The Green Parent Trap

Don't drive yourself and others insane. Just set a good example.
woman hugging tree
©Can Stock Photo / 4774344sean

Let’s be honest. We parents can be a judgmental bunch. You need only go as far as an online discussion group for parents to find a bunch of us scolding each other for not holding up a magnifying glass to each food label, or for forgetting a plastic bag that one time. Our kids’ health is important to us. And so is the health of our planet. But how do we protect our kids and our earthly home without going insane, or driving each other to that end? And, how do we make sure our kids grow up to be good citizens of the earth, so there is a planet left to pass onto their own kids?

The greenest stuff

Something I find irksome about green parent culture is our emphasis on buying more "green" stuff. We know that shopping isn’t going to save the world, don’t we? In the interest of using less stuff, try to find reusable items, like diapers, bags, cups, and utensils, so you’re throwing less stuff away. And take advantage of all those cousins, brothers and sisters who have hand-me-down clothes that are probably barely worn. If the grandparents insist on buying toys, then ask for toys made out of natural materials, like wood, which will be less toxic, but will also last a lot longer than their plastic cousins while not ending up in a landfill.

If you buy one thing for your baby, it should be a new, non-toxic mattress. Your little guy or girl is spending a lot of time on that mattress, and you don’t want them to be inhaling its toxic fumes. Look for alternatives that are stuffed or padded with cotton or wool, and avoid PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which contains carcinogenic phthalates.

Go outside

This might seem like a no-brainer, but in order for your kids to have a passion for the environment, they need to know what’s at stake. I spend as much time outside with my two boys, Zack and Owain, as their freckled (conscientiously sunscreened) skin will allow. Sometimes this involves an annual camping and canoe trip, but sometimes it just involves getting dirty in the yard. Either way, spending a lot of time in nature helps our kids develop a love of how they feel when they’re outside, and gives them a chance to get to know some of the other creatures sharing our air, land, and water. Having some fun outside today could give them the reverence for nature to fight a highway development or oil pipeline tomorrow. Or, it might just help them remember that we are just one of many species on this planet, and that’s okay too.

The everyday

It might not seem revolutionary, but the biggest thing we can do for the planet (short of running for office, and effecting policies that will reduce all of our impact) is to make good, green behaviours part of our household routines. It’s not just about recycling. Yes, sure, you and your kids should recycle. But we can always take things a step further and teach them about how interconnected things are. Where does that food waste or packaging come from, and where is it going after we’re done with it? Kids’ brains can take on a lot more complex information than we give them credit for, and now is the time to make good habits and behaviours. There’s an opportunity for learning in your house three times a day, every day.

The stuff we eat is a big part of what makes our children healthy or not. But it also has a tremendous impact on our environment, in so many ways. So, when we line up to buy the organic processed cheese puffs, we might be missing a piece of the puzzle. When we have the chance, my family heads down to the farmers’ market to pick up our groceries, and buy organic when we can. The chicken there might not have eight different logos on the label (or a label at all for that matter), indicating who has certified it for what, but we can get answers straight from the farmer. And, we can talk about why it was so good, where it came from, who grew it, and how long it took to grow, over dinner. Sometimes, we might even get a little helper in the kitchen.

The small stuff

This is where my advice starts to sound a bit self-help-book-ish. As with everything in parenting, I say, don’t sweat the small stuff (okay, it turns out that this is actually the title of a self-help book, but I’ve never read it and it does not, by any means, intentionally inform my parenting philosophy). If your little curious George plays with a phthalate-ridden plastic toy at someone else’s house, or drinks a jug of flavoured milk, he is not likely to perish on contact. (Just think of all the things we were exposed to as kids, in the age of Better Living Through Chemistry.)

We do all of the above, because we want what’s best for our kids, and we want them to be thoughtful, earth-loving adults one day. They needn’t be people who require several hours to buy soap or beans because they are so paralyzed by the details of every buying decision. Arm your wee ones with the knowledge to make good decisions for themselves and the planet, and set a good example for them by undertaking all of the green behaviours you want for them, yourself.