Teaching Kids to Care for Our World with guest Shannon Brescher Shea

Want to learn some easy ways for busy moms to involve the whole family in helping to save our environment? Wondering why you should care about environmental sustainability in the first place? Or how to talk to your kids about climate change without scaring them? In this episode of Brainy Moms, Dr. Amy and Teri interview science writer and environmental activist Shannon Brescher Shea. Shannon is the author of the book Growing Sustainable Together: Practical Resources for Raising Kind, Engaged, Resilient ChildrenWe talk about her life’s work in environmental activism, her passion for helping parents train up a generation of kids who care about our world, and practical ways to fit green living in with our hectic, modern lifestyles.

Read the transcript and show notes for this episode:

Episode 130
Teaching Kids to Care for our World
with guest Shannon Brescher Shea

Dr. Amy Moore:

Recording in three, two. Hi, and welcome to this episode of Brainy Moms. I’m Dr. Amy Moore, here with my co-host, Teri Miller, coming to you today from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Our guest today is parenting and environmental sustainability writer, Shannon Brescher Shea. Shannon is the author of the environmental parenting advice book, Growing Sustainable Together: Practical Resources for Raising Kind, Engaged, Resilient Children. She’s also a science writer, parenting blogger, and long-standing environmental activist. She lives in the Washington DC suburbs with her husband and two children.

Teri Miller:

Hi, Shannon. So glad you’re here with us.

Shannon Shea:

Thank you. So glad to be here.

Teri Miller:

Well, I’m super intrigued and I’m sure our listeners are too, about your topic, your area of expertise, environmental parenting advice, and I can’t wait to hear more about that. Before we even launch into that though, tell me a little bit about your personal story: how did you get on the road to where you are today, doing that as your passion?

Shannon Shea:

Yeah, absolutely. It goes back to, in fact, when I was a little kid in third grade. I call it my origin story, like a superhero.

Teri Miller:

Love that.

Shannon Shea:

We went to Homosassa Springs State Park in Florida, which is a Manatee conservation area, and we were walking around, and they have this big box that you walk down the stairs and basically look at the manatees out through plexiglass window. It’s as if you’re in the aquarium, not the manatees. And I just fell in love with the manatees. They come over and they look at you and they’re really cute, and they had this look of innocence to them. And then on the same day, I found out that they were endangered. And so, the idea that these animals could possibly never exist anymore just totally broke my heart as a 9 or 10-year-old.

Shannon Shea:

And so, I decided I wanted to do something about it. And even though I had always loved nature, I’d been outside a lot, that’s when I really started being interested in the environment as something to actively protect, to actively work with, to actively not just passively enjoy, but care about as its own thing, separate from what we could use it for. And then as I got older, I hooked in the social justice aspect and realizing that the communities that are most affected by things like climate change, air pollution, water pollution, are also the ones that are the most affected by racial injustice, by economic injustice. And so, that became a really core part of my environmental interest as well. So, when I became a mom, I realized that was not something that I was going to give up, this is my life’s passion, but I needed to find ways to adapt it to my new lifestyle.

Shannon Shea:

And one of the stories I tell in the book is about how I had a lot of both, what I call, green guilt, which is feeling like you’re not doing enough environmentally, you’re making too much garbage or you’re driving too much, et cetera, and mom guilt, which I’m sure everybody is familiar with because it’s very common in society. And they wrestled with each other. I would feel like, “Well, if I’m doing environmental things, I’m taking away from time with my kids,” or “If I’m doing these things with my kids, I can’t go to a protest or I can’t work on the garden or et cetera.” And for my blog, I did a series of interviews with other people who consider themselves green moms, and one of the questions I asked is, “How do you deal with this conflict?” And all of them said there is no conflict. And I was really confused by this because I felt it all the time; I felt this pull all the time.

