ByMadeleine Somerville

Mar 27, 2015
Mother and child

Living an Eco-friendly life ranks pretty high on the priority list for many mothers out there, so its not surprising that it can often become a huge source of stress, too. And I don’t know about you, but despite my commitment to the cause I firmly believe that juggling the unique demands of motherhood (especially in the first year of your child’s life) provides more than enough stress its own.

We really need to be gentle with ourselves and be okay with letting something go when it’s doing more harm than good. So, how do you know whether you should soldier on or give up the green? Here are five guidelines to help you decide.

Mother and child
Image courtesy of CIA DE FOTO.

1. When your health is at risk. We put incredible pressure on ourselves as mothers, often trying to live up to an idea of perfection that is truly impossible to attain.

One of my friends suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of her first child. This illness left her struggling to deal with overwhelming feelings, connect with her child, and complete the day-to-day tasks of caring for a newborn, yet she she was still overcome with guilt that she wasn’t able to cloth-diaper her baby. She felt judged at baby groups and inadequate every time she threw a diaper in the trash.

I can not emphasize this strongly enough: when a choice involves your health (physical, mental, or otherwise), you need to put yourself first. Always. This is perhaps one of the most important – and most difficult – lesson for mothers to accept.

2. When it’s not working. This may seem obvious, but you should never have to compromise on efficacy simply because something is “green”. For example, if you have been using an all-natural cream on your baby’s diaper rash, yet it doesn’t seem to be making a dent in the redness or irritation, it’s time to try something else. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how long we stick to something that’s not working just because we think we should be doing it.

One of the reasons I am so passionate about green living is because it works. It’s incredible when you can find an earth-friendly way to do something with the same (or better!) results, but if this doesn’t hold true for you in whatever green initiative you’ve taken on, it’s probably worth re-examining.

3. When you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Living an environmentally-friendly life shouldn’t be filled with an overwhelming sense of guilt and obligation, and if that’s what is driving your efforts they’ll start to feel more like chores than exciting experiments. One of the greatest parts of my Eco-friendly journey has been feeling like a wizard whenever I make my own laundry detergent, or swelling with pride when someone falls in love with my homemade lotion. This stuff is exciting, guys!

Mother holding child
Image courtesy of David Robert Bliwas.

Motherhood involves enough guilt already – we don’t need to search out more. More importantly, guilt doesn’t motivate or inspire, it incapacitates and overwhelms, and if that’s the emotion driving your green journey the changes will be far less likely to stick.

Find an area of your life that you get excited about revolutionizing – cooking, gardening, cleaning, body care products, whatever interests you – and start there. Let your successes in this area fill you up and propel you on.

Let the benefits of environmentalism power your efforts going forward, rather then doggedly trying to push change uphill from a crushing sense of obligation.

4. When it’s bankrupting your budget. If every trip to the grocery store to stock up on organic fruits and veggies leaves your bank account in the red, this might be a time  when the green choice isn’t necessarily the best choice for you.

I find when you get really into it – making products instead of buying them, and cutting out one-time-use items like paper towels or plastic sandwich bags – you save enough money in one area that you can reallocate those funds to another (saving money by making your own shampoo, for example, and using those savings to buy organic whenever possible.)

But, if the scales haven’t tipped yet and your budget truly can’t support the changes you’d like to make, it’s time to let them go for the time being and focus on in other areas instead. Most aspects of Eco-friendly life will actually save you money, and these areas may be a better place to start if you’re strapped.

5. When it’s causing conflict. If you and your partner are having screaming matches over vinegar and dryer sheets, it’s time to take a deep breath and reevaluate. I find its rare for two people to begin their journey toward an Eco-friendly life at exactly the same movement, so it’s natural to have to do a bit of explaining, insisting, or cajoling to enact change.

If, however, these changes are causing regular spats with your spouse, or your kids start accusing you of loving Mother Nature more than loving them, you may need to dial it back a bit. Not only will your initiatives be more effective if everyone’s on board, but the relationships we have with loved ones are the most important thing in the world. Nothing – not even a worm compost – is worth jeopardizing that.

Hear this, my fellow mothers: It’s okay to compromise. It’s okay to say that you can’t do it all. It’s okay to admit something isn’t working for your family, and most importantly, it’s okay to be happy with doing something really well 80% of the time, rather than stressing about the 20% of the time you miss the mark. Trust me, you’re doing a great job – green or not.

Feature image courtesy of james goodman

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.