Welcome to Earth Month! This month, I’m going to be profiling a number of “green moms” who purposely live in a sustainable way.
For our second Green Mom profile, welcome Caryn Chmielewski. She lives in Springfield, Virginia and has a 15 month old daughter.
Why is it important to you to parent your kids in a “green” way?
I choose to parent “green” because I have serious concerns about the safety of most consumer products available in the U.S. today. While I don’t particularly want to go back in time, I do truly believe that many of the products we used to eat and live with (food, storage containers, cleaning products, etc.) used to be much safer and healthier prior to the 1980s (approx, I would have to do some research to support my gut feeling here). I could go on about this topic (i.e. American businesses being permitted by government to sacrifice quality and safety for convenience and bigger profits, etc.) but I will stop there. Ultimately, I want my daughter and any future children I might have to have the best possible health and part of that, in my opinion, means choosing to give her organic, natural, whole foods as much as possible and using safer/greener storage items (glass over plastic, for example).
What motivated you to care about environmental and social sustainability?
I have always tried to be environmentally friendly and supportive of social sustainability. I used to love this book when I was a child called something like “50 ways kids can help the planet”. I grew up bugging my parents about wasting water, electricity and not recycling things. I’m not really sure what specifically motivated me other than that I believed what I read when I was younger – that we are causing irreparable harm to our planet – and I wanted to do my part to not contribute to that damage as much as possible.
What are the biggest steps you’ve taken to be sustainable, especially as a parent?
The biggest step I’ve taken is to focus on buying as many organic or whole foods as possible for my daughter. I am a stay-at-home mom and we have a very limited budget. I made the choice to sacrifice certain “luxuries” so that I could spend a larger part of our budget on organic foods. I also try to use glass over plastic as much as possible, even though it is extremely expensive. I used glass bottles, which were $22 a pop, for my daughter, who wouldn’t nurse. I was also using glass sippy cups until she decided she preferred the 360 style, which unfortunately is not available in glass. I also try to buy non-plastic toys for my daughter as much as possible. I like to buy used over new. It costs less and I feel that buying used, if more people would do it, would help reduce the demand for new products. New products, of course, contribute to environmental damage (at least in most cases). I buy almost all-organic or all-natural cleaning supplies and am trying to become better about making my own solutions with whole ingredients like vinegar, essential oils, etc.
Has there ever been a time when you felt like being sustainable conflicted with something that was best for your child?
I can’t think of a time when being sustainable conflicted with something that would be best for my child. Honestly, being sustainable is usually best for my child. I can think of many times when I haven’t gone green because of convenience, time, or outright laziness. For example, I bought baby food purees after trying once to make my own. It was a huge mess and time-consuming. My daughter didn’t like peas – the first and only thing I ever tried to make – so I ended up with 20 cubes of pureed peas that no one wanted! I do buy what I believe to be the best brands, after careful research. But I will admit my focus is on the preparation and types of purees (i.e. those that are organic, don’t use additives, don’t use apples as first ingredient, etc.) rather than focusing on the companies and their sustainability practices.
What’s something you want to do to be sustainable, but haven’t been able to yet?
I would LOVE to either buy a home or renovate a home to be solar or wind powered so that we could eliminate or significantly reduce our dependence on gas and electricity. I am hopeful that within the next ten years we can make at least some modest enhancements, such as installing solar panels, a water filtration system, etc. to our home. I would also like to buy a hybrid vehicle. I am hopeful that the next car we buy (which will be used) will be a hybrid.
What’s the hardest part of trying to raise kids in a sustainable way?
The hardest part is the cost. It is not cheap to buy products that last and it is not cheap to buy organic or whole foods, or foods grown in a sustainable manner. The second hardest part is how sneaky corporations can be about advertising themselves as healthy and/or safe when in fact they really are not. It is exhausting. I spend a lot of time reading nutrition labels and researching items before purchasing them. Frankly, that time can be draining, especially if I’m at the grocery store with my toddler. It is very frustrating to think I’m making a smart purchase to then find out later that I should have been looking out for X and instead was focused on Y.
What’s the most rewarding part?
The most rewarding part is believing that I am doing my absolute best to give my daughter healthy and nutritious real food, at least most of the time! I am also hopeful that by focusing on reducing the chemicals in our home and lives, she will be healthier.