The holidays are coming … along with all of the trappings (as in visits with relatives). These can be tricky no matter what, but especially for those of us devoted to green living with relatives and beloved friends who are not. More often than not, eco-families find themselves in an (organic) minority during the holidays. Faced with grandparents bearing toxic gifts or festive sibling dinners filled with artificial and genetically modified ingredients, it’s hard not to feel alone.
In an effort to make you feel less alone, here are some thoughts on how families can stick to their eco-principles without starting a seasonal civil war. Sure, you could just grin and bear it for a few weeks or a few meals, but these are life-long relationships. And these occasions offer unique teachable moments—a chance to talk about concerns well worth sharing with those we love. You may have better luck with these conversations with your own mother than your mother-in-law. Be realistic. Here are some ideas:
- Draw your line in the sand. Some things aren’t worth discussing, and deciding on them ahead of time lowers stress levels. For example, you may accept a few non-organic meals or baths with petrochemical fragrance-filled soaps, but vinyl toys and conventional bug spray are deal-breakers. Choose before you travel. Or, why not host? Then you’re more in control.
- When it comes to things that cross your line, try playing the humble novice. For example, if Grandma showers your kids with lipstick-covered kisses, mention that you read that over 60 percent of lipsticks contain lead. Express your shock, share the surprise (who knew?), and suggest keeping the lipstick away to be safe. Gifting better lipstick is always a possibility, no matter what holiday you celebrate.
- If everything you suggest elicits the response, ”Well, we’ve always had/eaten/used X, and it never hurt us,” mention that you’ve heard that the damage things like X do doesn’t appear for years and then can be difficult to trace to its cause. Root your response in current science. If they’re avid newspaper readers, sharing some of, say, New York Time’s columnist Nicholas Kristof’s many op-eds on environmental health is a great way to get the message across. Say that for the kids’ sake, embracing safer alternatives seems like good precautionary common sense.
- Give advance warning whenever possible so expectations are clear, whether it’s about gift-giving no-nos, dietary requirements, or wearing shoes in the house if you’re bringing a crawling baby to visit. Screen whatever you can before given, eaten, or used to head off confrontations in the moment. It’s ok to bring your own stuff, too. Your sister might not want to go out and buy you organic groceries, but if you arrive with milk, snacks, and a side dish you’re happy to have and share, she might be grateful.
- Take breaks. This is your vacation, too! Relatives should understand that your smaller family unit might like to eat lunch alone together or stay in a hotel rather than in a guest room. During these times you can call the shots. And having a plastic-free, sugar-free, organic meal break can be all you and yours need to get through the holidays without sparring.
If you prefer to let things slide in the interests of family harmony, that’s ok. Brief annual exposure to many products and materials is often not a big deal. A few days of synthetic cleaners or eating candy with food dyes likely won’t do lasting harm. The younger your kids, however, and/or the more toxic the material, less tolerance is prudent. Ultimately it’s a judgment call parents have to make. Remember to have these conversations with a smile and affection. It will make for a much happier new year.