an intentional break from the hecticness of life, as well as reducing our carbon footprint.
Still, driving is a necessity for my family, and I can only cut back so much. However, I realized that while I may rely on my car, I do have greater control on how I and my family impact the environment in other ways.
For one, we rarely buy our kids new things. Now, you may come to our home and scratch your head because we definitely have way too much stuff, but the vast majority was either used stuff given to us by families whose kids no longer needed them. While we do purchase and receive new items on occasions such as birthdays and holidays, I am grateful we are able to offset this by accepting hand-me-downs, and taking advantage of local used product sellers.
I also try to limit the amount of trash we put out, which is tough when you consider how many snack wrappers you can go through in a year. What this concern does do is fuel my interest in baking. I enjoy getting creative with cookies and muffins, and love that this means I am relying less on package goods. Still, some days I just don’t feel like baking, and the convenience of store-bought snacks is what works best for me in that moment. Whenever I can, I look for options that come in easily recycleable packaging, but I know even that isn’t the best solution. I am a work in progress.
Another way our family tries to lessen our impact on the environment is by minimizing the amount of meat we consume. As a long time vegetarian (who will eat some fish very sparingly), not consuming meat is no problem for me. However, for my meat-loving husband, this isn’t always so easy. Thankfully, we have found some really awesome meat-free meals we both enjoy, and even a few our picky kids don’t mind.
One recent step we took as a family, is making a greater effort to compost our organic waste. Granted, I am not a gardener, and I don’t have much use for compost, but buying a composter has definitely helped us cut back on our waste, and has become a cool science experiment to boot. Seeing how the food and yard scraps break down is really cool.
As you can see, I am far from an eco-perfect parent. I do many things which are not great for the planet, and I have a lot of work to do. Thankfully, I have caring kids, like my oldest who is quick to notice trash on the ground and always wants to clean it up. I am also really grateful to know people like Shannon Brescher Shea of Welleatyouupweloveyouso.com/. Shannon approaches sustainabilty and environmental awareness in a way that is accessible and welcoming. If you haven’t done so yet, go ahead and purchase a copy of her book, Growing Sustainable Together. And, be sure to check out my talk with Shannon on going green as a family here.
In the end, I know my family’s efforts are only one part of the solution. I know real change has to come from local, state and federal leaders, as well as from the private sector. I know I shouldn’t feel bad if I am not even close to being an eco perfect parent, and that I can always improve.