Single Mamas Being Green Is Easier Than You Think!

Okay…you’ve heard all the gloom and doom about the Earth’s depleting ozone layer- the fact that the air we’re exposing our kids to is far more polluted than the air we’ve breathed as children, that there way too many pollutants in the pesticides used to harvest our fruits and vegetables, that green spaces are being cleared to make way for more housing developments, that the weather patterns are becoming increasingly more volatile and unpredictable…need I go on any more?!  

The bottom line; as a single mom you already feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your petite shoulders; a cranky ex, mortgage payments and a boss that is less than understanding when you call in and request another personal day because your child is home sick again. And then there’s your lackluster love life- which has been pretty much- non-existent since the ink on your divorce papers dried. What can you possibly do to solve the Earth’s problems- you’ve got enough of your own problems to contend with!  

Well there are some very simple things you can do–beginning today- that will not only help you make peace with this planet- and feel as though you’re doing your part- but will also help you show your children, by your example just how important it is to value the planet they call home. Who knows you might actually enjoy it! Acts of kindness are karmic- if you put that positive energy into cherishing mother nature and her abundant gifts- it HAS to come back to you- in some form or another.  

Here are some tips to help you and your kiddies on your journey to greener pastures from single mom and author of the Quick Guide to Good Kids Dr. Virginia Bentz, Ph.D..   Model and reward responsibility. Children can learn the value of conservation at an early age. And the best way to ensure that they do is to make conserving a normal part of family life. In other words, practice what you preach. Turn out all lights and televisions or radios when you leave a room. Close the outside door each time you enter or leave the house. Turn off faucets while you brush your teeth and take quick showers. 

“When kids see the whole family taking these steps, they will grow up showing care and responsibility for their planet,” says Bents. “Kids learn what they live. But if they need a little boost to get started, you can reinforce these lessons with a star chart. For every day your kids conserve water and power, they each get gold stars. At the end of each week, you can reward them with a small prize to further instill green habits into their daily lives.”

Find your family’s footprint. A carbon footprint is the level of impact each person leaves on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gasses he or she creates.  While kids don’t directly affect the environment as much as adults do, it is never too early to teach them about reducing their footprints.

Bentz suggests that you visit a website with a carbon footprint calculator— for example—to determine how much you collectively impact the planet.

“Kids can grasp concepts much more easily when they have hard numbers in front of them,” she says. “Once they learn in no uncertain terms the impact that they have on the environment, they’ll understand the responsibility they have to help preserve and renew the earth.”

Add some greenery to your bookshelf. Invest in a portable field guide to trees, plants, birds, and animals in your region, so you can pull it out and learn about your children’s collections along the nature trail. Field guides are great resources, since they provide information through pictures and brief blurbs—perfect for kids’ limited attention spans. A great choice is Eastern Forests: A Field Guide to Birds, Mammals, Trees, Flowers, and More, A Peterson Field Guide, by John Kricher and Gordon Morrison (Houghton Mifflin, 1998, $20.00). 

Bring green to school. It costs a little more, but today you can stock your children’s school bags with supplies made of post-consumer recycled materials. Recycled paper and pencils are easy to find in any school supplies store, and retailers are starting to offer bags and totes made of 100 percent organic cotton. Your kids will love the trendy new styles, and you will love that it’s great for the environment. 

Get growing! Teach your children that a garden is a great way to provide yummy fruits and vegetables without purchasing produce that has been shipped and jetted all over the world. Supply spades and other tools and let the kids dig holes in the dirt and mud. Soil is a wonderfully mutable substance that feels good running through their fingers and turns out even more conglomerates when mixed with water to make mud. Teach them how to drop seeds into the holes they have created and make sure they spend time in the garden watching the seeds grow into plants. 

Create a compost pile together. Who needs environmentally evil fertilizers when common “garbage-bound” substances can create a friendlier compost heap?! Designate a corner of your yard or garden as your new compost pile and teach children which items are best candidates for the heap. Each day ask them to guess which foods and waste products should be added. Teach them about how grass clippings, fruit peels, dead house plants, old hunks of veggies, and other foods can be mixed with the soil to create a nutrient-rich blend to fertilize your garden. Remember that composting organic materials that would have otherwise gone to a landfill helps deter the production of methane and other harmful gasses.  

Make yard work a family affair. Round up a wheelbarrow, rake, and shovel and host a family yard cleanup. The kids can help pull up weeds (in place of using chemical weed killers) and rake grass clippings and leaves to add to the compost pile. Working outside as a family provides great bonding time, teaches responsibility, and provides fresh air and exercise. Besides, the more kids get outdoors, the more they learn to appreciate the natural world.

“Too many people hire others to do their yard work,” says Bentz. “I think that’s a shame—it creates an artificial sense of separation between home and nature. And when everyone pitches in, you can get the job done quickly. Hey, you can use the money you save over the course of the summer to take a fun family vacation!”

Show kids that dirt doesn’t hurt, and itching isn’t forever. Don’t despair over your kids’ dirty hands and clothes after a fun afternoon outdoors. Remember that clothes and kids are fully washable—and the lessons they are learning from getting a little dirty will make lasting impressions on them that they will remember forever. And while playing and hiking outside can lead to encounters with the less pleasant aspects of nature—poison ivy, for instance—it’s good for kids to learn that the drawbacks are temporary…and worth it

Give boredom the boot (the hiking boot, that is)! When kids get bored and moan about having nothing to do, don’t pop a bag of popcorn and sit them in front of the television. Instead, have them put on their hiking boots or sturdy sneakers and head out to the nearest state or national park for some nature appreciation. If you lead the way and set an example, they’ll follow. Don’t forget to leash the dog and bring her, too—everyone goes!

“Ease off indoor formality for the freer slip-and-slide of the hiking trail, which is never completely smooth, but dotted with rocks and tree roots and slippery moss and a muddy patch here and there,” says Bentz. “Enjoy the sudden plump to the ground if someone trips or slips—such unexpected ups and downs are part of the fun of the uneven ground.”

Draw your kids’ attention to the wonders of nature. When you go on a fun family hike, encourage your children to watch the ground for interesting things they can collect along the way: an unusual heart-shaped stone, a twisted branch, a dark pine cone, a fallen leaf. Provide a plastic baggie for each child marked with his or her name so these discovered treasures can be compared and admired after everyone gets back home. 

“Stop to enjoy the sudden appearance of a horned owl on a branch above you, or a big-eyed deer that has halted suddenly ten feet away, in plain view,” says Bentz. “These are the moments that grip us with wonder, young or old. And they are the stuff of memory.  Twenty years from now, your kids will remember that startled look in the deer’s eyes, and talk about it among themselves.”

Okay- now you have no excuse!  So get outside and enjoy this moment; forget the cranky ex and the unsympathetic boss! Inhale the sweet scent of cherry blossoms wafting through the air, the light breezy winds, and the lush emerald grass. This is your planet-give it a great big green hug!

Happy Earth Day!

Melissa Chapman

Family Editor, Single Minded Women