A few weeks ago, I leapt at the chance to volunteer a review of The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting by Zion Lights, as part of a project by The Wild Network. If you’ve not heard of Project Wild Thing or The Wild Network and you believe in getting kids away from screens and spending time outdoors then you need to check it out right now. It’s awesome and you’ll never be stuck for ideas for an outdoor activity with the kids again!
Back to reviewing the book though… The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting is written by scientific writer and journalist Zion Lights, herself an environmental activist, science enthusiast and mother. It sets out to make sense of the bewildering world of how we can live ‘greener’ and raise happy, healthy families that are more in tune with our wider environment and the issues it faces. The topics discussed range across everything you need to know about preparing for a baby and birth itself, the early days of babyhood, wider family life and some discussion of issues that affect families and non-families alike.
Before you read this review I should be clear. I have never considered myself a ‘green’ person. Sure, I am a firm believer in reconnecting kids and adults alike with the natural environment, I do my best to help conserve wildlife and the natural spaces I love and before I sat down to start typing you would have found me dunking one of my 18 month old’s particularly grim reusable nappies down the loo. Don’t worry – I’ve washed my hands thoroughly.
I love the idea of being green but in reality don’t really know what that means for me. As you know if you follow Baby Routes, I enjoy travel and hiking in remote places that are pretty much reliant on car transport to access – surely that alone single-handedly sabotages any green aspirations I may have?
Terms like ‘green’, ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’,’fair-trade’ and ‘conservation’ are too often wrapped in a baffling collective vision of general goodness and wholesome living. As with the term ‘wedding’ their labels instantly see retailers hiking up their prices and they are terms that seem to carry their own social currency. It is hard to know what being green actually is and even harder to know how this applies to parenting. Is it really possible to be green without giving your kids sticks for presents, installing solar panels or forgoing washing your hair?!
As a busy parent (something Zion Lights herself recognises as a barrier to being green) I have had precious little time to really take stock and research fact from the fiction around this stereotype. The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting promises to sort out the confusion for you. With her background in scientific writing, Zion Lights coolly dissects the debates around some of parenthood’s most sensitive subjects such as infant feeding, vaccinations, consumer choices and parenting styles. She offers a clear, concise explanation of each issue before presenting a summary of the research available on different sides of the debate. Where relevant she then goes on to offer practical tips on specific issues and provides references for further reading. I wish I had been able to refer to her book when first choosing a bike seat for my eldest daughter. Her straight-forward outline of all the choices on offer would have saved us considerable research time.
This calm and slightly detached writing style is one of the things I most enjoyed about The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting. As a veteran of parenting manuals, I admit to having been apprehensive that this new one would be turn out to be just as preachy and formulaic as those currently to be found propping up one end of my daughter’s cot. The period of transition that goes with becoming a parent always makes me think of those awkward teenage years – a time when everything whirls by on a chaotic roller-coaster of unfamiliarity. Parenting manuals, much like that band you went crazy over at 15, are a type of identity peg to hang your parenting cap on to as you begin to explore your old world through new eyes.
Clinging on to a guide that is too prescriptive though risks making you feel even more useless than you already did before you flipped it open in sleepless desperation at 3am should it fail to deliver. In writing a book on ‘green parenting’, Zion Lights runs a double risk of not only switching off parents who cannot relate to her particular approach but of also alienating them from the much longer-term and vitally important concept of sustainable living.
Fortunately the author writes in with a warm yet factual writing style. Her decision to offer the reader a series of well-informed choices rather than a strict parenting prescription is refreshing. She makes no secret of her environmental background but whilst you often finish a chapter knowing how the author feels personally about that topic, the tone is never judgemental. Should a particular choice not work for you or your family, this does not cause you to disconnect from the overarching green framework.
