Lara Stewart-Panko

Motherhood, My Self-Compromise & Moving Back to Integrity

In my childbirth ed classes I often tell expectant parents: "Parenthood is the best self-development program in existence, if you make use of it to that end."

While I wish I could've known much of what I've learned from parenting without having to be a parent, my reality is that I simply wouldn't have gotten wise to many things without my son catalyzing my growth and awareness. He's schooled me in some big lessons, including the development of more patience (and humbling knowledge of my limits in that department), deeper compassion, greater sensitivity to white privilege and racism (he's mixed race), a fuller appreciation of how patriarchy harms males, intergenerational dynamics, unconditional love and the dance of attachment and freedom, just to name a few.

I've been a pretty good student. I've showed up to class, completed my assignments and put in all-nighters to ensure I could pass many tests. I've earned my credits, even in the classes I didn't find particularly interesting.

But I've not been an A-student in one subject that I wanted to excel in: environmentalism. I feel quite sad about this, and the ironies woven throughout this aspect of our lives are not lost on me. Here's my/our story:

I've personally been passionate about the Earth and ecological living for as long as I can remember. I've lived this perspective to the best of my ability (most of the time). When Sam was little I taught him respect for Nature and nurtured his connection to his Home. We spent time outside nearly every day, watered plants together, played in the mud, minimized our waste and I modelled gratitude for all the Earth provided. As he got a little older, hikes happened more than once per week, organic food was standard, we joined a CSA and soon came to spend good chunks of time on the organic farm that helped feed us. Almost 100% of our belongings and clothing have always been second-hand, our family gets along fine with 1 car and we favour simple pleasures over extravagance.

And then he became a tween.

As Sam began his individuation process I watched myself struggle with grief. I wanted our closeness to go unchanged, and his growing opinion that his peers were far cooler than his mom was a tough one to accept, even though I knew intellectually this is a 100% normal phase of development. In my own need to feel connected to him and see him "happy", guess what I did? I started compromising some of my ideals. I started buying processed food by the cartful. Chicken fingers and chips and juice and pizza. I catered to his teenage demands. I've now mentally apologized to the Earth more times than I can count, knowing full-well my buying choices were not the best I could do, yet going through with them anyways. Once in a while I'd try to right the ship, but within a week or two my whole-food cooking would be edged out by Doritos and Jamaican patties, replete with their plastic packaging.

I'd like to be clear that I totally understand how convenience foods are a thing, and sometimes they are a key piece to keeping many of today's exhausted and overworked families fed before 9pm. I AM NOT JUDGING. I am only speaking to my own experience of consciously surrendering some of the values I wanted to ensure my child has in order to satisfy his tastes and win his favour. I have been complicit in violating my own boundaries. And the greatest irony is not that I've failed to uphold important values, it's that I've participated in the denigration of the planet my child lives on for no truly necessary reason.

Would I do it again? Probably. Why? I've come to regard my reaction to Sam's individuation process as purposeful, even as it speaks to my room to evolve. Beyond it simply being a lived example of operating in the very difficult, inherently-polluting food system we're caught in, I'd do it again for our relationship. My relationship with Sam is first and foremost about how it supports his wellbeing. I think Mother Earth has taken one for our little team (never mind how much she's taken for her whole team). Raising a kid in this day and age is HARD. What teens are now exposed to and are navigating is jaw-dropping. Early attached parenting is one measure we can use to protect our kids, another is maintaining some form of that as they move into the teen years, as they're simultaneously moving away from us. In recognizing just how much my kid was up against: bullying, a youth culture full of drugs and weapons, constant phone use, school pressures, regressive politics, poor mental health of epidemic proportions (and he has had significant health problems himself), etc., I felt the need to stay connected to him at all costs, and so I did. Rather than my crunchy, hippie ways being a source of alienation, I violated some of my personal rules to literally keep him at the table. [Research shows that sharing a family meal at least once each day is a highly protective factor.] I'm disturbed by the plastic waste we've generated. I feel sadness and guilt about it. And I trust the Big Mama will forgive me and understand my whys. I know it's a drop in the bucket.

But guess what's happening in honour of this Earth Day? I'm committing to no more plastic-packaged snacks paid for by moi. No more chips, no more crackers, no more veggie straws. I'm still up for buying snacky food in my reusable containers at Bulk Barn; it's not perfect, but it feels like the next realistic right step. My son now has a part-time job, and if he still wants packaged snacks, that's his karma if he chooses to buy them. I feel like he's reached a point in his development that he's mostly in the clear as far as the risks of teen life are concerned. He knows who his mom is and that I'm so absolutely in his corner. He no longer needs me to buy Cheetos in order to keep us connected. He's now ready to understand and accept why I'm shoring up this boundary. I feel relieved to be able to make a move back in the direction of MY preferred way of being a consumer. I feel good about letting him own more of his choices. And I feel so humbled that the Earth is still giving of her resources in spite of the oft-shitty treatment from her human offspring. Much love to our Mom, today and always.

If you'd like to join me in reducing plastic waste, an abundance of ideas can be found here:

And sign this Greenpeace petition asking Canadian supermarkets to do away with plastic packaging:

P.S. The plant in this post's picture with heart-shaped leaves is a type of sorrel. It's edible and has a delightful lemony flavour. I harvest it in my backyard (it grows wild) and include it in salads, etc.

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