Like every new mum checking out of hospital, I left the ward with not only my new baby, but a decent dose of mother’s guilt.
In fact, in my 4+ years of mothering initially one, and now two gorgeous boys, it’s likely that not a day has passed without me beating myself up about something. From the simple guilt of initially leaving bub with dad for an hour to duck to the shops or gym, to the more substantial “I want to contribute more to society and have an identity that isn’t 100% wrapped up with my kids, but I want to be with them too” dilemma facing working mums, mother guilt and I are, at times, BFFs.
Throw in my Catholic upbringing and my overwhelming drive to want to live with a minimal eco footprint, it would seem that I am loaded with a double helping of icecream with hot chocolate fudge, nuts and a wafer serve of guilt!
While eco mother guilt can be so isolating, I have a hunch that I’m not alone…………..
Ever gotten behind in washing your cloth nappies and had to delve into your emergency stash of disposables? Been spotted in your local supermarket buying commercial baby food because you just couldn’t be bothered making any? Driven your car to appointments because you were just not organised enough to walk the kiddies into town in the pram? Or the Holy Grail of eco-mother guilt – gotten hubby to do a night bottle feed because you just couldn’t drag yourself out of bed and breastfeed. I type all of these with no judgment whatsoever by the way, I’m just trying to make the point that at some stage, most ecoceptional mums would have done one or all of these things and then beaten themselves up.
I must admit that despite having a long way to go, I am getting better at pushing aside feelings of guilt when things slip a little. After all, guilt is the emotion you feel when you have done something wrong, it shouldn’t be associated with not living up to your own expectations, especially when you’re giving everything you’ve got!
Last year was a great lesson for me as it was the first time I’ve never really been able to live up to my eco aspirations. Bub no.2 was pretty unsettled and needed a couple of lots of surgery for different health issues, both of which involved a 1200km round trip to Adelaide. It seemed that the endless days of unsettled behaviour stretched on for months and into a fair chunk of his second year. By the time he was approaching 14 months I was worn out emotionally and, thanks to carpal tunnel syndrome taking hold of both my hands and wrists, worn out physically.
I’d always figured that by being super organised, especially around my meal planning, I would be able to keep on top of things if, and when, life threw a curve ball at me. Well I could for a few days and even weeks (I keep a chest freezer full of homecooked meals and rotate them so we’re never caught out) but after a few months, several things that were once in control had to slip. We simply needed them to.
It was the first year we hadn’t planted a winter crop since we started organic gardening 9 years earlier. Sadly one of our two chickens passed away and we gave the other away to a good home. At the time our son was sick, we were running on barely any sleep and didn’t have the time or energy to be in the garden or sourcing more chickens. Instead of feeling guilty or like I had failed in some way though, I felt a combination of sadness and relief. Sad that we had to give up some aspects of eco living that we love and relief that we had given ourselves permission to do so. I knew I was giving my all to this parenting gig and the vegie garden and chickens could wait until life became easier.
I focussed on caring for my boys, putting a healthy homemade dinner on the table each night and keeping up with the cloth nappies and turned a blind eye to our once productive organic vegie garden that now resembled a wasteland and some tidying and cleaning around the home.
And I’m glad I did! I’m not a superwoman, I’m an ecoceptional mum.
A year on, life is slowly returning to normal. We have chickens again and found some energy from who-knows-where to plant a summer crop of tomatoes. Too bad the weeks on end of temperatures in the mid forties wiped out our crop, but that’s gardening for you! On the plus, I’m actually looking forward to planting our winter crop soon with our two boys and having them help care for the plants as they grow.
If, like me, you’ve gone through, or are in, a stage where you’re not living up to your eco aspirations and are grappling with the associated feelings of eco-guilt, please consider the following:
- Every journey in life has peaks and troughs, including your eco-parenting journey. You may need to let some things slip in order to get through the rough patch but can easily pick these up again when you’re back on your way up a peak.
- If you are looking after young children day in and day out and they are fed and clean, you are doing an awesome job. If you’re managing to do this AND put a healthy meal on the table, use cloth nappies, breastfeed or do whatever eco-parenting task takes your fancy some or most of the time, you are doing an ECOCEPTIONAL job!
- Being a mum is tough work. Being an ecoceptional mum is tougher. Make sure you regularly take time out for yourself so you can recharge your batteries and achieve your eco aspirations over the long term.
I’d LOVE to hear your experiences of when you’ve struggled with eco-guilt and how you managed through these periods. Feel free to share below.
About the Author: Laura Trotta is an environmental engineer, ecoceptional mum and founder of Sustainababy. She lives in regional South Australia with her husband and two young sons.
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