Green Mom Guilt

Motherhood has moved my capacity for guilt to a whole new level—and I was pretty advanced to begin with. The guilt-rants that occur in my brain are often totally illogical (due to sleep deprivation) but it’s amazing how powerful they can become.  Here is a sample of a sudden guilt gush: “Why didn’t I bring mittens to the park? Now he’ll probably get frostbite and never be able to pursue his dream of professional fiddling!”


O.K. It doesn’t always get that bad, but it is hard to feel as though the entire well-being of another tiny soul rests on my shoulders.   So when I throw the health of the planet into the mix, I can occasionally become overwhelmed.  As I’m wheeling my son through the grocery store (and sensing an impending fit) it’s tough to make quick decisions about green packaging, organic products, and price—all while singing Itsy Bitsy Spider and planning a diaper change in a public restroom.


But if I don’t consider all that, my green guilt voice takes over.  “Who cares if your son is two minutes away from a melt-down.  You need to go back out to the car and get the fabric grocery bags.  The polar bears are dying for God’s sake and a few disposable sacks might be the deciding factor!” 


The good news is that the green guilt voice fades in comparison to my instinct to meet my son’s needs when he’s in distress. In this picture of Roscoe and me, you may be able to tell that it would be impossible for me to always put the planet’s needs above his own.


The biggest revelation for me in my green journey has been a simple phrase I gleaned from a fellow teacher: “progress not perfection.”  Ahh..  What a relief!  The permission to do the best I can under the circumstances and slowly take steps toward greener living. 


As you may have gathered from our blogs, Rebecca is a deeper shade of green than I am.  She’s a vegetarian, she’s incredibly resourceful (in a green Martha Stewart way), she doesn’t drive, and she makes my careful thriftiness look extravagant.  Then there’s my friend Pamela, who has opted not to have children to limit impact on the planet, is a devout vegan, and rides her bike for almost all her transportation needs.  Neither of these women piously tout their environmental agenda.  In fact, their actions come from a deeper place than guilt.


The truth is, guilt never gets me anywhere.  When I feel guilty about the need to exercise, I grab a cookie.  But when I imagine how good it would feel to move my body, feel the wind on my skin, and breathe I can actually get myself out the door for a walk.  The same goes for green motherhood.  If I can keep my focus on how good it will feel to more fully integrate eco-friendly choices into my life, I can be at peace with my own slow, clumsy progress—and during grocery store melt-downs the polar bears are just going to have to make it without my fabric grocery bags. (but I will choose paper!) 


  1. LOL – you’re so right about the cookie/excercise thing!

    I think lots of us moms are afraid that once we start trying to go green, we’ll be overwhelmed by all the things we “should” do. Your site is great at encouraging small, simple, (cheap!) and obvious things we can all do without a lot of stress.


  2. Joy, I think it’s great that you are giving those of us who are struggling with all these changes permission to take it at our own pace. I remember in high school I was a rabid environmentalist. I had huge arguments with my parents over things like recycling. At some point, the more I thought about all the things we SHOULD be doing, the more overwhelmed I felt and I turned it off. For a long time I did nothing because I couldn’t do everything. Then I started to make little changes where I could. I took some cloth napkins out of a drawer and decided to use them. Why not? what was I saving them for? I stopped buying paper napkins. There are now a lot of little things that I do and I know I do things really differently than say, 10 years ago. But it didn’t happen all at once and I’m not done with all the changes I need to make, but it’s too overwhelming to completely change your life overnight, and crash changes (like crash diets) never take.

    Here is what I tell myself. 3 generations ago, recycling wasn’t called recycling because that was how people lived. There wasn’t anything that people just used and threw away. MOst families didn’t have cars or washing machines and plastic wasn’t invented yet. Somehow we degenerated into the throwaway society that we are today. So my hope is that by the time MY kids are grown up, I will have gotten back to that and my kids will be instilled with these values to pass on to their children. Giving myself that kind of leeway makes it feel much more doable. That’s 12 years until Betsy leaves the house! I feel positive about the future and instead of “eating a cookie”, I am trying. I know there are people who are way ahead of me, and I am grateful to them for forging ahead, figuring it out and then writing blogs telling me what to do! And yes, I feel a teensy bit guilty when I see what a better job you gals are doing, but we’ve all had our mountains to climb right?

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