Being Eco-Conscious ≠ Irrational Parenting. ~ Kelly Drennan

Via on Mar 10, 2010

torontolife2

One mother’s response to Toronto Life’s article, “Totally Freaked Out.”

As an eco-conscious mother of two, and a relatively-well known advocate of sustainable living, I found myself angered and saddened by the article “Totally Freaked Out,” published recently in Toronto Life Magazine. I am personally and professionally offended…and simply cannot keep quiet about it.

Being a parent is the greatest responsibility in life. We have to protect our children and keep them safe and healthy. If they can’t trust us to do this, then who do they have?

Like many of you reading this, I do what I can to live a socially- and environmentally-conscious lifestyle. My efforts became more dedicated, however, after having my two daughters. Naturally, as my awareness grew, I became more conscious of what I put in and on their bodies; what cleaning products I was using on floors and windows, the detergent I used to wash their clothes and so on. I also became concerned for their future, and for the future of our planet. Just thinking about what their world will look like was enough to motivate me to make a greater change in my behavior.

We are thankfully not one of the many families affected by environmental sensitivities or allergies, which is often the entry point for those who adopt a lifestyle of health and sustainability. But for a magazine of this stature to poke fun at or make these issues seem unimportant is baffling.

Access to Research

This article negatively states that “ensuring your child’s well-being now means researching everything yourself.” Well, since we have the ability to research any topic with the click of a mouse, isn’t this more a comment on the advancement of technology, and not so much an issue of parents freaking out?

It’s not a big deal for me to look something up online. I know it can mean weeding through what is clearly not credible information, but the combination of what I read and my gut instinct helps me make informed decisions, particularly as they relate to the health and well-being of my children. This is not a burden in any way.

Alternative Education

As one of the founding parents of Toronto’s new Whole Child Alternative School, I was disturbed at the context within which it was highlighted in this article. The author chose the parent’s dissatisfaction with the host school’s snack program (i.e. yogurt tubes), to drive home her point that “even here, parents are pushing for more”.

At WCAS, we are a group of regular families who just happen to want the same things for our children – to be able to learn in a holistic environment. Sure another common denominator might be that we are an eco-minded group, who happen to care about what our children eat, but is it wrong to prefer broccoli and chic peas over processed sugar and dairy packaged in non-recyclable plastic? And so when we were told that yogurt tubes were part of the snack program, it seemed natural for us to speak up and push for something healthier. I think regardless of what kind of school your child attends, parents would have similar issues with yogurt tubes. Thus, this attitude is not exclusive to an alternative, “hippie inspired” school of eco-extremists.

Extreme Measures & Invisible Threats

Something else that struck a nerve with me in this article is how the author suggests that we are “embracing extreme measures to protect our kids from invisible threats”.

Consider her choice of the word “extreme.” Personally, I don’t find anything extreme about asking a child to forgo birthday gifts…or, more likely, to want them be made from natural materials in socially-responsible conditions…let alone wanting to replace the BPA leaching sippy cups at my child’s daycare with safe, non-toxic ones. I also don’t think it’s extreme to shop local and organic, or to voice concerns about a school snack program that serves yogurt tubes.  Nor do I think that the waste produced from 500 kids eating yogurt tubes is an “invisible” threat. That paints a pretty clear picture for me!

To further illustrate her point, the author accuses the pushers of “pure parenting” of “going to great lengths” to limit exposure to known carcinogens, and that they/we are hyper-vigilant in their/our approach. For my family, and for most of my friends, sustainable and responsible parenting has been a smooth and natural extension of the way we already live our lives. I’m not all anxious and exhausted over it as one would assume reading this article. Most of us “freaked out” parents have made the transition seamlessly, without having to give it much thought. And if we weren’t already living LOHAS before we had kids, thankfully, we are now. As I mentioned earlier, having children has taken my understanding of social and environmental impacts to a new level, but I don’t feel resentment. I am actually grateful. To have knowledge is to be empowered.

Obsessing over Chemicals

The article also makes accusations of parents “obsessing” over pesticide and phthalate exposure; and then later alleges, “Reason does not always prevail”.  I am still trying to understand that latter statement – exposing your children to known cancer-causing substances is more reasonable? Let’s check in with the experts on how unreasonable and obsessive we are being:

-”Why Children May be Especially Sensitive to Pesticides” (click here)

-”How You Are Exposed to Toxic Chemicals” (click here)

-”Cancer Risk Around You: Phthalates” (click here)

-”Chemical Exposures: Prostate Cancer and Early BPA Exposure” (click here)

