Green Is Not a Parenting Style

I read a lot. Mainly fiction, but also autobiographies, anthropological studies, and books on sustainable living. And, since Tom was born, about parenting.

I tend to be drawn towards books and magazines that focus on being a ‘green’ parent. I subscribe to the Green Parenting Magazine, and I have recently been given two different books with ‘green parenting’ in the title (The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting by Zion Lights and The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting by Kate Blincoe). I read blogs by parents aiming for a more sustainable life.

Mostly, these books, magazine articles and blogs are good. Sometimes useful, sometimes funny, sometimes informative. But there is a worrying underlying assumption in many of them and it has been annoying me more and more as time goes on.

The assumption is this: that being a green parent means being an attachment parent.

It’s all over the place. Especially in the Green Parent magazine. This assumption that anyone who wants to take care of the environment must also want to breastfeed, co-sleep, and baby-wear. That you can’t want to live sustainably and also use time-outs. Even the Zion Lights book, which is not very long, dedicates the entire beginning chapter to telling people that they should take the attachment route. And never, ever, ever think of doing any kind of sleep training. (The Kate Blincoe book, incidentally, has a brief mention of baby-wearing but otherwise is refreshingly free of judgement on parenting style. Read it. It’s very good).

Now, if you’ve read my parenting posts before you will know I do some of these things with Tom. I own more slings than I should and aim for empathetic, gentle discipline over time-outs or scolding (not always successfully). But that is to do with how I feel most comfortable parenting and what works best for my family. It has nothing to do with wanting to be green. Being a green parent should be about trying to reduce your impact on the environment and teaching your kids to do the same. Recycling? Buying second hand clothes? Using cloth nappies? These are things I do which make me closer to being a green parent. Owning four slings? That doesn’t make me green, especially considering I also own a buggy. And I’d like to think the fact that Tom has never slept a single night in our bed doesn’t make me not green either. Nor does introducing a couple of bottles of formula a day when I went back to work when he was 6 months old (we already owned the bottles, proving breastfeeding is not always waste-free, and recycled the formula cartoons. We are still using the scoops as toys for water or sand play).

And that is my worry. That parents who want to reduce their impact on the planet, but who don’t (or can’t) breastfeed or baby-wear or co-sleep, might read these books and articles and be turned off the whole idea. Because it ends up being part of the realm of ‘that’ kind of parent. Which is ridiculous. We all need to think about what we use and what we throw away. Especially when we are raising the next generation. It has nothing to do with which parenting style you prefer and everything to do with being mindful of your choices and how they affect the world around you. And raising your kids to do the same.

So regardless of how you approach parenting, please don’t think you can’t also aim for a greener life. Because you do not have to be an attachment parent to be a green parent.

 

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Understanding Schemas

Sometimes I think how hard each day of parenting is depends not on our children’s behaviour, but what is happening in our own heads. If I am calm, well rested, and in a good mood, I can handle any amount of tantrums, whining, or limit-testing that Tom decides to throw at me. But if I’m stressed, or have slept badly, or am distracted by other things, the smallest thing can have me at breaking point.

Sometimes, how I see a certain behaviour can have a big effect too. If I see Tom’s constant desire to press the buttons on the washing machine as a threat to my authority, then I lose my temper. If I see it as a schema – a necessary, uncontrollable urge that is a natural part of his development – then I can calmly redirect the urge to something more appropriate, such as the keys on his little keyboard or the buttons on the remote (which hasn’t had batteries in for about 6 months now!)

I’m very thankful that I found out about schemas early on in Tom’s life. In fact, I can’t remember where I first encountered the idea. But if you are looking for further information, the Nature Play website has a great section on it.

In psychology, a schema is defined as ‘a cohesive, repeatable action sequence possessing component actions that are tightly interconnected and governed by a core meaning‘ (source). More simply, this means a set of actions, such as putting things into a container, or dropping bits of food off a high chair, that crop up repeatedly in a child’s play for a time, whilst he or she works out the connecting principles (that small things fit inside big things in the first example, or gravity in the second). A list of the common schemas and how to give your child opportunities to explore them can be found on that Nature Play site and in this article from Cathy Nutbrown at Sheffield University (NB: opens a PDF).

