Having children can transform the most reasonable, laid-back person into a paranoid, nervous, overly cautious, self-doubting version of themselves. It’s easy to get sucked into analysis as a new parent; we exist in a 24/7 research mode. This product or that one? This food or that one? Teething or not? Gas or not? This sleep strategy or that one? Colic or not? Ear infection or not? Cloth diapers or disposable…and why? Breastmilk or formula and which formula? We’re not only figuring out how to take care of a little one through all their firsts, but we’re also figuring out a whole new family dynamic, consumer industry, and sense of self. We spend nights awake on our phones, chasing through the proverbial Internet rabbit hole and wading through advice from experts and non-experts alike.
As parents, we reframe this behavior as being caring, responsible and educated. It can also make you lose your mind.
When I became a mom, my tendency to buy natural products and save money on DIY projects translated into opting for cloth diapers, making my own baby food and switching to vinegar or DIY cleaners in the house. Ok, that’s fine, right? Right! It was a natural extension of my interests and values! There’s nothing wrong with that.
However, one day my darling husband pointed out that we had nearly doubled our grocery bills for that week on organic products alone and then spent at least half of a date night scanning Google results for more information on some anti-GMO article I’d read. It was clear that I’d just become the newest resident of Paranoid Parentville. In other words, my desire to have a healthy family was starting to have unhealthy consequences for our family — both in time and money.
I came to a few conclusions about how to best stay sane while being healthy:
Healthy Should Co-Exist With Happy.
Healthy should contribute value to your life, not take away. It should make you feel good. Healthy should not promote anxiety of the environment you’re in, foster paranoia or create nervousness in your decision making. It should not encourage judgement of others or harsh standards of yourself. Once the idea of “being healthy” turns negative in any way, it’s time to take a step back. Healthy is nothing if you are not happy. Healthy is being aware of your world, helpful to your life, considerate of resources. It should provide a greater perspective. It should never make you go crazy.
Absolutism is Your Enemy.
The number one rule of parenting is “Never Say Never.” I like to think this applies to creating a healthy lifestyle also. Absolutism makes an all-or-nothing sort of environment which is completely counter to the unexpected nature of life. Anytime the pendulum swings too far one way, you lose balance. Aim for moderation in all things and seek to model that behavior. I don’t want to teach my children to be extremists or fearful. I do want to teach them to be mindful, aware and critical thinkers. I want them to know that 8 times out of 10 our meals are healthy; but there’s nothing wrong with ordering your favorite dish or sometimes eating an extra big slice of pie. That exercise is part of daily activity. That overindulgence in any area (even in exercise or healthy eating) is unhealthy because you know…life!
A parent’s life is busy because we stop doing things at our own pace. Our minutes are allocated in a hierarchy of needs: Children, work/home, pets, spouse, self. It’s important to balance the desire to have a healthy home with the time you have available. When I worry too much about something, it takes time away from my family. To help with this, I better clarified some parenting priorities to help guide my decision-making in regards to time. They are
- Be present during family or one-on-one time to make the most of it.
- Foster respectful, loving relationships regardless of personal priorities or stress.
- Create a healthy foundation for our family through modeling healthy behaviors.
Having this list of priorities helps me keep perspective about what matters most. While a healthy foundation for the family is on the list (and thus, important!) it should not interfere with showing my family respect or quality time spent together. This may mean we do some of the meal prep together as a family (Sunday muffins!) or waiting until a nap time to do some research. Either way, my values must co-exist within the priorities I’ve set.
Financial Health is Important Also.
Health is no longer just about the ingredients found within a product or how it is processed. The food industry knows that for many consumers, buying something is more than a need — it’s to fulfill some sort of greater purpose or emotion. Packaging alone can sway a shopper between products. Companies proudly tout their commitments to ethical treatment of animals, workers and trade. I’m not knocking those practices. When able, I choose products knowing it’s supporting values I care about. However, it would be financially unhealthy for me to blow our budget or go into debt because of a commitment to filling a fridge with only a certain type of product. So what’s a conscious shopper to do?
As an experiment, I filled two shopping carts with whatever staples or food items were needed for the week on my grocery list. In one cart, I literally chose products that were “the best” (i.e., nutritious, local, organic, non-GMO, fair trade, etc.) without consideration to budget. In the other cart, I put all the same items but limited myself to a certain budget so prioritized certain items. For me, how an animal is treated is really important because it’s a living thing. So, I prioritized 100% grass-fed, pastured animal products. Lower on my list were organic items or local items (because of environmental impact) and lowest on the list was non-GMO products. The difference? The no holds barred, budgetless cart totaled $321 for a week’s worth of groceries. The same items in a cart based on my financial priorities was $149. In my family, that’s the difference between meeting our budget and dipping into savings.
In other words, know what you value and know your budget. Don’t sweat buying conventional produce or a generic cereal if that’s what you need to do — it doesn’t make you less of a parent or less of a human.
When I first started feeding my daughter, everything was organic because I just naturally thought it was better. Then, my daughter started eating her college education in organic raspberries, so began my research on pesticides and nutritional impact of organic produce. I found that that Dirty Dozen list is sort of flawed, and quite frankly, the health benefits of eating well-washed conventional produce outweighs not eating it as much due to cost or even the minuscule risk of pesticides. So, organic moved down my list of priorities (I buy organic when on sale, and wash conventional produce really well to reduce potential exposure). Why? Because science. In my quest to maintain sanity while making healthy choices, I found a healthy dose of skepticism to be my ally. Make decisions based on facts or peer-reviewed information. Talk to your doctor! Trust your instincts! Don’t trust everything on the internet (and please stop liking and sharing articles without even reading them). Seek out peer-reviewed research from credible sources. As Neil deGrasse Tyson says, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” I chose to believe in it for the sake of my sanity.
As I close this diatribe, I want to leave you with this empowering meditation point for your chakra: There’s nothing healthier than making informed decisions for you and your family — and feeling confident in whatever you choose. Keep focused on what matters most to you, pour yourself a glass of wine, cuddle up to your chosen life partner and get off the f’ing internet. (Like, stop reading this already!)