Going green as a family with kids

How I ensure we become a sustainable family?

Sharing my experiences as a daughter, wife and mother

*This piece may resonate most with mothers but the same principles can be applied irrespective of your role in your family. So read on and share your thoughts on what I may have missed to include in the comments below.

By Harini Rajagopalan

As a teenager, I grew up watching the popular cartoon series called Captain Planet. The show had a lasting impact as it highlighted several environmental issues prevalent across the globe. Watching it always left me thinking about the climate crisis and how I could be a part to solve it. My interests in sustainable and eco-friendly living, however, was passive: until I became a mother.

Motherhood made me rethink and question everything. What chemicals are present in the baby soap? Are there pesticides in my baby’s food? Am I buying too many clothes and toys? There was an endless list of questions that I stemmed from my worries and I needed answers. As I researched, I realised that I had to make several lifestyle changes to become more sustainable. This was the beginning of an interesting and challenging journey- something I am still working on.

I continue to learn and implement better ways of living. Lifestyle changes are not very easy, as we are all creatures of habit. It was easier for me, as an individual to make changes since I had the drive and passion for sustainable living. It was a different story when I wanted others to change and become a sustainable family unit. How can I make sure that we, as a family, live more sustainably? I may not figure out all the pieces of this puzzle but here are a few steps that have worked for me and my family.

Be the captain of the ship

If you are the lone eco-warrior, then you have to take charge of the household to become a sustainable family. This means that “we” have to segregate the waste, switch to eco-friendly products, and hand over reusable bags when family members go shopping. Nevertheless, do not lose heart, your enthusiasm will rub off on others and they will eventually follow suit. Patience is the key, my friend.

Children are your best bet

If you have a kid(s), you have an instant audience and follower. Kids are innately curious and open to new ideas, so teaching them about environmental issues is a great place to start. The same principle can be applied to younger siblings or cousins.

I like to do some age-appropriate activities like waste segregation along with my 5-year-old. I also discuss
over-consumption and its effect on the environment and this has helped to avoid tantrums at toy stores. While I make the conscious content I consume kid-appropriate for my child, there are tons of resources available.

Trashonomics has an excellent resource for educating children on waste management. Their easy beginner courses may just prove to be a useful guide for adults who are just starting their sustainable journey. The activities at the end of each course are fun which often makes me tag along with my kid.

Use your communication skills

Communication and negotiation skills come in handy when we set environmental goals for the family. Talk to your family members about the changes that they are willing to make and the non-negotiables. This way, we can avoid endless arguments and debates.

For instance, we have shifted to second-hand shopping for clothes, furniture, books and toys, mostly on my suggestion. I did not meet the same success when I tried to replace laundry detergent with soap nuts (a natural alternative a.k.a. reetha); it was not agreeable to other family members. Instead of being a rebel, I have now learnt to accept the non-negotiables and search for other eco-friendly solutions. There are definitely endless areas to explore and make a change.

Accept failures and challenges

Trying to be a sustainable family comes with its fair share of challenges. We may not see eye to eye with our partner or parents when it comes to sustainability. The best way to iron out differences is by talking things through. Explaining what you are doing and why you are doing it with clear facts and scientific reasoning helps.

Expecting a family member to make drastic changes is unfair and unrealistic. What has worked for me is to make small changes, both personally and as a family, without interfering with my husband’s own personal choices.

Final thoughts

Throughout this journey of trying to live sustainably, I have learnt that it is a balancing act. There is always a trade-off. As much as I am passionate about the environment, I also love my family and friends. I need to balance both without compromising on the other.

I have learnt to pick my battles, reduce unsolicited lectures on waste (I can see my friends rolling their eyes) and accept people as they are without giving up on my environmental aspirations.

If you are keen on starting an eco-friendly lifestyle, I encourage you to wear that “Captain Planet” cape and guide your family towards it. Remember, a sustainable family that conserves the planet together stays together!

Harini started her sustainability journey two years ago. Her focus is on low-waste lifestyle and bringing awareness on environmental issues. She explores the same through her YouTube channel & Instagram page. She also conducts online workshops on low waste living and has a small business selling upcycled decor.

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