Taking Over the City

The author believes that us extremists are “determined to convert the city to their cause.” I think one of the most wonderful things about being a mom in Toronto is how easy it is for me to feel connected to other moms, through my community and my own personal network. As parents, we know the value in sharing information, whether it’s the most comfortable way to tie a sling, the best drop-in centers to hang out at, or tips on how to discipline your temper-tantrum throwing preschooler. So doesn’t it make sense then that when parents learn about the effects of exposure to harmful toxins found in common every day children’s products, that we share that information with other parents? Are we suddenly selfish and only care about the health and well-being of our own kids? Or do we also care about our friends, colleagues and neighbors children as well? I’m pretty sure the answer is yes. And so how else can you raise awareness if you don’t have a voice? And once you find that voice, you need to rally together as much support as possible. Why? Because it matters dammit, that’s why.

Keeping up with the Eco-Jones’

The article goes on to say that the “peer pressure to conform to new parenting rules can be intense.” Peer pressure to keep your kids safe and healthy? Peer pressure to be mindful of how your everyday activities and purchases impact the environment? Maybe resistance to change comes from the fear that parents can no longer get away with being lazy. It really is a sad statement on society to think of how addicted so many people are to the culture of convenience. If it takes a few more minutes to do what is right, why bother? Let the next person be the sucker who saves the planet, and in the end you win because you have more time to drive your car and watch TV.

I am confident that my girls are not exposed to anything toxic in our home. They are content to play with their awesome wooden tree house and castle, and their hand made organic wool, lavender stuffed dolls. But when my daughters play with other children whose parents buy them toys made from unsafe plastics or other toxic substances, or who feed their kids processed and over packaged snacks, then it affects me. I don’t exactly sport a police hat and exclude families from playgroups and birthday parties because they have made different choices than me. But if by sharing my knowledge and beliefs, it means that other parents feel pressure to follow suit, then so be it. They will benefit, and most importantly so will their kids.

It’s Easy to be Green!

What the author fails to miss is that making conscious choices about how we shop – what we feed our children, what they wear, play with – is actually pretty easy, with many options now available both online and at most of the places we already shop. The good media are usually keen to help spread awareness to this end, promoting the rising number of businesses who are offering eco friendly and non-toxic alternatives. This article however does the exact opposite. It acts as a deterrent for the families who may already be feeling discouraged to change their shopping behavior. It reinforces any doubts they may have had.  The author has clearly chosen to put her personal beliefs ahead of the safety of children, as it relates to toxic chemicals.

What I would have liked to see, what might have actually made this article more bearable, is an interview with a family who can speak to the fact that living an eco-conscious lifestyle was the worst thing they ever did. Find me a family that believed in it, worked hard at it, but found it was just too time consuming, exhausting and anxiety ridden to be worth their while.

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28 Responses to “Being Eco-Conscious ≠ Irrational Parenting. ~ Kelly Drennan”

  1. Amanda says:

    Thank you, Kelly, for expressing my shared thoughts so eloquently.
    I was actually so disgusted by the Toronto Life article that I couldn't bear to read the entire thing…by the sound of your response, it just kept getting worse.

    How disturbing is it that people actually believe making informed choices about the well-being of our children and planet is a waste of time?!? Possibly even more so that their mindless diatribe was given such a huge amount of space in a published format…

  2. Lisa Borden says:

    Great work Kelly…I share the exact same feelings on every point you brought up.

    I was SHOCKED that Toronto Life would publish such a poorly written and irresponsible piece that would mock responsible parenting – especially in Toronto where so many of their readers are intelligent and eco-minded mothers.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this and making it easy for all of us to simply add our comments to have our voices heard.

  3. Boomer Mom says:

    Actually Kelly, being a parent may be the most important responsibility in YOUR life, but you have no right to say it is "the greatest responsibility in life" in general. For many people there are other responsibilities that are equally or more important.
    I am all for good parenting and for doing what you do well, whatever it is. I support you in being green, organic and informed because I think that it's good for all of us.
    I am really sick to death of modern helicopter parents though. It's boring, it's over bearing, and frankly, it's bad for children. Children should not be the center of their family/communal universe. It creates emotionally and spiritually spoiled children and emotionally and spiritually deprived adults and failing marriages and societies and communities held hostage to people who are not developed enough to consider all sides of an issue.
    I celebrate you parenting to the best of your ability, but if you are really angry about this funny, open minded, clearly written article then you need to take a serious look at your life and work to create some balance.
    A healthy child is one who can put dirt in his mouth, eat a sugary cookie with her dirty hands and play independently for hours on end without constant monitoring. Children have grown strong and productive in this manner for ages. Chill out sister…

  4. Rad response Kelly. I am with you all the way. Its so important to be aware of the impact our choices have. Thanks for your well written response to this article.

