‘Your children are vegan?! Clever kids.’
This was the comment I received in an online discussion forum when I happened to mention that my boys are vegan. Even typed, the words just oozed with sarcasm. This charmer then went on to question my parenting skills, even going so far as to imply that I was signing a death warrant for my children by feeding them this way – the biggest problem this vitriolic stranger seemed to have though, was the idea that I was somehow a monster for imposing my own beliefs and ethics on my children. In his mind, the choice of whether to abuse, sorry, eat animals should be theirs and theirs alone.
So are we imposing our beliefs on our children?
I’m sure many of you will have heard this comment when people find out that your children are vegan, and it will, no doubt, have been levelled as an accusation as in the example above.
Now, I’m sure I have already mentioned that initially I switched my boys to a vegan diet for health reasons. After much research I decided that feeding them meat and dairy would not be the best thing for their little bodies. It wasn’t so much an ethical decision at that point as I wasn’t sure myself that it was entirely appropriate to make those decisions on behalf of such young children.
Hopefully most of you will agree though, that being vegan isn’t about what you put in your mouth; it’s an entire lifestyle that encompasses not only diet but the clothes we wear, the things we do for entertainment, the way we view the world. A plant eater who is in it just for the health benefits could perhaps justify eating the odd slice of cake, at say a birthday party, or choosing a non vegan meal when out with friends. This began to feel wrong to me though, given my own dedication to cruelty free living.
I wanted to have them live a fully vegan lifestyle. So I started to question what is so wrong about imposing our beliefs on our children anyway. Surely this is, in fact, a vital element of our role as parents and caregivers?
Choosing for our children
If we think about it, every day as a parent is filled to the brim with decision making, from the big, important issues to the smaller details of family life. Will we have our children baptised? Many do. Yet surely this is a fairly major belief to ‘impose’ on our children? Will we let them go to the movies with their friends even though their latest report card left a lot to be desired? What will we teach them about homophobia? What about racism and sexism? Do we let them smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol before 18 years of age (the legal limit here in the UK)? Will we let them have a sweet treat after they have eaten their dinner? I could go on but you get the idea.
Every single day we make decisions on behalf of our children and the vast majority of them fall into two categories: keeping our kids safe and helping them become the people we want them to be.
The way I see it, veganism fits nicely into both categories.
Keeping our kids safe
The moment our babies enter this world we strive to keep them safe, to protect them – it’s pure instinct. Back in the day, a grizzly bear poking about the cave would have been the biggest threat to the offspring. Today I see busy roads and childhood obesity as some of the more obvious dangers. So, just as I strive to teach them the basics of road safety, so too do I want to keep my boys safe from ill health and disease, not just for now but when they are adults too. We know that a vegan diet can help protect us from some of the major killers; heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer et al, so I am doing nothing more than feeding my children the diet I believe will best serve their health.
Helping them become the people we want them to be
As for category two…well that could mean different things to different people. I’ll tell you what it means to me though. I don’t have any major ambitions for them career wise other than hoping that they find a job they enjoy. Will they get married, have kids? Well, that’s up to them. As long as they’re happy, I’m not too fussed. Straight or gay? Hey, they are who they are, it’s not for me to decide, it’s simply my job to love them and support them.
Here’s where I will step in though. If they begin to make choices that harm others, that are selfish, that are violent – that’s most definitely not ok with me. I imagine most parents would share that sentiment with me.
At the moment this manifests itself in small ways. Teaching them to share their toys, teaching them it’s wrong to hit, teaching them that it’s nice to help people. But it also manifests itself in bigger ways too. I’m teaching them that it’s wrong to kick puppies (well, I would if they ever showed any desire to do so, thankfully I haven’t actually had to face this scenario!), I’m teaching them that it’s wrong to eat animals simply for pleasure, I’m teaching them that it’s cruel to steal, whether that be a toy from their nursery friend or the milk from mummy cow that was intended for her own babies. I’m showing them that we don’t take things that don’t belong to us. Simply leading by example is not enough.
Some may label that as ‘imposing my beliefs’ and I suppose they are right but do you know what? I’m going to take that as a compliment! EVERY parent imposes their beliefs and ethics onto their children. In fact, by feeding your nippers dead animals surely you are imposing the belief that the murder of sentient beings for your own pleasure is acceptable. That is not the kind of mother I want to be.
So yes, I’m imposing on them the belief that it’s wrong to do harm to other beings, that it’s wrong to steal something that isn’t morally ours to take and I’m teaching them that violence is not acceptable. What’s so wrong with that?