(Well, here's how to do the best you can!). We believe in this philosophy. We believe that it is not all or nothing. And, this is my own experience of trying to be the best 'green parent' that I can be.
I feel guilty and selfish.
I am guilty. There I've said it. I am not a green parent, as much as I'd hoped and decided that I would be.
My twins were born couple of years ago. When my first child was born 20 years ago, I was almost a child myself, living in India, and then bringing her up alone here in the UK, completing my PhD, and my priority was to earn enough to provide her with all the comforts and a great education. I could not, and did not prioritise the environment or the world around me, because she alone was my whole world. This time, I am older, a little more wiser, and more conscious of our ever diminishing resources. My eldest has been a huge influence on me. Her passion for the environment has rubbed off on me, and I was determined to be a more socially responsible and eco-friendly parent.
My babies were born 7 weeks premature, and this knocked us for a six. We were hardly prepared, trying to do a full-time job and run a business before they came around. Before they were born, I had made a list of what things I could do to be more eco-friendly and ethical. I binged out on green parenting books and websites, and there is a lot of useful information out there.
I made a list of things that had been recommended trying to learn from the parents who had done it all successfully.
Wow. It all seemed a tad overwhelming even before we had started. We thought we were really eco-conscious using power saving bulbs, greener energy suppliers, little or no packaging, recycling as much as possible, and buying local and organic produce. In my own creative business, I had been using recycled paper, packaging and inks too. But, this was a completely new world and I stepped into it very tentatively, but very excitedly.
Now, there is good intention and there is life. So, our twins arrived unplanned 7 weeks early and we scrambled to survive. They were very little and we had our hands full.
So, I had to strike off number one from my list immediately. I just could not contemplate having to use cloth nappies and reusable nappies and washing them everyday. Although my heart sank at the thought of the diapers touching their gentle skin, I was too tired and overwhelmed to take any more on. Although there is some information online for parents to try and use reusable washable nappies, and coming from India, this is what we did traditionally (and for most part with my eldest), I couldn't find a comprehensive resource for what to do, and how easy or difficult it would be. None of the high streets stacked any of these nappies. And, to be honest, I had no time or energy to make my own, as some parents on forums strongly recommended. I found eco-friendly diapers but they weren't for newborns, particularly premature babies. Leave them nappy free? Well, that wasn't really an option for me when they were so young. I just couldn't even fathom how that would work out.
We had no help, no family, no friends close by to ease the pressure for us a little. My newborns had severe colic and reflux, and without any other support, my husband and I were stretched beyond imagination, surviving on almost no sleep for the first few months. Our relationship was under a huge amount of strain, we were stressed, angry and I cried a lot. And, yes, I wanted to be do it right, be eco-conscious and green, but I was too tired to. I couldn't breastfeed because of medical complications and so that was that. Later I was diagnosed with PND which was compounded by the lack of sleep, long uninterrupted periods of crying by both babies, often through the night. I couldn't bring my eco-conscious principles into the mix. However, the guilt weighed heavily on my mind. Not sure if it helped. There were other medical complications with a 10 day stay in Intensive Care for both, and a diagnosis of severe milk protein allergies. There is no information from pre-natal or antenatal clinics about green parenting. I couldn't speak to our health care visitor about it as she just dismissed it, and told me that I was fretting over nothing.
As my resolutions of sticking to my 'how to be a green parent' list fell by the wayside, I was racked with guilt. Along with stress of managing a full-time academic job, a creative business, PND, lack of sleep and extreme exhaustion, this continue to weigh on my mind. I didn't have time to make my own cleaning products. I didn't buy second hand clothes or toys, because with premature babies whose immune system was already struggling, I felt that I had to buy new toys and clothes. And, again, there is no evidence that it affects either way, but I was anxious, and I believe many new parents are that, and overprotective of their babies. We couldn't do without a car. We needed one for daily trips to the hospital, to travel to work and to go shopping. Living in the countryside where the air was fresher and we were closer to nature was important to us as a family, but it meant needing cars to commute to work. Public transport just wasn't efficient, and we needed every spare minute that we could squeeze out of our day.
I felt that I had failed as a parent, and as an environmentally conscious citizen. I read all the blogs where parents recounted their success as a green parent. And the message that I got was 'if you care about the environment, you need to do these things'. And, it is really easy. Well it really isn't. I felt selfish and guilty and some more for not being able to do things as easily as they seemed. But, as time has gone by, and they are now two-years old, and still not out of the danger zone just yet, but getting healthier every day, there are things that I have been able to do. I'm raising them to be vegan. They are allergic to dairy and soya and eggs, and so the choice was really made for them. But they are not eating meat either. This, we feel as parents is the healthier option. And, yes, a better choice for the environment too. I make all their food fresh, we use eco-friendly wipes as a family and we use BPA free baby bottles, so some things are still working out. We try and use organic products as much as possible, but they are more expensive for sure, and sometimes that can be tricky. We still use food pouches at times, although only organic ones, mainly when we are out, and we are travelling because it is easy and convenient. I'd like to think that it doesn't make us bad parents.
Even as I write this, I feel like I am making excuses, and that is how some other parents have responded to me on forums. Guilt comes as part of the territory, but, I do not need yet another reason to feel guilty, ill-equipped and lacking as a parent. We are all stretched to our limits as parents, as it is ok to go for the easy route, take the short cut some of the time. We all need a break. And, as a parent, my first priority is my child, and their welfare and it comes first before anything else even if it means that I cannot be a super eco-warrier like I would like to be. Articles that sell green parenting to me because it will save me money make me cringe too. Firstly, this shouldn't be sold to anyone. It should be a choice that parents make because they know and believe that it is good for our planet. Secondly, no it is not a cheaper choice, because some of these choices are still more expensive in the shorter term such as buying organic produce, and some parents absolutely cannot afford to do that when budgeting with a family.
Right now, I feel like I'm a fairweather friend of the environment, but that is good enough for me right now. I am a friend at least, and that is a very good start. It is about good intention, and it is about being aware of the choices that you have, and the impact of our actions and lifestyle on our planet. And, it is about raising our children in a way that they are aware of this too, and can make really good choices as they grow older, because our best hope for this planet is really our next generation.