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Becoming a parent comes with all kinds of anxieties you’ve likely never considered before.
How do I sleep more than three hours a night? Is that just a cough or bronchitis? How does one actually change a reusable diaper? How do I stop playing baby-shark in my head?
Parenting is stressful. Period. But with your pre-existing planet-induced anxieties on top? It can be a recipe for a cortisol fest.
So how can you stay sane while balancing your low waste living aspirations with responsible parenting?
Start by accepting the fact that sustainable living + kids = HARD.
Sustainable living is challenging in its own right, but trying to do so with a baby or child is way harder.
Practically speaking, kids are the antithesis of zero waste ideals. Any eco-gains that you worked so hard to achieve in your former life are far more difficult to maintain now. Single-use products and plastic creep back in despite your best efforts.
The eco guilt piles on.
On a metaphysical level, having kids amplifies all the social and environmental issues you were already aware of. You’re worried about another human being now, after all.
Suddenly, the impending climate crisis is no longer simply framed around what the world will look like for you in fifty years, but what future it will provide for your children. What opportunity will there be with the rise of automation and the simultaneous decline of the natural world?
Bearing these anxieties on top of the standard stresses of daily life, like what to feed them for dinner and have they done their homework, is no small task, so be kind to yourself and acknowledge that what you’re doing is hard.
Counteract your fears with something positive.
On the flip side, bringing up a tiny human at this crucial juncture in human history presents you with a uniquely empowering opportunity.
The future needs good eco-conscious humans and you can make sure it gets at least one by educating yours so they can help steer us away from the dystopian future you fear.
Actions speak loudest.
Your kids can learn firsthand from the person they admire most: you.
Next time you find yourself cursing your decision to use eco-friendly reusable diapers on laundry day, or committing to composting everything you can, pat yourself on the back because you’re laying the best foundation.
Something that will have far more impact than a lecture on say, greenwashing for example.
Don’t forget to manage your kids’ mental health, too.
Let’s be frank: the world can look a little dark these days and kids are, to an extent, aware of our concerns.
In fact, they’re far more perceptive than we often give them credit for.
And with all the world ending talk and speculation, kids are sure to internalize it, especially as they grow older, so how do you help them build their own resilience?
A good place to start is by monitoring their digital diet and what they consume.
When they’re at home, limit exposure. Ensure your TV isn’t droning on in the background, replaying the 24-hour tragic news cycle. If it is on, limit the watch time and content to the educational subject matter. Like one of the many environmental films on the natural world or a zero-waste documentary to open their formative minds to what a conscious lifestyle is.
Only infotainment, as we like to call it.
But always encourage play outside instead. Or go for a walk before or after dinner, and reserve time to enjoy this space together. The natural respite will also have a positive effect on your own mental health.
Granted, you can’t monitor what your kid sees every second of the day. Kids are going to get less than ideal exposure at school and other places which are out of your control.
But what you can do is take steps to educate and empower them.
Start instilling a love of nature and a sense of planetary responsibility and stewardship by engaging in activities centered around sustainability for kids.
Above all, be open and encourage them to discuss their fears and questions with you. Listen to them and validate what they’re feeling. Tell them it’s ok.
You may not have all the answers, but you can use it as an opportunity to brainstorm ways in which together you can help change things for the better.
Take care of yourself
Remember the airplane safety brief (for those who’ve ever actually listened to it): put on your oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs?
That’s because you need to care for yourself in order to properly care for others. And the same applies to parenting.
Yes, you live for your kids, but if you don’t adequately care for yourself then you won’t be able to provide the best care for them either.
Set aside time alone or time with your partner. Get outside, hug a tree, and get active.
For parents that are short on time (basically all of us), try meditation or at-home yoga, or just light an eco-friendly candle and curl up with a good sustainability book after putting the kids to bed.
Journaling has been shown to alleviate anxiety, reduce blood pressure, and even improve immune system functioning.
You can even treat yourself to the Relax and Unwind Gift Box, containing several of these eco-anxiety solutions.
Find what works for you, as long as you’re really doing it for you.
When the need arises (we’ve all been there) don’t be afraid to ask for support.
If stress is becoming too hard to manage on your own, ask for help from friends, family, a doctor, or a therapist. It’s far braver to admit you need a hand than brushing aside anxiety (whether induced by environmental doom and gloom or life in general) and allowing it to fester.
Final Thoughts on Sustainable Self Care for Parents
Above all else, acknowledge and accept that there is no perfect, in parenting and sustainable living (and especially when trying to achieve both).
There is also no one-size-fits-all guide either. Let alone the best FYI on how to manage parental eco-anxiety.
So tell that little voice in your head that’s piling on unhelpful expectations to shove an eco-friendly sock in it.
You know what’s best, for both yourself and your family. And you are no doubt doing your best with the time and energy that you have at your disposal.
Look after yourself, trust yourself and remember to breathe.
Want to learn more ways to incorporate sustainability into your life? Check out our other Eco-Lifestyle articles at EarthHero.