Vegan Parenting Moments: The Popsicle

October 6th, 2015 - filed under: The Farm » Family

vegan parenting

Vegan Parenting Moments – a collection of my own little experiences, be they “triumphs” or be they “fails”, as I navigate this wild adventure of raising a vegan child in a non-vegan world.

Waits is five and a half, which means he started kindergarten a few weeks ago. It’s the first time he’s really been off on his own, left to make his own decisions about what is – or what isn’t – acceptable for him. And left on his own to remember, with his developmentally-appropriate-and-therefor-rather-absent-minded 5 year old brain, to ask about the food and the tools and the textiles he encounters during his school day. Left to single himself out, left to speak up on his own behalf, and left to potentially be left out.

It’s a lot to ask of a tiny guy.

Here in California we’ve been having a heat wave (a little rain very recently, which is so welcome, but mostly it’s been sweltering), and so one day after school, maybe the second week of school, the teachers all passed out popsicles to the kiddos, right at dismissal. And I was standing outside of his classroom, waiting for him, and I watched all these wee people come streaming out, already excitedly slurping down their icy little sugar bombs.

And then out walked Waits, a look of intense determination on his face. His popsicle, unopened, clenched firmly in his little fist. His eyes scanned the schoolyard and zeroed in on his kindergarten teacher, and he was off. “Miss Anne! Miss Anne! I need to know if this is veeeeegan!!”

I followed along behind him (he hadn’t seen me yet, so set on his task he was) and approached as his teacher was trying to explain that she didn’t know. “Do you have the box??” he offered hopefully.

And she did, she fished it out of the trash and handed it to me so that I could confirm. And yes – they were vegan!

Then, and only then, did Waits tear into that popsicle. And the look of joy on his face was just priceless. He was beaming.

And I was just so proud of him. I told him that I was impressed with his restraint, and I told him how much I appreciated his conviction. How wonderful it was that he went to find his teacher, to confirm that his popsicle was vegan. And on the way home we talked about it some more, and instead of saying, “Weren’t you lucky that your popsicle was vegan so that you could eat it?” I reframed the issue and said to him :

“Aren’t your classmates lucky that all of their popsicles were vegan, and they didn’t even have to hurt any animals in order to enjoy their treat? What lucky kids they were to get vegan popsicles today!”

And he agreed that they were very lucky, indeed.

♥ ♥ ♥

Being a kid growing up outside the mainstream can be so hard, and raising a kid outside the mainstream means sometimes living with a sense of self-doubt, and often living with a sense of isolation. So, I hope that this little series I’m starting will help us all to feel more connected. None of us are perfect parents, so although I’ll be sharing my happy moments like this one here today, I’ll also be sharing my struggles, so we can all commiserate together. I’d love it if you share as well, down in the comments.

Have you had any “Vegan Parenting Moments” recently?

** And yes, I absolutely allow Waits to eat the occasional sugar bomb. It’s important to me that he grows up feeling like veganism means you get to have everything that other kids have — just minus the cruelty. I want his veganism to last with him into adulthood, which means I don’t ever want him to associate it with deprivation. This kiddo eats an incredibly healthy diet so for me, an occasional sugar bomb is totally worth the trade-off in the larger context of him developing a lasting relationship with his veganism. I know that other parents may feel differently, but this is what works for our family. Maybe this approach is something I should write more about in the future? You tell me!

  • Sarah Baker

    I really like this post! As a vegan who may have kids I am very worried about it seeming like deprivation. It seems like it would be hard around extended family, school, birthday parties etc. Thanks so much. You are an inspiration. A trailblazer! So happy about your wine venture, too.

  • Rachel in Veganland

    That story is so sweet! (Just as sweet as the popsicle, no doubt.) Thank you for sharing it! I too grew up an alternative kid by default. Not raised vegan, just raised…aware of a lot of things that caused me to question what I was taught in school, the day to day things that a lot of teachers take for granted. Sounds like Waits has got a great team on his hands to help him through! You must be proud of that moment! I’m proud for you from afar in this little community of ours!

  • JC Carter

    Dude. Little man is so impressive. Most kids his age aren’t even close to that self aware. I think the story has more to it than just raising a vegan kid. you are doing a great job with him.

  • Sara MM

    Thank you for sharing this moment with us. My gal turned 6 last month and started kindergarten in July (year round school). In her preschool all of her classmates knew she was vegan and never made her feel weird about it. She was proud to be vegan.

    Now that she is 6 and in public school I can tell we are starting down a more difficult path.