Shannon Shea:

And one day, I was sitting downstairs on a beanbag in my basement, reading a different parenting book, and I realized that the people I was talking to were right. And I literally closed the book and sat up, and I mean you could see the cartoon light bulb above my head, because, I realized that, well, this is particularly difficult when your kids are infants and toddlers, especially as they get older, and even back in those toddler years, the environmental activities that we involve our kids in, whether that’s gardening, or biking and walking places instead of driving, or doing activism or volunteering in your community, all teach the kinds of values and skills, not just the values, but the skills that at least I wanted my kids to have, and I think a lot of other people want their kids to have. Things like kindness, engagement, and connection with your community, responsibility. Skills like executive function that we need to be able to, what I call, be good citizens in the world, to care about things outside of yourself.

Shannon Shea:

And so, that’s what motivated me to write the book; was I felt like I had this light bulb moment, other people were struggling with those same sorts of doubts and could appreciate knowing not just why those doubts were… not to say unfounded because I understand why they’re founded, but to help resolve some of those doubts and find the actual proof of it. It wasn’t just something that I came up with that I thought was true in my life, but actually played out in expert interviews and in observations I made of other people and other people’s kids, and then even in the social science literature. My background is in, looking at the social science literature, psychology and sociology, and communications. And I was able to dig into that, which I know most people don’t have either the capability or the time to do so because it’s very tense. So, I was happy to be able to bring that to people.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So, I want to go to the foundational aspect of what you do, for a couple of minutes.

Shannon Shea:

Absolutely.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Environmental sustainability. For our listeners who don’t really even understand that term, can you explain what that is, and why is it even important, why should we care?

Shannon Shea:

Yeah, absolutely. Environmental sustainability is being able to do something, over a long period of time, without it causing harm or using up resources that you can’t get more of. So, using fossil fuels, for example, which are like coal and oil and gas and natural gas, are not sustainable because, one, there’s no more being produced of them. We can get more out of the ground, but it’s getting harder and harder to do so. Even getting out of the ground has huge consequences. For example, oil spills contaminate people’s water.

Shannon Shea:

Then the process of using them also produces greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change, that lead to things like stronger wildfires start more often, and stronger hurricanes as we’ve seen, longer and more severe droughts that affect things like groundwater and people’s drinking water, and also, things like very strong heat waves, which people don’t really think of until they happen, but they can be deadly, especially for people who don’t have air conditioning, our elderly folks, and young kids who are more sensitive to the heat. So, environmental sustainability is a matter of protecting the home we live in, but it’s also the only place we have, and if we don’t, it has massive effects on the ecosystems we rely on for food, for housing, for water, for all of these really basic essential things. And it has the biggest effects on the people who are already hurt the most by other kinds of injustices in our society.

Teri Miller:

Right. Yeah. Economic struggles like you said, racial injustice. Yeah. I want to come back to when you were just talking about your story. You mentioned when your kids were first born, when you first became a mom, and you were just overwhelmed with the day-to-day, just practicality, and man, does that resonate. And so, as a busy mom, for our listeners… As a busy mom, I know, for me personally, I want my kids… I want to have an environmental sustainability mindset in my home. Even little things like reduce, reuse, recycle, I want to have that mindset that we have the separate trashcan and the separate recycling and the separate compost.

Teri Miller:

And yet, there are lots of times… And I’m better now because my kids aren’t little, but especially when they’re little, there are lots of times where, day after day, I say, “I do not have time. I’m too busy. I’ve got to get their lunch made, I’ve got to get to this next thing. You know what, that peanut butter thing, I’m not washing out. It’s going in the trash. I’m not going to do the effort to put it in recycling.” And so, that’s a challenge that we face as moms. So, talk to us about that and how you have made that a part of your life.