    Jen from Salts

  5. Mary Lynn Trotter says:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to one "slant" on the issue.

    What is of more interest to me is why Toronto Life is presenting views from the right side of the political spectrum…

    any thoughts anybody?

  6. Janel says:

    Reading your response put my mind at ease. Thank you for saying what (I hope) many of us were thinking!
    This retort is the kind of work I would expect to read in Toronto Life Magazine. "Totally Freaked Out" was useless to me…
    I am also a little confused that an article with such a negative spin on the green movement would have made the cut.
    -Janel

  7. When my husband and I first had our son (almost five months ago) and I was agonizing over which sleep plan to follow and should we feel guilty for the occasional co-sleep, a friend who is a prenatal educator gave me a fantastic piece of advice that I recall at least once daily. "Do what works for you, and judge no-one else."

    If only the writer of that article would adopt the same philosophy.

    People have to do what works for them given their values and beliefs, income, time and many other factors. The people cited in this article are simply trying to make their children healthy and safe, I think it's terrible to judge them on their efforts.

  8. Lisa Robertson says:

    A proud parent of Whole Child School says thank you to Kelly for taking the time to dissect this ridiculous trendy anti green article. I strive, as many parents do, to make sure that what enters my child's environment is chemical free. If i didn't care or think about it, I would consider myself a lazy ASS. Who can turn their head in this day and age to the potential impacts these chemicals have on the mental and physical health of our families and friends? The science is there for those who are willing to read it.
    Lisa

  9. Thanks for your thoughts Kelly. Being a mindful parent is just about the best thing you can do for your kids – not to mention the environment.

  10. Nathan Smith smithnd says:

    "though be careful of your websources, Kelly!! Yikes"

    What are you talking about? Ye who comments on blog posts and derides the "hours and hours" people who write said posts must have on their hands. I guess the epa, the environmental defense fund, and peer reviewed journals are pretty poor places to get our information about environmental toxins.

    Nevermind. I guess your uninformed views are "just as valid" as those represented by mainstream scientific research.

  11. thanks Smithnd!! P

    Perhaps Practical Green can share with all of us her more reliable sources? Environmental Defence is one of Canada's leading national charitable organizations that has been around for 25+ years. It is because of their research that BPA is now banned in Canada!! The Canadian Cancer Society, I think, is also a pretty trusted resource the last time I checked. And the EPA, well its the EPA!!

  12. Practical Green says:

    You missed the point, smithnd. That was an aside. It was in reference to Kelly writing, "It’s not a big deal for me to look something up online. I know it can mean weeding through what is clearly not credible information, but the combination of what I read and my gut instinct helps me make informed decisions…." This is not scientific research, my friend.

  13. When I wrote "I know it can mean weeding through what is clearly not credible information", by "credible information" I was referring to that which is backed by proven scientific research, from reputable organizations, charities and institutions.

    A google search can turn up quite a bit of information, much of it misleading, since anyone who knows how to use a computer can put it out there. Just because you read it on the internet doesn't mean it is credible, unless backed by a trusted source. A good majority of what we read, particularly in the parenting blog world, is based on opinion and not fact, and is written by people like you and I. This might be useful to parents who rely on the experience of others, but this is where I think instincts need to kick in. To that end, I don't pretend to be an expert in sustainable and natural parenting. I am simply sharing my opinion and experience, which when read, I hope will be useful to some.

  14. Jack says:

    Hey. Thanks for this post. I cruise alot of blogs just to see what I can find. I liked this write up you did and was just wondering if you have a subscriber page so I can link to it so I can read it at a later date? I did not see one – am I just overlooking it?

    Jack

  15. [...] Being Eco-Conscious ? Irrational Parenting. ~ Kelly Drennan | elephant journal [...]

  16. Practical Green says:

    Kelly – If you truly do not proport to be an expert, then why are you submitting a full article in response to Siri's about parenting (as opposed to a comment directly to her article like all the other parents)? Why have you steered your 6800 twitter followers several times to your article in the last few days? Further, when you open your article by saying that you are "professionally offended" and refer to yourself as a "relatively well-known advocate of sustainable living" you ARE putting yourself and your opinion in the expert category of which you write. I think that everybody should raise their children the way they think fit and you are clearly a concerned parent for your kids – good on you for that. My point above is that you launched a full, public attack against somebody else's point of view on this topic (and Toronto Life for publishing it) from a professional standpoint. Combine these with the fact that you use many emotionally charged words and phrases in your writing puts you in the extreme category. It is unfortunate because sustainable issues matter but moving them forward productively cannot be accomplished this way. This will be my last word on it. Good luck, Kelly.