Tom, at the moment, is very involved with working out an enclosure/container schema. This means that he spends a lot of time putting things into containers and taking them out again. He especially wants to investigate putting water into containers and pouring it out again – and this can be a bit irritating, as his favourite way of testing the principle is to pour his cup of water out all over his food. And his lap. And the floor.

If I didn’t know about schemas, I would be very cross about repeatedly having to clean up puddles of water after every meal. But because I know he can’t really fight this urge to experiment, I simply take the cup away before he can pour it out, saying firmly ‘No. Water in your cup is for drinking’. And then I find other ways for him to meet the urge, by providing lots of cups and scoops at bath time and letting him do plenty of water play during the day.

There’s a quote from Norman Vincent Peale: ‘Change your thoughts and you change your world’. I think it must be true. At the very least, it has changed my parenting.

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Why I Want to Be a Weird Parent

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I’ve been really inspired by a style of parenting known as ‘RIE’ (Resources for Infant Educarers), which I discovered via the writings of early years expert Janet Lansbury. It is a way of relating to babies and toddlers that really focuses on respect, connection and trust. Among the guiding principles of RIE are natural motor development, self-directed play, and accepting and acknowledging feelings.

The trouble is, I think parenting this way might be making me a little…weird. I can see other mums in the playground giving me sideways looks as I let my fifteen month old happily toddle along by himself, without me following a few steps behind or directing him towards the play equipment. A few weeks ago, a mum actually sent her six year-old over to ask me to come and get my baby (he was happily poking a tree and was absolutely fine).

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The trouble with Tom being my first is that I don’t currently have much experience to back up my convictions. Tom seems to be a happy, confident and well-adjusted child, but who knows if that is my parenting approach or just how he would have been regardless?

But despite the questioning looks of other parents and the occasional wobble in my belief that we are taking the right approach, I fully intend to carry on embracing the principles of RIE. Trusting Tom to play and develop in his own way, at his own pace and pursuing his own interests, has been a revelation. I get so much from watching him conquer new challenges and meet new milestones, knowing that he completely owns all of his achievements – I haven’t pushed him along, but have just stood back and given him the space to succeed.

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut. And RIE feels like the best approach for our family. So I’m going to embrace being a weird parent all the way.

Anyone want to join me on the weird parent wagon? Let me know what ‘odd’ approaches you have taken to raising your kids.

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Life in the Slow Lane

If I could take one phrase that makes me a better parent and tattoo it on my brain, it would be this; slow down.

It’s no secret that we live in a fast paced world. And I am as guilty as anyone. Mr Techno hates walking anywhere with me because he says I go everywhere at ‘Lucy marching speed’ (which translates to ‘as fast as I can possibly walk and not actually be jogging’). At work, I am known for being speedy with my responses – because of a quirk with the computer clocks, I once confirmed a course booking before the time stamp on the email said it had actually been made. The Finance Department were rather bemused!

14 months ago, when Mr Techno and I found ourselves the unprepared parents of a beautiful newborn boy, I took the same approach to child care. Any cry had to be answered immediately. Nappy changes were done at racing speed. In the rare moments I was not actually holding Tom, I ate, showered, and went to the toilet as though I was being chased.

Fortunately, you spend a lot of time sitting when you have a newborn (because they will not nap anywhere but on you). So I had a lot of googling time. And what does an anxious new parent google except for…everything to do with babies ever written (did I mention I’m a fast reader too?)

Thankfully, amongst all that anxiety-causing advice, I stumbled across Janet Lansbury’s website and discovered RIE. And one of the key things I learnt was that to care for a young baby, you need to slow your pace to theirs. Instead of jumping up frantically every time Tom cried, I began waiting, watching, trying to determine what he was trying to tell me, and only then acting. Nappy changes became long, leisurely exchanges where I chatted happily to Tom, pausing before carrying out each step to check in with him, tell him what was happening and wait for his response before continuing.