Shannon Shea:

Yeah. A big part of it is finding the things that you care about and that you enjoy doing, maybe washing out that peanut butter container, and that have a big impact also. Washing out that peanut butter container is, one, a pain, and two, most plastic actually doesn’t get recycled anyway, so unless you’re using glass, probably doesn’t make that big of a difference, sorry. So, picking things that are both personally meaningful to you and have as big of an impact as possible, and that you can integrate cleanly into your life. Great example is, right now, we have just started biking to school, which I had never been able to do before with my kids because I was at work, I had a really long commute, I took transit, but it was still like an hour-long, and so I left way before the kids went to school.

Shannon Shea:

My husband’s not a big bicyclist, but with me at home and us a little iffy about the school bus with COVID, we’re like, “We’ll reduce another source of risk.” And so I started biking my kids to school. My kindergarten rides in the back of my bike, and my eight-year-old takes his own bike. And it’s been amazing. It fits into the schedule. They got to get to school somehow. They only leave like five minutes earlier than if they took the bus. It gets everybody exercise. My younger son has some struggles with attention and with emotional regulation; Biking is like a miracle drug for him. It helps so much. He’s in a much better mood when he comes home, when he gets to school. We had the world’s worst morning the other day, and by the time he got to school, we were all far more relaxed, far more grounded, and just able to get on with things.

Shannon Shea:

And so, finding those things that benefit us in ways that aren’t just sustainability, but also personally and that you enjoy, is the really sweet spot because you’re going to find time to do those things because you like them, because you see the benefits. It’s not just sustainability as an add-on, as this next thing you do when you have time, it becomes part of your entire life and part of your entire way of looking at the world. And that’s one of the reasons I wrote that book; was to show people what those other benefits were, in addition to sustainability being a nice thing to do because it’s a nice thing to do. But the fact that it has benefits on your kid’s behavior and on your own behavior too. I know I’m way more focused at work when I get to bike the kids to school.

Teri Miller:

Can you give us two or three more examples of practical things that, as moms, we can begin to make a part of our lifestyle, that are more impactful than… Who knew I’m wasting my time cleaning out the peanut butter jar.

Shannon Shea:

Sorry.

Teri Miller:

What else can we do?

Shannon Shea:

I really hesitate to give specific examples for people’s lives because I don’t know their lives. But going out and picking up garbage when you go for walks in the evening, instead of going to… Right now, COVID limits our activity so much, but going for a walk in the evening instead of maybe some other activity you’d have to drive to, and then picking up garbage along the way, shows your kids that you value your local community, you want it to be clean, you want to protect the animals there, you want to protect the water there because that can actually be a big water hazard.

Shannon Shea:

My kids and I went and participated in a local stream cleanup for a couple of years, and they love it and it gives them a sense of place. They remember that, like, “When we help clean up the stream at this park we go to all the time.” And so, there’s an investment in the community there and a connection. So, stream and beach cleanups are really popular with a lot of people. In terms of everyday activities, I think composting is actually a great one. Composting can drastically reduce the amount of waste you throw out. It’s relatively easy, it doesn’t take that much time. You have to buy a composter. That’s really the only thing in terms of investment. And kids really enjoy doing… You can remind them, like, “Hey, which one does this go in? Do we put in the compost?” So, they can help put stuff in the compost or rip up newspapers.

Shannon Shea:

A lot of the little kids like especially ripping things. And being allowed to rip stuff instead of being yelled at for ripping stuff, is really powerful. And then you also get to teach them about ecology in it, on how the bacteria and the fungus break down stuff. And then you get to use it in your yard or your garden. So, that’s another one. There’s multiple benefits associated with it that are things that people can just do at home as part of their everyday lives. Like I said, it depends on the person.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Absolutely. And your interests and your comfort level too. I mean, some people don’t even know where to start, and so they probably want to start small and then add to that.

Shannon Shea:

Exactly.

Dr. Amy Moore:

What about the mentality that other people are going to do this, so why should I? And how can we as one family, impact this? I mean really how much difference can one family make?