    We had a conversation last night about the kids all sharing their lunches suddenly now that they are all becoming friends. I talked to her about why I would prefer she not share but I tried to talk about it in terms of giving kids that have allergies her food since we do pack items containing nuts, wheat and soy for her. I did mention the other kids likely do not know all the ingredients in their lunchbox just like she doesn’t always know them so they wouldn’t be able to always tell her if they have eggs or dairy in their food.

    I could tell she wasn’t thrilled that she can’t just partake in the food sharing with wild abandon like her classmates and all I can do is hope that she takes our conversation into consideration each day at lunch.

    *I tried to have her be sugar free/only healthy treats for a few years after birth and now I agree with you. It’s healthier to teach balance rather than restrictions and to get to enjoy treats.

  • Rebecca Carnes

    Love, love, love the parenting posts:) I’ve seen other blogs where they glance over topics, mostly just recipes and such, but It’s great to have someone go into more detail. #VeganParentCommunity :)

    Phoenyx goes to a full time Montessori and I sometimes worry about how he handles snack times and even lunch. We often have conversations about being vegan and what that means, and he for the most part understands, but he is only 3. So there definitely has to be room for error or as I like to call learning lessons:) He has snagged the occasional gold fish and ..hate to admit it… a pepperoni off of a friends plate! But instead of shaming him into not eating those things I really try to talk to him about it and about why we don’t eat foods made from animals. Finding similar plant based foods has been an absolute blessing as well, definitely helps with him not feeling too singled out. Yay vegan Cheezits!! lol

    And I’m absolutely pro treats from time to time!! Balance is so crazy important <3

    Hopefully Phoenyx and I can keep the conversations going on into these next few years and build a more solid vegan foundation:)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I think it’s awesome that you’re already thinking about these issues, Sarah. There are certain difficulties that do come with being a vegan parent, but you earn to navigate through them. Parenting itself is a constant journey of learning and tweaking — adding the veganism is just another component of that. But you can totally do it, if you decide to become a parent some day.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Yeah I also grew up in a pretty alternative manner, so maybe that helps me as I navigate this path. I definitely feel like I have confidence in . . . I don’t know, I guess in “being different”, in a way that other vegan parents may not. I’m used to being the weirdo, haha. My struggle I guess is to allow Waits to embrace his difference without hyper-focusing on it. That’s a fine balance I’m trying to strike, ya know?

    And thank you for the support and pride! I love that we have this little community here to cheer each other on. =)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you JC. You may be right, but I won’t take credit for it. He is a pretty amazing little dude and you’re right – very self aware for his age. I try not to wear rosy mama goggles but yes – I am very proud of him!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Oh yes that’s a tough one. You don’t want her to eat non-vegan food, and that feels very important. But on the other hand, you don’t want to over-focus on it and make it a super charged topic, giving it so much weight and power. At least that’s what I would be trying to work through – finding that happy medium there. I feel like I spend a lot of energy in that place! Trying to figure out how to emphasize the importance of things without being overbearing about it. Maybe thats just me and my own worries though, haha.

    Also I love what oy said “It’s healthier to teach balance than restrictions” because it makes a REALLY important point. That it’s not just about focusing on restricting their treat intake for their own current health, which id how so many parents approach it. “I don’t want them to be unhealthy so I won’t let them have any unhealthy foods.”

    But then, what does that actually *teach* them? Certainly, it doesn’t teach them how to self-regulate. It doesn’t model a healthy relationship with food to be in constant restriction. I think it’s so much better to model “We eat healthy foods primarily, and we enjoy treats occasionally” because I feel like that’s so much more of a realistic and sustainable long-term strategy for them to actually employ.

    Thanks so much for sharing, Sarah!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Yes #VeganParentCommunity!! And we are GROWING!!

    Waits has also grabbed the occasional Goldfish, so I totally understand. I agree SO much with you that there has to be room for error. We actually had a second popsicle interaction at school that went quite a bit differently – and I plan to write about that one as well – but it seems so important to me to never shame kids around food, for whatever reason. Understanding and kindness should always come first. I feel like that’s the only way to build a foundation of vegansim that will actually last into adulthood, don’t you think?

  • Courtney Bliss

    That is so awesome! Both the fact that he asked his teacher and the way you framed things for him. Awesome!

  • vegangretchen

    Great post and I would love to see more vegan parenting moments. My son is 8 and is a lifelong vegan. There have been vegan parenting successes and failures. I would love to hear your stories as well.

