Baby Waving with Parents in Background

There are certain aspects of living an environmentally friendly life that can sometimes make one feel a little more mean, than green. This is especially true if you reproduce and begin to subject your children to your wild regime of baking soda scrubs and compost bins. All of a sudden people don’t see you as an eco-conscious individual, they see you as a naysaying Debbie Downer.

So the question becomes, how do you balance being fun with being Eco-friendly? How do you go about continuing to make significant changes to the way you live your life without coming off as sancitmonius or holier-than-thou at the playground?

My daughter is two, so I am an admitted newbie to this whole parenting gig, but after simultaneously adapting to the ins and outs of parenthood while writing and publishing a book on green living, I have learned a great deal about successfully merging the two worlds with a minimum of friction.

Image courtesy of Theresa Martell
Image courtesy of Theresa Martell

Here are some tips that I hope will help you, too.

1. Say “No”

This is the part that often makes me feel mean. I worry that to an outside observer, my daughter’s life may seem like an endless parade of No’s: No plastic toys, no TV, no junk food, no disposable diapers decked out with fun cartoon characters, no balloons at birthday parties for goodness sake – I mean at this rate why don’t I just dress her in a scratchy three piece wool suit and have her recite Shakespeare all day?

The fact is that it’s not just environmentalists, all parents spend a lot of time saying no, and for good reason, too. Establishing boundaries is an incredibly important part of being a parent, and this responsibility only increases when you are trying to be Eco-friendly too. We had to become very comfortable with politely saying no, and communicating our preferences for plastic-free gifts, secondhand items, and healthy snacks rather than those processed and packaged. It felt uncomfortable and even downright ridiculous at times to be such sticklers, but being able to speak up for our beliefs also helped erase ambiguity and ensure that everyone was on the same page. It also helped to realize that childhood hasn’t always been synonymous with cartoons, junk food, and plastic, and anyone who has met our daughter knows that “deprived” is a word that simply does not exist in her vocabulary.

Toddler hands rock to mother along shore
Image courtesy of J N

2. Explaining why

Being able to explain why you say no, and more importantly, what you say yes to instead is vital to shedding that Mean Mom mystique. Saying that I deny my daughter all manner of fun plastic toys that squeak, rattle, and roll can sound downright cruel, but I think it makes a little more sense when I take the time to explain that every single piece of plastic ever produced still exists, or when I  share photos of islands the size of Texas floating in the ocean, made up entirely of plastic particles. Explaining your choices shows you as an earth-lover rather than coming off as a draconian fun-squasher.

Using a calm, non-judgmental manner to explain why you are making these choices fosters understanding rather than one-upmanship, and quickly strips sanctimony away from the exchange. People will quickly realize that it’s not about feeling that you are better than someone else, but simply making the choice you feel is right for you and your family. Everyone can understand that.

3. When in Rome…

One of the best things about parenting is being able to enforce any arcane and arbitrary rule you wish. It’s practically in the job description! This means that in our house, hippies reign supreme –  recycling is the norm, most things are secondhand, and gifts are often in the form of experiences rather than things. If we are guests in the homes of others however, all bets are off. This extends to grandparents, friends, birthday parties, you name it. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And if the Romans in question don’t recycle, give treat bags filled with plastic toys, and use paper plates, then you can graciously join in with nary a soapbox or high horse to be seen.  This doesn’t mean you are compromising your own beliefs, by the way, it simply means that you are respecting those of others.

Raising a child isn’t about providing a singular insular “correct” world view, but demonstrating acceptance and openness to a variety of different choices. It is so easy to become rigid and uncompromising in your beliefs, especially when you believe them to be correct. But there’s more to life than being right – right?

Image courtesy of Keoni Cabral
Image courtesy of Keoni Cabral

4. Environmentalism complements childhood

Pre-baby I worried how my lofty environmental ideals would hold up when I found myself deep in the trenches of motherhood. I worried that something would have to give, that living a green life might prove too challenging when kids came along. Over the past two years however, I have realized that if anything, Eco-friendly living complements childhood, instead of contradicting it.

The Eco-friendly choice is often the healthier choice for your child, too. Children play better with fewer toys, develop better in environments filled with natural materials, and eat a healthier diet when avoiding packaged, processed, or GMO foods. Eco-friendly living and children just seem to go hand-in-hand, so you can ditch the stress and feel good about being a mean, green mom (or dad).

Feature image courtesy of Russ Robinson

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.