Right, here is a little bit of a controversial subject: unschooling while being true to your own values. Of course this doesn’t have to be very controversial, but I have found that in some instances the two things seem to be perceived as clashing or people think they cannot be united because it might mean forcing your values upon your children. But I don’t think it has to be like this. Here is the thing; I am a vegan, that is, a vegetarian who eats no animal products what so ever, nor do vegans wear animal products or exploit animals in any other way (there is a long list of things vegans choose not to do in terms of explioting animals and I am not going to list everything here). Also, I think I should call myself a vegetarian striving to become a vegan in the sense that I think some things I do would not be considered vegan by “real vegans”. I just say vegan because it is closer to the truth than vegetarian. Anyway, all these labels quite irritate me and I wish I could just say I try to live as sustainably as my current situation allows me to. At any rate, I do not eat animal products and I do not buy animal products. For myself.
Then comes the real challenge; how do I stay true to my own values and avoid imposing them on my daughter? It is not always easy. And in the past I haven’t been going about it in a way that I can say have felt good. A little bit of background history: I first decided to become a vegan almost five years ago, when my daughter was just a baby. Back then I was breastfeeding her and there really was no issue about food. She ate what she had always been eating. As it was there was a nurse coming to my house every once in a while and while she was quite open to my new idea (becoming a vegan) she was also a little hesitant to give a green light when it came to my daughter. Being a nurse she had to, to a certain degree, abide by the rules/regulations layed down by our healthcare services and they all believe a lot of untrue stuff about what people need to eat to get the right nutrition. So she said she was sure it was possible to raise a child vegan but she couldn’t really advise me. Being, as I was, a novice in veganism and motherhood I read a lot and I conferred with other vegans who were raising their children vegan and I learned that it was entirely possible to raise your child vegan. So that’s what I decided to do.
It all went smoothly; my daughter ate my milk and I ate vegan food and when she started eating solid foods I gave her plant based foods. Everything was going well. Until my surroundings thought they should interfere. Some members of my family thought I was crazy and absolutely didn’t respect my wishes, so they did their best to introduce animal foods to my daughter as fast as possible. This provoked me in a way that I became quite rigid about what she was eating and I think I made way too big a deal out of it in trying to control what she ate. Family visits became exhausting and there was a bad mood that affected everyone, not least my daughter, in a negative way. This lasted a while. But as I got wiser and decided to trust my daughter’s ability to make her own choises and her ability to eat what she felt was right and appropriate I was able to relax and in turn everybody were able to relax. This created a much more harmonious environment for everyone.
It took years for me to get to the point where I am now; this is a place where I let my daughter choose what foods she wants. I do not keep animal products in the house but if my daughter wants to eat meat or something else I take her to a place where these foods are available and she opts for this possibility when she wants something with meat or dairy. As it turns out my daughter is not nearly as interested in eating meat as she was when it was a no-go for her (on account of MY ideals, I know). She eats what she wants and often it is stuff we have in the house.
I also do not talk to my daughter about my view on animal rights etc. That is, I answer any questions she may have, and she asks me a lot of questions. I know that she is probably much more aware of the issue of animal rights than other children her age are and of course that is because I am a vegan and because she grew up hearing about vegansim and knowing what it is. But I don’t consider this a form of indoctrination or coercing or forcing my ideals upon her; it is simply how we live. It is no more indoctrination than it would be in a family where meat is eaten without any questioning, this is simply how that family has chosen to live. So, by doing what I feel is right and ethical I set an example to my daughter and she is then free to choose if she wants to follow my example. I have chosen to follow my daughter’s wishes in her choice of foods and I have chosen not to be judgemental towards her wishes. This is the best way, I feel, to maintain a safe and loving connection with her, where she feels heard and accepted. And she does feel heard and accepted. Now.
I haven’t been going about this in the right way since the beginning. But I have learned and grown and I am now doing what I believe is the best thing for both my daughter and myself. We are each able to choose what we want and we can talk about vegetarianism, carnism or veganism in an open and curious way. My daughter knows what it is and she is curious and knowledgeable about the issues of food. She does not feel judged on her choices and she is free to choose what she wants.
Now, some people would probably say that then I am not a real vegan. And that is okay. As it is, I read a study about how many green kids turn green adults and, as it is, very few do. I would rather my daughter doesn’t feel the need to rebel against me over the issue of food and feels confident enough to choose, on her own, whether she wants to be a green adult or not.
Much love to both vegans and unschoolers and to the ones who are both 😉 And much love to you of course, dear reader. So as to give a little taste of what vegan can look like I have added a few pictures.