The Reality and Fantasy of Green Living with Kids


The Reality and Fantasy of Green Living (Photographs: - set of three - Upper left-hand corner, very neat arrangement of produce; upper right - photo of the overgrown garden, Giant cargo bike holding two children and also not interested in learning.

Skimming through Pinterest, I’m slightly overwhelmed looking at all of these lovely photographs. Let’s be realistic. I’m a lot overwhelmed.

I squint looking at homesteading blogs, wondering how these women grow all of their own food and make time for their kids. I sigh looking at the “green living” posts with their homemade cleaners. Does it count as green if I just don’t clean at all?

Maybe you feel the same way looking at me. You may think, “How does she find time for all of this stuff?” The answer is that I don’t. Not really.

Personally, here’s how my reality doesn’t come even close to matching my fantasy:

Gardening and Food

Fantasy: A beautifully kept, tastefully “wild” backyard-sized garden based on ecological principals that produces loads of fresh fruits and veggies for my kkids daughter.
Reality: A 11 x 6 foot garden surrounded by a wire and wooden fence that’s perpetually on the edge of falling down. Weeds creep up the sides at the beginning of the season and have covered every open surface by the end. The local deer got bold last year and chomped the ends off my precious tomatoes. Not a single blueberry actually fruited last year. Despite all that, we manage to harvest enough vegetables for several meals every year, often with a few extra to give to the local food bank.

Fantasy: Eating vegetarian – often vegan – meals cooked from scratch with abundant vegetables from our garden, supplemented with local ingredients from our community supported agriculture box.
Reality: I can’t complain too much about this one, considering that I’m not the one who cooks. And that the person who does – my husband, Chris – was a professional cook before we had kids. But even with those credentials, cooking complex meals with a medley of vegetables is near impossible while you’re also taking care of a toddler and preschooler. On the plant-based front, it doesn’t help that Chris’s favorite meal is meatloaf and he was trained to cook French food.


Fantasy: Hauling my kids all over town in my glorious, Dutch-style cargo bike.
Reality: Hauling them to occasional errands in my sometimes ant-infested trailer. This was going pretty well until my younger son decided last year that he couldn’t spend a single extra minute in on a trip to the grocery store. He screamed like a banshee on the return trip. Maybe this summer he’ll like it better? Or maybe I’ll get a book deal and finally buy my cargo bike.

The House

Fantasy: Running our entire house off of renewable energy we produce ourselves.
Reality: Admittedly, this one isn’t so far off. We have solar panels that produce about a third of our electricity. Small roof + big trees = not that much capacity. Props to SolarCity for installing them anyway! We buy the rest as wind power from a local utility.

Fantasy: Having a hyper-efficient, zero net-energy house.
Reality: Hahahahaha. In fact, our utility shames us each month by telling us how much more electricity our house uses than an “efficient” house. We have an efficient washer and dryer, but could use a new fridge and a major tune-up on the air conditioner. Extra insulation would help too. But instead of pursuing that, I just scowl as I walk around the house turning off lights.

Fantasy: A minimal play-room stocked only with durable, classic ethically-made toys.
Reality: One word: grandparents. Okay, three words: grandparents and me. While all of us have stayed close to our values, there’s still so many stinking toys. This Christmas, we all focused more on giving experiences than toys, which helped substantially.


Fantasy: Being an engaged citizen who reads the news religiously, calls my representatives about environmental issues every day, and shows up for every hearing and protest.
Reality: Most of my reading is mom blogs; I get a lot of my news from what Chris tells me second-hand. (This is particularly embarrassing because I once aspired to be a journalist.) I call my representatives when I remember to and slog through the backlog of activist emails while we drive to church. As for protests, I’ve been to more in the past year than I had been in all of the years since I had kids combined, but far fewer than I’d like to. There are just so many. Because I’m very protective of my family time, I need to feel like it’s truly worth my while to show up.

While the “real” version of me so rarely matches the version in my head, what I do – and what you do – is still worthwhile. Our ambitions often outstrip our capacity, but that doesn’t mean that our accomplishments don’t matter. It just means that we need to give ourselves a little more credit. If we focus on what we don’t do, we’ll get overwhelmed. Instead of focusing on what we can’t or don’t do, try listing off all of the things we do, from growing food to bringing reusable bags to the grocery store. Only then can we consider how to expand that scope.

If we want to change the world, we’ve got to do it one small change at a time, even if that’s nowhere near the ideals we make on our heads or our Pinterest boards.

For more on green living, check out How to Help the Environment While Making the Most of Your Time.  If you want to get in-depth descriptions of five days worth of kindness-building activities, be sure to subscribe to our Family Kindness Challenge

One thought on “The Reality and Fantasy of Green Living with Kids

  1. In fact, our utility shames us each month by telling us how much more electricity our house uses than an “efficient” house.

    I’m pretty sure that BGE cooks their definition of “efficient neighbors” in order to make it always come out that you’re using more than them. From talking to my neighbors, all of us are using more than the neighborhood average.

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