These days, nappy changes are back to being a sprint rather than a marathon, as I try to get him clean and into a new nappy before he gets bored and wanders off, or climbs on the soft furnishings. But I’m glad to have discovered a slower pace of life. Because toddlers and fast really do not go well together (unless you have a bare bottom boy escaping from the change mat of course). Every walk turns into a voyage of discovery, as Tom investigates the different textures, smells, sounds and sights of his new world. We spent a good five minutes staring at a cat earlier today. Last week he refused to finish crossing a bridge until he had poked every bit of moss on the way across. And there was a lot of moss.

Obviously this can be quite annoying if we are trying to get home for a meal, or naptime, or so I can do some laundry. But in general I try to keep our days together relatively free of appointments, so that we can take the time to explore. If that means taking twenty minutes to walk to the park (which is two minutes away), because Tom likes the way the leaves crunch, then so be it.

We have to rush a bit more on work days of course – we have to be out of the door by 7.30 to reach Tom’s nursery by 8.00. And we are never out of the door by 7.30. But if I’m a tiny bit late for work some days, it isn’t the end of the world. I’ll make it up somewhere else. Time spent with Tom though? That I can never make up somewhere else. So I’m going to continue to enjoy the slow lane. The view is much better at this speed.

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How Do You Measure Success as a Parent?

Parenting’s a funny thing isn’t it? Most important job in the world, with all these incredibly important decisions to make, and we won’t know if we got it right until our kids are grown, if then.

The only real measure we can use to see if we are successful parents is if our children become successful adults. And the definition of success varies depending on the parent. Some may want their kids to earn a lot of money, or move up the career ladder. Others may measure success in terms of academic achievement. Others still might look for popularity, having a family, a sense of adventure, religious affiliation, a love for others, a sense of ethics. Often, what we want for our kids is a reflection of what we value (or feel is missing) in ourselves. While many parenting decisions are made on the fly, our long term hopes and wishes for our kids will often determine how we parent.

I could never fit everything I wish for Tom into one post. But here are a few of the things that I hope he will have in his adult life:

1. The Basics
I hope he always has what he needs to survive (plus a little extra). Access to food, healthcare, shelter, clothing adequate to the weather, companionship, access to the outdoors, freedom to make his own choices.

2. A Purpose
I hope he occupies the majority of his time in a way that brings him joy and gives him a sense of purpose. Whether this is through work, volunteering, being creative, travelling, campaigning, studying – whatever it is, I hope he has something in his life that is more than just making and spending money.

3. Emotional Intelligence
I hope he is able to experience the whole range of human emotion – from ecstasy to despair – without feeling overwhelmed, guilty, or in any way ‘wrong’. I hope he can accept any emotion he might feel, and also recognise and accept the feelings of others.

4. Love
I hope he has people around him who he loves and who love him. I do not care in what permutation this may be (assuming everyone is of legal age and consenting).

5. Independence
I hope he has a great relationship with Mr Techno and I. I hope we see him often. But I also hope he doesn’t need us. I hope he has his own identity, his own ideas, his own life. One of my key goals as a parent is to raise my child to leave me. Ideally without him realising how much it will kill me to let him go.

6. An Ethical Code
It doesn’t have to be my ethical code (though ideally it wouldn’t be too far different – I’d find an extremely right wing child a challenge to say the least). But I hope he has a strongly developed sense of what is right and what is wrong. I hope he lives his life by it. But I also hope he has room in his personal philosophy to listen respectfully to others, consider their viewpoints, and maybe even change his mind once in a while.

There you have it. Six things I hope that we will be able to lay the foundation for Tom to have in his adult life. These things (and other, less overarching goals) are what I have in mind when Mr Techno and I make major parenting decisions.

But ultimately, it is Tom’s life. And who he will become is down to him. So maybe the only person who will be able to tell me if I was a success as a parent is my son. Better get a move on with that language development then!

What about you? How would you measure success as a parent?

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