Shannon Shea:

Yeah, absolutely. So, in terms of what we sometimes call the climate crisis, we need all hands on deck. It’s the sort of thing that you can’t just rely on other people to do, because, other people won’t if nobody starts. One of the real principles I talk about in my book is, try to do small actions with big impact, do things that other people see, not in a self-righteous way, but if nobody in your community… And I know with COVID right now, this is hard, but as an example, if people in your neighborhood don’t take the bus and they don’t see anybody like you or like them taking the bus, they’re probably not going to take the bus.

Shannon Shea:

But once taking the bus becomes normalized, and then maybe you go to a meeting where they’re talking about cutting the bus routes, and you’re like, “No, I use the bus. My kids use the bus. My kids are able to get to the mall, which they’d have to drive, otherwise, I’d have to drive them otherwise,” then it becomes normalized and it becomes things that other people notice. I hate to keep going back to biking, but that’s what my mind is on lately. Somebody, yesterday, after we had that miserable morning, as I was biking, she’s like, “You do that every day. You’re such an inspiration.” I didn’t think anybody noticed, but people at the school are saying, “That’s a cool cargo bike. What kind of thing is that? Maybe I should start biking.”

Shannon Shea:

So, people, if you do things that are visible, if you have solar panels on your roof and you have a sign that says where you got your solar panels, that is actually contagious, other people will notice, will be more likely to do it. So, if you can do things in ways that other people notice, and then build on that even further, if there’s things that keep you from doing those things, or if there’s things that would help other people do them, you’re then more motivated to change the systems, that then make it easier to advocate for sidewalks in your neighborhood or to advocate for local composting for people who can’t do composting in their backyard, or to even go to an environmental protest or something like that.

Shannon Shea:

And so, yes, one individual action doesn’t make a difference, but it becomes the point where you grow and other people notice and you come together as a community, and then that makes a difference. We can point to things that, because of advocacy I’ve done, we’ve seen changes in the community. And that is such an inspiration to kids because so often, kids feel like they can’t do anything. You have to wait till they are adults to do stuff, and that’s actually not true.

Dr. Amy Moore:

That’s good. I like that point because it does give them a sense of purpose that they don’t necessarily get to feel in other areas.

Shannon Shea:

Right. Exactly. Yeah. I feel like we disempower our children a lot in our society, and environmental action is one of the ways we can actually empower them.

Teri Miller:

And I mean that’s such a basic psychological need. The number one psychological need is to have impact on our world. And what you’re talking about here, I think is so important because it’s helping our kids, it’s building them up psychologically, building up their health and wellbeing to help them understand, “You can have an impact on your world and the world with these.” I love that small actions, small activities, or small actions with big impact. I wrote it down; what you said. That’s really great.

Teri Miller:

I’m going to talk about gardening. Okay. So, I know a lot of listeners… This is just like me. A lot of listeners, you’re like, “Yeah, right. I have time for gardening. Forget that. I’ll do that when my kids are grown and gone. When I’m an old lady, then I’ll garden.” But I love… On your website, you talk about planting a vegetable garden with your kids, and you have a picture of you holding a book, and the top of it, just caught my attention; Perfectly Timed Gardening. It’s a week-by-week vegetable gardener’s guide. But Perfectly Timed Gardening… Because I think that’s what we’re overwhelmed with; where do we start, where do we find information? Do we really have time for this? It’s going to take too much time. Talk a little bit about just getting started. Small-time gardening from a mom’s perspective.

Shannon Shea:

Yeah, absolutely. I actually learned from some folks that I did urban gardening with before I became a mom. And one of the people I worked with, named Emery, she said she did lazy gardening. And I’m like, “That sounds excellent. I am on board with that.” Again, this is going to depend on your land situation, especially. I would preface that by saying, I think in terms of gardening specifically, even doing really small things can help start the conversations with your kids, that are beneficial. Because honestly, gardening, growing your own food is great, I love it, we’ve actually gotten a decent amount from our garden this year, but it doesn’t have a huge environmental impact, compared to… You can also buy things from the farmer’s market or you can buy things from a community farm box, that are probably obviously more sustainable than growing in your own garden.