Green living for a happier family
The book has a gentle undercurrent of examining all the advantages adopting a green lifestyle offers your family and the future of your children, not just the usual arguments for the greater environmental good. I connected instantly with the discussion of lowering our children’s attachment to material goods. It’s a topic close to my heart and yet until reading this book I don’t think I ever truly considered what subtle long-term message I send my daughters about the link between material things and happiness when I give them the occasional toy or book as a reward for good behaviour.
The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting is full of thought provoking ideas that are relevant to both those fully committed to a green lifestyle and those merely wondering what all the fuss is about. Wisely the author recognises that by simply educating people on issues such as carbon emissions and by celebrating even the most baby steps made by parents to live in a more sustainable way, she is opening up the idea of green living to a much wider audience. For those further advanced into green living she ponders on issues I had never even considered such as the carbon footprint of choosing an obstetric birth, your selection of a car seat and even your potty-training style!
About not breaking the bank whilst not breaking the earth
Contrary to my initial fears, The Ultimate Green Guide to Parenting is also not full of expensive solutions or must-have kit. In fact the author recommends second-hand goods and upcycling wherever possible with the suggestion of intriguing ideas such as toy-sharing groups. It was refreshing to read that relatively expensive ‘green’ alternatives for doing laundry e.g. soap nuts are not necessarily always the greenest option and the author offers a whole section dedicated to DIY products in her chapter on being green around the home. One such example is making a simple all-purpose cleaning spray out of water, baking soda, vinegar and tea-tree. This latter wasn’t entirely news to me. I have always sworn that cleaning windows the traditional way with vinegar and newspaper is far more effective than conventional glass-cleaning products!
Of course there are some green choices that do cost you money. Buying organic food and investing in ‘green’ personal hygiene and beauty products does not come cheap – something I know from personal experience having recently experimented with both. To her credit, Zion Lights does not try to convince you otherwise. Instead she argues that if we are fortunate to have the budget to buy these things then we can be comforted that we are helping to increase their popularity and bring prices down in the long-term. In the meantime, plenty of factual information is provided to help you prioritise any potential product switches.
What is green?
The only thing that I remained confused about following reading The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting is the term ‘green’. The author states that “the ‘green’ thing…means being as environmentally friendly as possible, while considering your child’s everyday personal health as well, and taking into account social-justice issues to some degree…”. I don’t dispute the content of the book – it’s thoughtful, relevant and helpful stuff and I wouldn’t exclude any of it. The fact remains though that the choice on where your baby sleeps or debating the issue of the use of certain chemicals in cleaning or personal hygiene products because of their potential health risks are not issues in my mind directly linked to the word ‘green’. I don’t dispute that there is often a correlation between these kinds of considerations and a tendency to live greener but this does not mean that they cannot exist exclusively of one another. If anything the author does herself a disservice. She openly states that the book is intended for those who are ‘probably already interested in being green‘. I would argue that a title that didn’t instantly pigeon hole it to a topic on which people already have strong preconceptions, the book would have the potential to reach an even wider audience of parents. Parents who are simply looking for the very best way to nurture loving, happy, well-balanced children with an appreciation of the natural wonders and challenges our world holds. Parents who may well find that living sustainably is merely a happy by-product of the kind of lifestyle and child-raising goals they are already seeking to achieve.
Overall The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting is a fantastic book that I would challenge any parent not to find useful at some level. It is written in a way that you can dip in and out of at ease, offers practical, non-judgemental advice and accepts that there are many different levels of being green, with the reassurance that even the tiniest change you may make to a more sustainable lifestyle are very much worthwhile. If you are a new parent (whatever your environmental persuasions), an old-hand or merely someone curious about how we can live in a way that is sustainable for the future of our planet, The Ultimate Green Guide to Parenting is a must-read.
If you are curious to find out more about living in a more sustainable way then you can get your hands on your very own copy of The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting by Zion Lights from Amazon. Please note that I received an electronic copy of the book for the purpose of this voluntary review which I have undertaken for wonderful people over at The Wild Network.