Monday, April 26, 2010

Defining Holistic Parenting: Making Conscious Connections

Everywhere you look, things are turning green. Spring is definitely upon us, but the “greening” I am referring to is the growing interest in eco-conscious choices, natural solutions, and organic products. While these trends are significant in the marketplace, they are also apparent in a movement toward parenting and lifestyle choices that focus on promoting awareness of environmental conservation and holistic living.

Many parents today are seeking natural remedies and a holistic lifestyle for themselves and their families in an effort to attain optimal health and to live a greener life. Most of us understand the nature of eco-consciousness and the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling. But at the Holistic Moms Network, we are often asked “what is holistic parenting?”

For starters, holistic parenting springs from an awareness of how our choices are interconnected. Like attachment parenting, holistic parenting seeks to build and strengthen connections – connections between parent and child, connections between our lifestyle and our health, and connections between our choices and their impact upon the Earth. It’s about understanding the relationship between mind, body, and spirit and trying to find balance. When you are out of balance emotionally, physically, or spiritually or when your environment is toxic, it is a sign of illness. Making choices that embrace these interconnections and working with nature and our innate knowledge helps us to restore balance. Holistic parenting is also about becoming informed and being cognizant of how different options affect our health and well-being, as well as their impact upon our communities and the world at large. Being conscious of our choices enables us to think on a larger scale and to do what is best for our families both in the short term and the long term.

Although holistic parenting can take many routes, there are some simple things every parent can to do to begin their holistic living journey. Here are six cornerstones that help to define holistic parenting:

Being Informed. Being informed in our parenting and healthcare choices is a cornerstone of whole living. From childbirth options to nutrition; from education alternatives to discipline, holistic parenting seeks a natural path and understands how these choices impact our lives on physical, spiritual, and emotional levels. Holistic parents often look beyond the surface to assess the risks and benefits of their choices and to understand how each choice will alter their well-being and the environment. Modern technology has enabled parents to access an enormous wealth of information and to become aware of less conventional perspectives. Parents need to become advocates for themselves, their children, and our planet, and to be open to information that resonates with them regardless of whether or not the data confers with “mainstream” perspectives.
Cultivating Trust. Living holistically starts with a shift in your perspective away from fear and uncertainty and toward trust in yourself, your body, and nature’s healing power. Cultivating this trust is challenging but uncovering it is ultimately a source of empowerment. From childbirth and breastfeeding to natural healing, trusting in the body and its amazing abilities enables us to recognize that nature holds many miracles. This also means trusting in the needs of our children. We all know babies have needs and wants but our society tends to minimize their levels of consciousness and awareness. Many studies have shown that newborns have a surprising awareness and consciousness of their own needs and if we trust in their ability to know what they need, we will parent more successfully.
Tuning Into Your Mother (or Father) Wisdom. Deep within ourselves lies our inner wisdom and intuition, as well as our spiritual voice. What feels right to us may not be the most traveled path but often will best serve our families. This wisdom guides not only our parenting styles, but also simple choices we make everyday. Many times we may wonder is this really “good” for us, even if it is considered “safe” by the standards of authorities. If your wisdom is questioning, take time to become informed and seek alternatives. Parenting from the heart and trusting in our instincts honors our own wisdom and abilities.
Going Natural. The preponderance of chemicals in our food, homes, and environment is wreaking havoc on our health. A 2004 article in The Journal of Pediatrics advised pediatricians to discuss the neurological risks of exposing babies to pesticides, whether through foods or environmental exposure on lawns, schools, and playgrounds. In the article, they noted that the blood-brain barrier in babies is easily crossed by chemicals and thus reducing exposure is essential. They also noted that “we are currently able to characterize pediatric risks for only a handful of the approximately 80,000 man-made chemicals that have entered the environment since World War II” and that children are the most vulnerable to potential toxic exposure. We need to look for safe, non-toxic products to care for our homes, and to eliminate artificial ingredients, preservatives, and pesticides from our food for the health of our families, as well as our environment.
Living Lightly on the Earth. Living holistically means recognizing the interconnectedness of our choices. Treading lightly by supporting industries that nurture the earth (such as organic farming), incorporating green practices into your life (such as recycling), and giving back of yourself through volunteer work are essential components of natural living. As parents, we can educate our children to take simple but important steps to conserve, reuse, and to live simply and thoughtfully for themselves and future generations.
Finding Support. While all things “green” may be increasingly popular, living a holistic lifestyle continues to be considered “alternative” and often garners criticism and questioning from our own families and friends. Creating and interacting with others who share similar philosophies is empowering and will help parents to find the tools they need to grow a healthy family. What’s more, social support itself is health creating. Recent studies show that being socially connected to others can improve your physical health and is linked to lower mortality rates. Connecting with other holistic-minded parents can help you to learn, share, and continue your journey to a more natural and balanced life.

Building connections and cultivating an awareness of how our lifestyle choices impact other aspects of our health, well-being, and environment is at the heart of holistic parenting. The strong and nurturing connections that provide the foundation for attachment parenting are thus expanded and applied to our bodies, our communities, and our Earth. Holistic parents nurture their health through whole, organic foods; cultivate the body’s ability to heal without interference; and seek choices that connect them to a sustainable environment. By strengthening these connections, parents can find balance in personal, familial, and global realms.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Simple Things

At the Down 2 Earth Expo in Boston just the other weekend, I was awed and excited to take part in the kids' activity sponsored by Organic Valley of making our own butter. Who knew that putting a little heavy cream in a glass jar and shaking it vigorously was all you needed to do to create your own homemade butter? Certainly not I! Simple, easy, delicious - and a great activity for the kids both at the Expo and to do at home.