Shannon Shea:

And so, on that front, I think what’s so valuable about gardening is starting those conversations with your kids about where your food comes from and who grows it, and how do we raise this sustainably and what does that mean? Food doesn’t just come from the grocery store, so even just growing a basil plant in a pot can start those conversations. So, sort of prefacing that, knowing that you don’t have to have a full garden or anything like that. You can plant things in pots, you can plant things in boxes. The key thing for me is to try to make your soil as good as possible.

Shannon Shea:

We do a tactic, a method called lasagna gardening. So, it basically mimics what happens on the forest floor when lots of leaves and dead plants and things like that, fall and then they break down and they create soil, and so, that’s basically what you’re doing on an accelerated timeframe. You put down layers of compost, and then we also buy compost. It’s locally composted from the yard waste in our county. And we buy straw, like a big straw bale to display our pumpkins on Halloween, and then recycle it by putting in the garden. And then a bunch of leaves that we rake from our neighbors’ yards and our yard. You pile them up and then you…

Shannon Shea:

We do this in the fall because that’s when leaves are available. And it takes like three or four, a couple of hours over a course of a couple of days. And my kids love raking leaves. They love jumping in leaves or raking leaves. And if you’re going to rake the leaves anyway, might as well put them in your garden. That doesn’t take that much more time. And do that, and then that makes the soil good enough that you don’t have to do that much work when it comes to the next year. All the work for us mainly is in the fall, to do that preparation, and then the spring to actually plant the plants. And again, that’s something you can get your kids involved in. If you’re going to sprout the seeds ahead of time if you’re growing tomatoes or peppers or eggplant, having the kids participate in planting them in these little pots and then watching them grow is really super fun and educational project.

Shannon Shea:

Or you can just pick stuff that grows in the ground and plant it straight on the ground. And that takes some time, but again, and then you just water it every day. And because you’re using that very heavily mulched sort of thing with all those leaves and all that straw, you don’t get as many weeds. You still get some, you still have to weed some, but it’s not the super time-intensive, the super energy-intensive effort that some gardening, is where you have to really weed for hours every week. We were gone for two weeks and left the neighbor kids to water our garden, and it was real bad when we came back. But since then, once I cleared all that out, it was fine. I also have a let the strongest plant win sort of attitude, and I grow things like tomatoes and squash that all sort of just overwhelm the weeds. So, picking things that are easy is the other thing. Beans, tomatoes are relatively easy, especially if you buy sprouts from the farmer’s market or from [inaudible 00:23:00].

Shannon Shea:

Don’t feel like you have to start all your seeds yourself. You can just buy stuff. It’s okay. Because kids love picking beans, we have purple beans. So, they’re super fun. They come up purple. Basil is really easy to grow. Peas can be easy. For some reason, ours have never worked. I don’t know for other people. They say peas are easy. But those are the key things; is try to pick a method that’s either square foot gardening or lasagna gardening, that is limited. Be realistic about what you can do. Don’t try to establish a giant garden your first year because you’re just going to get frustrated. Start with something small and pick things that are relatively easy to grow and that you’ll want to eat, because, it’s useless growing something that you don’t want to eat. I grew, not kale, chard one year. It turns out I hate chard. That was a terrible idea. And I never grew it again.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So, I’m sure we have listeners who live in HOA-protected neighborhoods or people that live in the cities. And you mentioned the urban gardening. Just talk real quick about what are some easy options that you can do in your window sills or in your kitchen or on your patio, that don’t require you to use ground.

