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Taking Proactive Steps Towards Sustainable Parenting

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s MPA Curriculum on a blogging series about “Sustainable Development.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Nick Lee

Parenting is not sustainable. Children, as cute as they are, immediately become some of the biggest consumers around. Each child goes through thousands of disposable diapers, their ever-changing opinions change faster than the Republican Presidential Candidates and their short attention spans are on par with Richard Simmons workout shorts. These behaviors require new things to entertain them on a regular basis. They even grow out of their clothes and toys faster than we would ever expect.

So how are parents supposed to respond to all of this? It’s no accident that the first thing we do is buy them more stuff. You can't blame parents completely for this behavior, however. In 1992, marketers spent more than $8 billion dollars targeting kids and in 2009, that number is in the $15-20 billion dollar range.  When did each child having their own room with a crib, changing table and monitors become a necessity? And is it really essential to have baby shoes that match their outfits?

Could I really be asking you to get rid of your crib and start using cloth diapers? Not necessarily. A foundational step to sustainable parenting is to make educated decisions. For example, if parents knew that it is estimated to take disposable diapers 250-500 years to decompose and cost thousands of dollars more than cloth diapering, each parent could make a well-informed decision.

Now, let's modify this train of thought a bit.

Parenting can be sustainable. Parenting and sustainability are interconnected on various levels as they are both focused on improving and preserving the future by taking steps to safeguard our long-term interests. Sustainability can and should be interwoven into most decisions we make in order to preserve our families and our surroundings. Sustainable parenting teaches both caregivers and children about having a personal investment in their homes, neighborhood and social networks, which in turn, due to the ecology of communities, affects their environment.

Most people in America can pick up food within minutes of their home, wirelessly talk to anyone in the world and travel across the country within a matter of a few hours. So given this environment we are raised in, it only makes sense that it is necessary to re-learn how to think with our long-term interests in mind.  With all of this external focus on utilizing time more efficiently, now more than ever we need to model to our children that time is something not to be rushed.

There are different philosophies out there like Slow Parenting, Attachment Parenting, and Mindful Parenting, each with a different focus, but each having consistent themes: provide a safe place for your child, be in the moment, be reliable and let yourself and your child learn from your surroundings. Dr. Dan Siegel talks about some of these different styles of parenting in his book, Parenting from the Inside Out. In addition to Dr. Siegel's writings, this article has five concrete ways to begin heading down a path of sustainable parenting.

Parenting and children are not, without effort, a sustainable combination. It is necessary to change our current way of thinking and is time to raise our children with sustainability on our minds. Our parenting style helps shape the future and teaches our children that sustainable living is a way to ensure we don’t compromise future generations.


Nick spent his professional career providing counseling and support to severely emotionally disturbed children who became a part of the Child Protective Services system. It is because of this experience with these amazing, resilient kids, as well as his own two children, that he is currently an MBA candidate in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School. He is focusing his energy on Sustainable Parenting and ensuring that being "green" isn't only for the elite. He can be reached at nicholas.lee@presidiomba.org, on LinkedIn, or you can follow him on twitter @nalee77

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