Parenting and Sustainability

There is nothing like the birth on one’s first child to command one’s attention—as in my first child, (David Joshua), a couple of weeks ago. The demands of being a parent can be rather overwhelming; sustainability has somehow become slightly less important than 2 am diaper changes. Hopefully I can incorporate my values of sustainability into my parenting. This is both a short term and long term issue (as is parenting, for that matter).

The most obvious environmental issue for new parents is diapers—specifically cloth or disposables. However, since I firmly believe that there is more to parenting than diapers, I will for now not discuss cloth vs disposable diapers (I will in a future post). Babies have other needs beyond being diapered—like clothes, food, and myriad other “stuff”. If I did not know this before my wife got pregnant, I certainly discovered it when filling out the registry at the baby store.

This was not a happy experience for me. I wanted to be as sustainable as possible, but we needed so much stuff. I was now part of the demand for more baby “stuff”. I had one general success in that I did manage to find some sheets, mattress pad, nursing pads, etc. made from organic cotton vs regular cotton. I figured that by buying organic cotton when possible I was doing less damage to the environment. I highly recommend Confessions of an Eco-Sinner, by Fred Pearce. Pearce examines the sources of many items of Western consumerism, including cotton clothes (and other items), Suffice it to say that conventional cotton production has devastated many areas where the cotton is produced. Also, we have found the organic cotton to be softer—it must be the lack of hard chemicals in the production.

For other purchases, sustainability was not the operative factor. For example, we found a double sided mattress that had a harder infant side and softer toddler side. The mattress with the organic cotton could not compete. And being able to lift the mattress in the middle of the night to change a sheet was a key consideration. So this is one of those times when sustainability was nudged out as a basis for purchase of a particular product. This also applied to the stroller—the operative criteria were light weight and ease of collapsing. I do not know what specific materials are in it, but I know that it is really easy to work with.

Another critical question new parents face is whether to breastfeed or to use formula. Breastfeeding is clearly better for everyone involved—if it works. While both Mommy and Baby are set up for breastfeeding, success is by no means guaranteed. We are very lucky; for us breastfeeding is working, and we can avoid the chemicals and expense of formula. But feeding the baby is by far the paramount concern; if breastfeeding did not work, we would have gone to formula with no questions asked. (After breastfeeding, we will continue to buy as much organic and/or relatively locally sourced food as possible).

The above is only a very small part of the stuff needed to raise a baby, toddler, and child. From a sustainability perspective, parental demand for stuff increases as the baby becomes a toddler, then a child, then a teenager, and then a young adult. Parents with siblings or friends who have had children have an advantage when it comes to sustainability. This is because these siblings or friends give them the clothes, toys, etc that their own kids have outgrown. So they do not need to buy a new item, thereby demanding less stuff. Another alternative is consignment shops and buying used, but this may not always be feasible.

We were told that parenting will completely change our lives. On one level, it has; but on many others, it has not. We still have the same values this month as we had last month before David was born. I still want to incorporate sustainability into my life as much as possible. How much I can do so while being a parent at the same time is an open question.

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