Shannon Shea:

Yeah. Beans, like I said, are a great one. You just put a stick in and have them go up the stick and that’s super fun to watch. Basil is another really good one. Any kind of herbs. Most herbs, you can grow in pots. There’s also community gardens. A lot of cities… This is probably less helpful if you’re in an HOA or a place with strict restrictions on land use, but especially in cities, there’s a lot of cities with very active community gardens. And you just apply for a space at the beginning of the year, pay, it’s usually like maybe 50 bucks a year, usually, it’s cheaper, and they let you come in, bring your own stuff. I mean, they give you a certain plot of land.

Shannon Shea:

So, there are options out there. There’s also an increasing number of school gardens. With COVID restrictions, obviously, anything with schools right now is a little bit more difficult, but a lot of schools are very interested in getting their kids gardening and integrating that into their teaching. And there’s so much you can teach from a garden. You can teach history, you can teach science, you can teach social studies, you can teach math and measuring. And there’s been some really nice studies that I quote in my book about how effective integrating gardening is into especially stem subjects.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So, if you are a parent and your child’s school does not have a garden yet, would you encourage them to approach the principal and say, “I would love to get this started, and here’s why,” or what does that look like?

Shannon Shea:

Yeah. I have an appendix in the back of the book about how to do school projects, and that’s something I’m actually going through right now because, back to the biking, I’m trying to get my school to be more bike-friendly and to offer a bike safety class. So, I am experiencing the challenges of this at the moment because I just heard like, “No, we don’t want to do that,” or “No, we don’t have resources.” And so we’re finding how to get them those resources. First, one of the things is sort of, it’s good to gauge interest, but also to build a coalition. So, if you just say, “Hey, I want to start a school garden at the school,” they’re probably going to say, “We need a teacher to do that or we need somebody who is part of the school to be in the project.”

Shannon Shea:

So, find out who the most relevant teacher would be, or maybe it’s even a facilities manager, and talk to them and find out what resources you need, what kind of land challenges there are or if there’s land or not, and then also work with other parents. A school garden, in particular, is pretty high maintenance in terms of caring, feeding, and things like who takes care of it when you go on vacation, who takes care of it over the summer when you get most of your food or you’re growing most of your food. And so, thinking through those sorts of logistics, and having people who are willing to work with you on this project to take different pieces of it, is really important before you sort of dive in and you’re like, “I’m going to do this.” You don’t want to go with a half-assed idea to school and then have them turn you down because you didn’t think through it well enough.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Sure. And this is applicable to the early childhood environment too. I mean, those are year-round programs where, I mean, preschoolers love to get their hands dirty like that. And so, I’ve seen super successful childcare gardens, and so much that you can learn through that, as you said. So, I want to switch and talk about climate change and how scary that topic can be for children. Talk to us a little bit about how to start that conversation, what that conversation with our kids would look like.

Shannon Shea:

Yeah. It really depends on the age of your kid. If your kid is a pre-teen, they’ve probably already heard about it and are getting… every other pre-teen subject… are getting their information from someone who’s not you. So, try to get in there. Kids are hearing about this earlier and earlier in school, especially with the news coverage. And then there’s kids who are personally affected by it right now, kids affected by hurricanes and wildfires, and knowing… That’s even scarier. And so, I think talking about kids, relatively early, elementary school age, early elementary school even, can be powerful and effective if you approach it well.

Shannon Shea:

And so, there was a great study in Sweden that was looking at pre-teens and teenagers and how they dealt with climate change and thoughts about climate change, and they found three groups. They found one that was sort of this emotion-focused. They focused on the negative emotions and then shoved them aside and ignored them, and they didn’t do anything and they just didn’t want to deal with it. And that was not very healthy. And they weren’t doing anything either. That just resulted in this sort of denial issue. There was what was called, they call, the solutions-focused, which was kids who are teenagers, who tried to solve the problem through their own individual actions, except, that actually resulted in a lot of anxiety because nobody can solve this themselves. And you do get the what difference does what I do make in the grand scheme of things frustration.

