The greener parent

READER essay

My husband and I are environmentalists the way some people are artists or Christians or Democrats. It defines how we live—how we shop, who we hang out with, what we read, and, of course, it defines how we parent. But sometimes balancing our identities as environmentalists with the realities of life as parents can seem like a challenge.

Parenting moves fast. I don’t have long hours to spend researching healthy food choices or the best mattress options for a baby, the way I did when I was pregnant. Yet, my desire for knowledge has only increased. Could my daughter’s plastic bottle really kill her? Have any of those great garage sale finds been recently recalled for lead hazards?

Doing the"right” thing shouldn’t be harder, but sometimes it is. Especially if it isn’t what your friend or neighbor is doing. Environmentalists can be like nagging moms, wagging their fingers at others and saying,"No, No, No.” But I’ve realized that neither motherhood nor environmentalism have to be about guilt. As an environmentalist, I have made a concerted effort to not be that person.

As a mother, I have taken a similar stance on being green: it doesn’t have to be about what we can’t do, but rather about what we can do. It’s a sort of"We can have it all” approach to environmentalism.

And, in most cases, it really does work. Often it turns out that what saves money also saves resources (cloth diapering) and what is better for the environment can also make parenting easier, if you have the right mindset (public transportation).

Yes, a parent does need a little extra passion in order to get up in the morning after way too little sleep and put on the cloth diaper, make the organic oatmeal and try to rethink how to clean the spit-up off the floor without using another roll of old-growth trees.

To be a green parent is to be constantly aware of the trade-offs that are involved in living: time versus money, landfill space versus needing to get the coffee to-go so that the baby doesn’t throw a tantrum in the coffee shop, cloth diapering versus"God I hate changing diapers.”

Being green doesn’t mean that you have to choose"right” on everything, just like being a good parent doesn’t mean you won’t ever accidentally yell at your child to"Please shut up!” But just as we have to learn to apologize and to stay open to the horrible fragility of parenthood, being a green parent means learning how to keep trying until it becomes not only possible, but even fun, to parent in a way that is better for the health of your child and the planet.

Top 10 ways to a greener family

Healthier choices for the things that go into baby’s mouth. We eat organic, locally grown meat, dairy and produce. We use sippy cups and bottles that don’t contain Bisphenol-A, pthalates or PVC.

Green up my diaper routine. We did baby potty training with cloth diapers at home and flushable, biodegradable, gDiapers when out.

Better baby clothes. We make use of hand-me-downs and look for labels that are environmentally friendly and tested for harmful substances.

Healthier baby care products. Most of the items for baby’s skin are not tested for safety and some (like baby wipes) contain chemicals that damage the reproductive system or are toxins. We use soap and water and avoid anything anti-bacterial.

Avoid toxic toys. We limit plastic toys, toys made in China and those with PVC. 

Create meaningful celebrations not based on consumption. For my daughter’s first birthday we threw a volunteer party.

Sustainable transportation alternatives. We limit car use, belong to a car-sharing organization (, use the bus and train, ride bikes or walk. 

Safer indoor spaces. We got a hand-me-down crib, but bought a new organic mattress. We use cleaning products that are safer, avoiding chlorine bleach, phosphates and everything labeled"Danger, Poison.”

Reduce our household carbon emissions. We use compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs); wash our clothes, including diapers, in cold water; unplug TVs, iPods and baby monitors to reduce phantom loads; use a push mower; and buy carbon credits to off-set our carbon load (

Create community that supports a more conscientious approach to parenting. I host a playgroup and joined with neighbors to form an online community for parents (

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