    • Hunh. I think Kelly's clearly replying as a citizen, and a parent, and a well-informed one—but she makes no claims to be an expert. Rallying her followers on twitter is akin to a parent gathering community members and fellow parents to discuss an important situation, which this is. Totally appropriate—kudos to her, in fact.

  17. anna says:

    Thanks for speaking out for all of us 'eco-minded ' parents :)

  18. Amen. Still, I don't think this is about "judgment is not valid." If a parent were abusing a child, we as a community would quickly judge that this were inappropriate, and take steps to change the situation. Judgment can be valid and important—it's called prajna in the Buddhist tradition.

    I think the problem with the article that Kelly writes about is that it's "light," as one of its defenders, above, puts it. It's flip, callous, shallow, funny in an unfunny manner…the thesis was pre-judged.

  19. Hans | Ukoonto says:

    Great response Kelly. I’m somewhat sick with how how the media deals with this topic. I’ve somewhat pulled back from them and I do what I think is right and how I think my kid (soon to be two kids by the end of the day maybe even :-) ) should be raised. I definitely was raised a free range kid and I’m doing it with mine as well. I try to keep on sourcing things out that I know are bad to have in our household, but I don’t try to freak out about being as green as possible anymore. I try to see the bigger picture now and how we can change the big picture and the grant outcome of our behavior on the environment.

    I appreciate that you pick up where the silly media just drops the bombs.

    Cheers, Hans

  20. Ariana says:

    Thanks for all your community work in this area. The Toronto Life article was not good reporting (I would have preferred some commentary from experts on the pros and cons of raising your child this way, like child psychologists, environmental toxicologists, etc.) However, it did resonate with me and other friends who make efforts to be eco-conscious but are not so extreme.
    In the quest for eco-perfection for your children, something gets lost. Lack of manners. Respect for people from different backgrounds, income levels or with different priorities. A sense of humility.
    I have encountered this extreme type and find them incredibly single-minded and smug.
    Your true attitude comes out when you say you are “affected” when your children play with families with plastic toys and packaged foods. How exactly are you “affected”? I remember freaking out the first time my mother-in-law gave my two-year-old a frozen dairy product/”ice cream cone.” After a while I realized that it was only going to happen once a year and she, a victim of the second world war, got great pleasure from the experience. Guess what is more important to me?
    So when my children eat Pop Tarts as snacks at friends’ homes, I teach them to say thank you, even though I would never ever buy Pop Tarts as I make home-made granola bars. When grandparents show up with plastic toys as presents, I do not refuse them or give them away until the kids have tired of them. Having positive relationships and lack of anxiety in life prevent disease too, in case you didn’t know.
    Finally, you don’t seem to realize that your world is for the privileged upper-middle class educated people who can afford to buy organic milk, hand-made dolls etc and who live in neighbourhoods where such things are sold. You need a reality check if you think otherwise. I do not belong to that world; so many I know make their own healthy food and send their extra money to home countries to help support and educate family members and end up buying plastic toys for their kids because they are cheaper.
    You may turn your noses down at the rest of us; think yourself better because you have created a sanctuary for your own children, but from where I sit your kids are not learning respect nor appreciation of these other values when you oh-so-politely point out our eco-deficiencies to us at mothers’ groups.
    That’s what the Toronto Life article was pointing out and that’s why I found it so amusing.

  21. Hi,

    I am the director of the film "The Idiot Cycle" (http://www.theidiotcycle.com) and a Canadian journalist who reviewed my film for The New Internationalist asked me to respond to an article in Toronto Life "Totally Freaking Out."

    I wanted to share my repsonse to Agrell's article (which I thought was poorly researched) with you:

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=34957370

    Thank you for making these issues important and will journalists please do a little more research! It's embarssing.

    Thank you,
    Emmannuelle Schick

    • Thank you Emmanuelle for your comments, and for pointing out your response to this article. I had so many issues with the article, including the topic of vaccinations and one of the subjects – my dear friend, Lulu Cohen Farnell – founder of Real Food for Real Kids. Because of time constraints (contrary to some comments above that suggest I have nothing better to do all day than to respond to articles I disagree with) I chose to not delve into this side of the article. And so I thank you for doing so! Together, our responses are complementary, providing a well-rounded overview of this poorly researched piece of journalism.

      Thanks for sharing!
      Kelly

  22. Bob Pinter says:

    Wow, everything I suspected about Whole Child has just been confirmed! Glad I dodged that bullet.

  23. I appreciate the non-aggressive tenor of this comment, Kelly—it speaks well for you, and further reflects the unfairness of the article's thesis: that "eco-responsible" parents are the crazy ones. Perhaps it's the "normal" world that's nuts, hey?

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