Oh boy! This is one of those areas that I've been struggling with in the past year. Last year, my husband and I decided to try to go the West Coast. In preparation, we left our apartment so we didn't have to renew the lease and moved in with my parents. My parents are wonderful people. They still have the house that I grew up in and there was space for all of us. For a few months, it was great because my husband and I were traveling one week each month for 3 months so we were barely home. When we finally settled, my own habits started to clash a little bit with my parents. Of course, if you've been following a few of the articles in this blog, you know I like to do a bunch of crazy projects (hence the blog name) so it wasn't a surprise when the friction started to happen. My parents have been very supported of my new minimalist, eco-friendly, low sugar lifestyle and part of my secret goal was to also try to convert them into my ways. So we didn't end up moving to the West Coast for many reasons, but here's what I've learned about trying to influence my parents.
They Are Already Doing What They Can
If we look closely, we probably will realize that our parents are already living an eco-friendly lifestyle. It may not be the white walls zero waste living that we see on Instagram, but it's there in how they conserve resources. It's there when my mom keeps the thermostat at a certain degree and puts on an extra sweater instead. It's there when my dad cuts up old shirts and uses that as his Swiffer or as his car buffer. It's there when they save water from a leaky faucet to water the plants. It's there when they use a tin foil pan a few times more. It's there when they eat leftovers for days because they don't want to throw away the food. It's there when they continue to hang dry their clothes outside even when it's cold out. My first advice then when trying to convince the parents to follow a more eco-friendly lifestyle is to look at their lifestyle already. Just because it doesn't look like yours, it doesn't mean they are not living sustainably.
Old Habits Die Hard, But They Can Be Modified
My parents are in their 60s. Still very active, BUT, they are set in their own ways. Even myself in my 30's, I have my own habits and routines that I've probably been doing for years. So it's not easy to move away from that and this is something that we have to realize. We've been conditioned to act and see the world in a certain way. Depending on where we grew up, we believe certain thing are the way they are. Sometimes, it can be difficult to change this. This is where we need to learn to fight the battles.
I don't mean to stay that environment issues are minor, but I also don't want to strain the relationship I have with my parents on something as minor as using a plastic bag or using a disposable water bottle. I can't change their habits, but I can try to influence. I can't control what they do, but can help them along the way. Again, they've been living the way they've been living for decades now and it's quite difficult to do a 180 just because someone tells you to do so.
I belong to a a few groups on Facebook and it pains me sometimes to see family members vent and complain (not in a nice way) about a family member that is not following their lifestyle to a T. Sometimes, they use the harshest words and unfortunately this is not the way to influence others to see your point of view. I understand we all have our own beliefs and values and we want to live a certain way, but we need to learn how to address these in a way that is constructive. I have to say that sometimes people can come off as very ungrateful when it comes to how they describe their family members. At one point or another, living an eco-friendly lifestyle may not have been the priority for our parents.
I think back to a time when my parents would switch off work. One would come home at around 4pm while the other would leave work. During that time, convenience was priority. Get food on the table before heading to work so that kids could eat.
It's Not All or Nothing
As I can't fit all of my trash into a jar, I also can't expect my parents to do the same, but knowing their willingness and ability to try was more than enough for me. I celebrated when they transitioned out of single use water bottles. I helped them along the way by setting up an easy to care for water filtration system. We used a large glass container and Kishu charcoal (my full review here). I found reusable bags in the attic and gently asked my Dad to keep them in the car. After using them a few times, he now remembers to immediately put them back in the car once the groceries have been put away.
My mom has a few sets of great China so I encouraged her to use it for our family gatherings instead of disposables. Even my sister, who hosted Thanksgiving last year asked to borrow a few things so that she didn't have to get new things and we could reuse and refuse disposables. Just as my journey towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle is still ongoing, so are my parents. We may not be running at the same speed and we certainly did not start at the same time, but all efforts matter so it's important to share the wins.
Be An Example
As with all things, people just need to see things being done differently in order for them to accept that they can do so as well. During the time that we've stayed with my parents, we've traveled, eaten out and gone grocery shopping together. During our travels, I ALWAYS have my water bottle and I've shown them where to fill it and how to ask. I found a few farmer's market in the area and invited my parents to come each time. It was a chance to get out of the house and enjoy some Jersey fresh fruits and vegetables. When we eat out, I bring a container for leftovers and even my mom got into the spirit of it when she was the only one with leftovers and she used my container to save the food.
My parents grew up in the Philippines at a time when convenience items were not necessarily around. Some of the things that I am doing trying to save resources isn't necessarily new. So to them, these actions aren't completely foreign, but maybe just forgotten especially as they have acclimated to a life here in the United States has has been full of convenience items.
Influence Don't Force
In the end, continue to be an example. Our parents have raised us to do what is right. Even if they may not say it, I know that they are proud of us for making the effort to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. We can help them along the way too and maybe we can also learn why some of their own habits have stuck for so long. There's a story behind all of our actions and understanding them can help us understand our family history and dynamics too.