When our seven-year-old bounced into the kitchen last night with her eyes sparkling and a massive grin on her face it was clear she’d had sausages for tea. Not a meat substitute or some cylindrical leek and potato effort. Actual meat sausages. Three of them, she gleefully informed me.
That very slightly clandestine meal at her friend’s house will have made her month. It made me wonder what the hell we were doing yet again.
When we ditched the plastic in a bid to reduce our environmental impact, and took away the bins, and stopped flying, and changed our energy suppliers and bank accounts to providers that didn’t hand it straight to a fossil fuels giant, we shifted to a plant-based diet at home too. It was an obvious decision.
I haven’t eaten meat since I was about her age so it wasn’t a big deal for me to cut out the dairy as well. The so-laid back-he’s-horizontal four-year-old doesn’t seem to care either way, and despite the generations of farmers leaning heavily on his psyche, my husband has happily clocked the drop in his waist measurement alongside the dip in our carbon footprint.
But my daughter isn’t totally convinced. Sure, she punts for the veggies at school of her own accord and puts toys back on the shop shelf when she realises what they’re made of, but every time it’s with a look on her face that would crush any parent.
We all know we have to shift our behaviours if we want our children to have a healthy, safe, future. But I’m not about to fill her head with images of the apocalypse, even when she asks if this week’s flooding and heatwaves and massive fires are because of climate change.
Nor am I about to make her feel bad for enjoying a chipolata.
Right now, for her, it feels like a lot of sacrifice, and for what, precisely? Especially when all her friends seem to be drowning in the synthetic dressing up and the glitter, and the felt tips like they don’t have a care in the world. Nor should they. They’re seven.
The problem is that the benefits of carrying on as before are tangible, rewarding even. If only short-term. For you and me, that includes being able to pick any damned thing we like from a menu or basing our holiday destinations on something other than whether we can get there without flying.
For her, it’s the fun, glittery freedom that comes from a play date. I get it. And I want her to have it.
None of us will be able to hold or even measure the individual impact of making more sustainable changes to our lives. We won’t get to say “See that orangutan? My decision not to buy any more ice cream and shower gel laced with palm oil saved the acre of Indonesian forest it lives in.”
Just like we can’t say “I stayed inside my house for months and as a result this person survived Covid.” We still did it though - way more of us than any behavioural expert would have predicted - because it has been an extreme situation that requires emergency action.
We have to decide whether or not to take a series of steps based on the evidence we choose to engage with, and then let those conclusions fight it out with the practicalities in the massive, often paralysing grey area that seems to drape itself across everyday adulthood.
But there are no grey areas in my daughter’s head. It’s that black and white clarity that makes her and her generation powerful enough to save the world. As long as we back them all the way.
I’m often asked what our kids think about the changes we have made. But I think that probably says more about the adults having the conversation than anything else.
It’s the children and the teenagers and the young adults that are staring the future in the face and not turning away simply for the sake of a few easy wins or automatic purchases.
They are owning that identity like never before. When she’s not sneaking a third helping at a playdate as if she hasn’t been fed in a week, our daughter is proud of herself and her choices.
There’s something else too. Being more sustainable cannot ever be a case of perfection or nothing.
If you’re claiming an absolutely squeaky green life, then you’re deluding yourself or others, discouraging everyone around you while you’re at it. Frankly we don’t have time for people to be put off because they can’t live up to the Insta-pretence.
So of course I’m not going to give her grief for the sausage, partly because I can’t afford the therapy she’d need later on if I started pulling that kind of parenting stunt, partly because she is an awesome kid who is more than capable of weighing up what she puts in her mouth, and partly because none of us will get this ‘right’ all the time.
Mostly though, I have a sneaking suspicion that she’s going to be guiding us in all this before too long.