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What Was Your Natural Parenting “Gateway Drug”?

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I came across this blog post by a cloth-diapering mama the other day, and it got me thinking about my own journey into natural parenting. Jeanette over at Eco Incognito writes that she didn’t think, or even know, many reusable items existed before she began cloth diapering. These days, she stores food in glass Pyrex containers in lieu of disposable plastic baggies, and she cleans with reusable towels instead of their paper counterparts. Cloth diapering was, as she describes it, her “gateway drug” into natural parenting – from there, she started to think differently about her daily lifestyle and explore ways to cut waste (and costs) beyond diapers alone.

It strikes me as funny that we’ve ‘advanced’ to the point in our culture where people literally don’t know about natural options, which in many cases used to be the only options there were. Cloth diapering is definitely in this category, although the super functional (and cute) designs parents enjoy today weren’t available back when our grandparents were fumbling with safety pins. That being said, I never encountered a single cloth diaper -- through a decade of babysitting other people’s kids – until I got to college and befriended an adorable, urban bohemian-type family. They were at the front of a burgeoning natural parenting trend, and I’ve seen a lot more cloth diapers since then (and even used them for my own kiddo). As natural parenting options have gained a certain ‘cool’ factor appeal, they’ve also become more widely known and utilized. Sometimes I think natural parenting stuff is even verging on truly mainstream. But then I overhear a mom at the playground – as I did the other day – saying she had no idea you can make your own baby food, and I want to take her home, introduce her to my blender (look! Sweet potatoes plus blender equals baby food!), and promptly get her hooked on the good green stuff… Green parenting, that is. (Keep it wholesome, kids.)

I’m kidding about the forcible conversion scenario. In reality, I maintain an ‘each to her own’ approach to parenting -- ultimately, what's best for families varies dramatically based on what works, or doesn't, for each -- and if someone never wants to try his or her hand at baby food prep, that’s cool. But I am in favor of parents having access and exposure to information and options on the parenting front. I’m guessing most parents who make baby food once or twice and realize how easy (and cheap!) it is will consider it a no-brainer from there on in. They might even nerd out on knowing exactly what is (and isn’t) in their littles’ freshly-made meals. Granted, pureeing organic peas is not the be all and end all of parenting success (hardly), but having access to alternative options -- as women in Brazil are fighting for on the natural birth front, and as some politicians are pushing for in hospitals here in the States -- certainly can make a difference in one’s parenting choices and, ultimately, one’s experience overall. 

For Jeanette, frugality is what spurs her interest in natural parenting options. For many other parents, health and safety are the primary concern. Whatever their reasons for seeking it out, many parents share in Jeanette’s experience of new information and passions around natural parenting topics kind of snowballing, even for families who previously didn't consider themselves 'green' at all. To whatever degree one dives into this subculture, information around our parenting choices really does open up additional options. And everyone likes options, especially moms. (Remember my recent natural birth control epiphany? Yeah, information and options are a good thing!) And whether we’re talking birth control, childbirth, education, or even household cleaning products, these options do indeed inspire passionate debate, and they’re often quite politically charged... which provides me with plenty to write about every week...

I think my own green parenting gateway drug was -- simply -- parenthood itself. I’d always chosen recycled toilet paper and organic food at the store before Kaspar was born, but once he arrived, two things happened that made my choices more conscious and meaningful: first, he had some serious food allergy and health stuff going on that lasted well into our second year as parents (and still impacts our lives today, although things have normalized a LOT, thankfully); it only improved when I started to question the status quo and seek alternative solutions. I had to think outside the box because many of the recommendations that came from the people new parents are led to trust as the 'experts' on our kids were just not helpful. I realized that I am the expert on my kid, and learned to trust my instincts (which have led me to ‘natural’ options more often than not, and to find alternative parenting resources). Second, being a mom to a small person who will one day grow up to be a big person, still living on this planet long after I’m gone, made me care in a more immediate way about doing my part to leave this Earth a cleaner, kinder place than it is today, not just for Kaspar, but for all children and people. I think many natural parenting practices encourage kindness and closeness, toward our environments and each other, so whether we're breastfeeding, baby wearing or recycling those baby food jars, our choices can have far-reaching positive effects. 

Every family’s different, of course, and being ‘green’ in one area doesn’t mean we all have to go all-in, all natural, all the time. But making natural parenting choices is often effective and satisfying, and so we look for more ways to do so. So I’m curious: what was your natural parenting gateway drug? (Ryan Gosling, anyone?)Did you start with cloth diapers and venture into waste-reduction? Did you begin by breastfeeding and get into organic food? Were you a homebirther to begin with? Did you have a specific health situation, like ours, that forced you to think/search/explore outside the box? Are your natural choices mostly about your budget, your beliefs, your well-being? Share your perspective and experience in the comments below!

PS. Stop by my other blog, Alt-Mama, for more natural parenting fun!