Although I am often short on time and may not always be the best planner, what inspires me (and many other parents) to turn to homemade products is a growing uncertainty and even distrust of our food manufacturers, their processes, and, perhaps most significantly, their ingredients. Whether you have children with food allergies/sensitivities or are simply looking for safe, natural products without chemical additives, "making your own" is the easiest way to control the ingredients and quality of the food that your family consumes. Powerful movies like Food, Inc. fuel the fire and inspire us to buy better, learn more, and make conscious choices.

The list of ingredients in our foodstuffs is nothing short of astounding. According to a Business Week article, the average American eats their weight in food additives every year. Many of these additives have been implicated in everything from cancer to ADHD. The Feingold Association of the United States, for example, has extensive links to research on the association between food additives and allergies, autism, depression, learning difficulties, seizures, and more. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a handy online guide to help us all weed through the growing lists of additives and to assess their safety. Just getting started? reported on 12 food additives to avoid - a good beginning point for anyone trying to eat healthier and safer. How do we protect our families? By becoming informed and taking control, says Robyn O'Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It.

It begins with awareness and, for me, leads toward simplicity. The more whole, natural, and unprocessed a food, the better. Foods with too many ingredients are off my list. No matter what nutritional path you follow, you can always eat healthier by emphasizing food products in their natural, unaltered state. In the end, simple is definitely better!

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Journey in Parenting

Spring break came to an abrupt halt this week when my almost 9 year old woke with projectile vomiting at 3 a.m. in the morning, the night before we were headed back home. Stomach bug? Food poisoning? Whatever it was, we scrambled around changing sheets, cleaning, calming, and attempting to fix what was in our control. But the morning crept up on us and we were still faced with the inevitable task of driving from Maine to New Jersey in spite of the vomit and whatever else our parenting journey was going to present.

So we scurried about, packing our things and juggling our not-so-well son and our well but not-so-happy 4 year old and ushered everyone into the truck (along with the two dogs) for our trek home. What should have taken us an hour to get across the Pisataqua Bridge instead evolved into a two-hour excursion: first a stop at the health food store to stock up on homeopathic remedies, ginger chews, and non-toxic cleaning products for the car; a second stop to overdose ourselves on the caffeine we needed to sustain two weary parents for at least six to seven hours of driving (or so we thought); and, for good measure, a stop to appease the 4 year old's complete meltdown for no discernable reason, but which was remedied by mommy hugs, songs, and a walk in the sunshine.

It is these moments when parenting gets hairy - and creative. Certainly a long car ride with a sick child is not the height of challenge in one's parenting journey. Having stood by while my son was given last rites by a hospital priest makes a ride through six states with a stomach bug and some fussies look like a walk in the park. But challenges like this can make us rise or fall. They can get under our skin, frazzle our nerves, and generate tension enough to bicker with your spouse along the way. But they can also inspire creativity and enormous patience for whatever lies ahead. I am far more apt to forget the sippy cup or mess up the lunchbox when the sun is shining and the day is full of easy routine than when the red alert has been sounded and we need all hands on deck. Loading the car for this challenge I was struck by how suddenly the place for the appropriate "barf bag" was made readily apparent; how niches for tucking away remedies and fluids revealed themselves; and how a whole host of interesting distractions and calming agents flowed through my brain. Parenting does that to you. It forces you to figure a way through rather than around. You become creative in new ways and realize that bemoaning what is only makes it worse. Instead you find ways to manage, to nurture, and to heal. We may not always do it well. We may bicker. We may forget the extra napkins or not think a change of socks may be needed. But we can find a way to journey that stretches us, challenges us, and helps us to reach higher.

And then we can look back and laugh. Remember that spring break when it took us 9 hours to get home? Yeah, we did that. And we made it!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Toxic Soup

Quick - what's the most dangerous room in your home? How many of you thought the kitchen? No doubt knives are a risk when you have little ones running around, but for most people the bathroom is where the real risks are and where we literally subject ourselves to a toxic soup each and every day.

Just consider a standard bathroom routine - brushing teeth, showering, washing hair, applying moisturizers or conditioners, putting on makeup, or using deodorant. On average, people use nearly 10 different products on their bodies each day, applying approximately 126 unique ingredients to their skin, hair, and teeth, according to the Environmental Working Group. But do we know (and understand) the risks of each of these ingredients to our health and well-being? How many of the ingredients in your personal care products are familiar to you? How many can you even pronounce?

Although there are literally thousands of ingredients used in personal products (approximately 10,500 according to EWG and only 11 percent of those have been tested for safety), even a few common ones are of great concern: for starters, parabens, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, and diethanolomine. Trying to find personal care products, such as shampoo, without parabens is no small feat even with growing concern about their safety. Parabens are used as preservatives and can accumulate in the tissues of the body. Recent research has found the presence of parabens in human breast tumors leading scientists to question if a connection exists. Propylene glycol, a type of mineral oil, has been linked to dermatitis, kidney damage, and liver abnormalities although industry officials claim its use in personal care products is safe in low doses. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a surfactant used in cosmetics, appears to have a high level absorption into body tissue according to the Journal of the American College of Toxicology (1983) and has a degenerative effect on cell membranes. Diethanolomine or DEA, found in soaps and detergents, has been linked to causing cancer in rats according to a 1998 National Toxicology Program report. In every case, the government and industry officials claim that small doses or exposures to these chemicals do not pose a serious health risk to humans. However, what is not considered is repeated, daily exposure - sometimes from multiple sources - over a longer time period and the impact on wellness.

What to do? Seek out truly natural products without chemical compounds or research the level of toxicity in your favorite brands. Make use of the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database to review the risks of these products and make informed choices.