    When my son was young he never had any refined sugar. When he was 3 or 4 someone was passing out vegan cookies at Whole Foods made without refined sugar. We both tried a sample. It was quite possibly the worst cookie ever made. My son ate it and thought it was delcious. At that moment I realized I better get him some delicious vegan cookies with sugar. I knew he would try a non-vegan sugar laden cookie at some point and decide that vegan = not nearly as good as non-vegan. Like you I don’t want vegan to mean deprivation. Now as much as I hate Popsicles filled with dye I’m glad when they are passed out as a class treat since he can have the same treat as everyone else!

  • Audrey

    Sayward, this little story brought a tear to my eye! You must have been so proud of him at that moment, it’s just awesome! My 22 months old is being raised as a vegan and I know there will be many struggles in the future for him but it’s our job as a parent to prepare him for those moments, just like you did with Waits.
    Looking forward to your next vegan parenting moments! Love xo

  • Jennifer

    Great photo! LOVE the green! LOVE your blog! Swing by my place when you have a sec it’s

  • Candace

    This article made me so happy! Good job mama! Good job Waits! And the compassion the two of you have for non-vegans is inspiring. I love how you guys felt so he kids were lucky they got to eat vegan and do no harm. :)
    My son is a lot younger than Waits (he’s only 21 months), so I love seeing the trials and tribulations you guys go through which helps me in the future. Thanks!

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    I’m excited to see this series unfold as Waits grows older!

    Nina is almost nine years old now, born and raised vegan; her childhood has been steeped in animal kindness stories, sanctuary visits, frank discussions about the kill farms in our rural neighborhood, philosophy podcasts, NYT and New Yorker articles about the ethics of food/food culture, and conversations that run the gamut of extremely emotional to extremely cerebral and all the grey area in between.

    It’s been fascinating observing her grow into her veganism and embrace my ideals on her own terms. Her training wheels are off! She has many success stories behind her, times when she declined an unexpected cupcake in class for someone’s birthday, a milk chocolate peanut butter cup, a non-vegan marshmallow. She reads labels like a champ, and advocates (very loudly) for herself and the animals 99.99% of the time. She has also made a few choices that don’t align with how we eat at home, such as accepting a traditional pastry from grandparents who only keep oreos in their pantry but eat fresh homemade croissants in front of their vegan granddaughter.

    If she’s offered a piece of pizza at someone else’s home, sometimes she politely declines, sometimes she not-so-politely declines, and sometimes she just “scrapes that shit off” (her words) and eats the crust, because she knows that the family treating her to dinner could not afford to order an extra pizza without cheese (and did not think to order half without).

    This is the world that she operates in, and she’s learning how to navigate it on her own terms. The only rule we have regarding food choices outside the home is that we never, ever misstate our choices as allergies. We discuss things ad nauseum, but we don’t food shame. Does it make a difference that her father isn’t vegan, that she’s been exposed to both sides of this issue from day one? Probably, but I would like to think not so much. Her favorite movie is Chef, but she won’t listen to non-vegan cooking podcasts. She’s figuring it out all on her own.

  • Sarah

    High-five Waits! That’s so admirable of him. I love your approach to healthy eating, and veganism.

    My husband (not vegan or veggie) has just agreed that I can bring our kids up as vegan (my son is 2.5 yrs and my daughter is 11 months old), woo woo! I’m beyond thrilled. However, I am a little daunted by it all. My son is great eater but my daughter is sooooo picky and still relies alot on formula at this point. They’ve both just had a mostly vegetarian diet so far, fortunately so hopefully this will make it easier. But they both love egg and cheese. And they’re the main sources of protein I can get my daughter to eat. I need to decide on a plan of action I think and take it from there. Sorry for rambling on. Btw, on my blog I’ve sign posted people to your blog as a resource for being healthy and vegan as I think your story of failing health as a vegan is a powerful and heartening one. Hope that’s ok.

  • vegyogini

    Even though I’m not a parent, I LOVE reading about the way you parent. I learn from you so that someday, if I am ever do have children, I have a store of knowledge to take with me into that great adventure. This is a great story; thank you for sharing!

  • Rachel Deines

    I am nowhere near having children, or even wanting to have children, but for some reason I can’t get enough of reading how you are parenting Waits (who is absolutely adorable and has a kickass name, btw) as a vegan kid. Your approach is pretty much exactly how I would hope to approach it myself some day. Thank you for sharing and giving me hope that doing this is possible! Looks to me like you’re doing a great job :)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Oh thank you so much Rachel! I am really hoping to share more of these kinds of posts in the new year, so thanks for letting me know that you enjoy them. It really means a lot to me!