Shannon Shea:

And then there was a third group that were called… I’m blanking on it, but they basically focused on making meaning, that’s what it was. Making meaning out of the work they were doing and things like the relationships they were building through their action, and taking hope in what other people were doing. And findings are an inherent value in those actions because maybe it led them to be outside or they were finding other benefits. And so, it wasn’t like, “Let’s fix the world,” it was by ourselves. It was, “Let’s find meaning beyond what this impact is, that we may or may not be having for us personally.” And that’s something we can do for our children. I started talking about climate change with my kids because I talked about it as the reason we were choosing to do things. So, it came up organically. Okay, we’re not… And I just used it very vaguely at first. I just talked about pollution. Why we’re taking the train or why we’re not… I’m blanking on things right now, but why we’re not driving.

Shannon Shea:

And because we want to create less pollution, which then makes cleaner air and water for everyone. So, that’s a good way to start with really little kids. And I, in fact, brought my son, who’s now eight, when he was, I think, three or four, to a climate change protest. And that’s what we explained it to him; was, we want to make it so everybody has clean water to use and clean air to breathe. And even really little kids can understand that. So, opening those conversations with the explanation as to what you’re doing, puts that, “Yeah, we’re doing something about it,” at the front rather than the problem at the front, because, I feel like the problem and then “What do we do about it,” that’s the scary part in a lot of ways.

Shannon Shea:

And so, there’s a feeling that “Yes, the adults care and they’re doing something about it.” That’s very reassuring to kids, and “I get to participate. I get to make a difference,” which is, again, very empowering and I think staves off a lot of that despair. Another way to do it is through storytelling; to read books about people who are doing this work. I list some books in my book, non-fiction books, that talk about kids who are actually approaching this problem. Or even fictional storytelling. There’s a really cool story called The Tantrum That Saved The World, that’s actually going into a reprint right now through the same publisher as my book, about a little girl who works together with all these people and animals that are impacted by climate change and are able to then take action and do that.

Shannon Shea:

And so, reading about kids especially, who are like them, taking action, can make meaning in another way. So, finding these ways to take action themselves, read about other people taking action, and storytelling about it and telling them about what their role is, I think turns climate change from the scary thing that’s happening, that we can do nothing about, into this thing that, “Yes, we know happens, yes, we know what’s happening, but we are doing something about it.” And that’s a powerful thing in and of itself. One of the people I interviewed, she was a black mom, and she said it was sort of like with racial justice. Yes, you can’t not acknowledge it. It’s a problem. My kids are going to face this and we need to be realistic with them about it. But we also talk about how we can sort of minimize the impact on us, and then also what we’re doing to change it and what we’re doing to change the system.

Teri Miller:

Okay. And I’m thinking about practical things, like what you’re talking about, for a kid to learn that they can have impact. And we happen to be in Colorado. Right now, I’m looking out the window. The sky is blue, beautiful, it’s really nice. But we’ve had a summer, and honestly, for the past several years, where, up in this mountain town, we usually think that we have this incredible air quality, well, it’s just been wildfires in this part of the country, in the west. And it’s scary. I’ve heard my kids talking about it, “I haven’t seen the blue sky in seven days. I’m coughing so much. My eyes are red. And what’s the world coming to?” And it’s upsetting. And then I’m thinking, “Okay, what are practical ways… We maybe can’t solve everything about the wildfires right now in the west, but we could, on a Saturday afternoon, go out to a park.”

Teri Miller:

We happen to live on some property where we could even do this at our home, and do some, I think you call it fire mitigation, pick up the dead trees, the dead limbs, start clearing stuff out. We could do those projects in a park, try to look for those opportunities in our town so that we’re doing, like you said, small things that can make an impact. Families that live near water or near the ocean, and we know the impact that plastics have on the water and on water life. And so even to make that choice of “We’re going to have reusable grocery bags in our car,” and when we get out and run into the store, we’re going to tell the kids, “Forgot the bags. You know what, we’re going to have to leave the cart here in the cereal aisle. Come on, you guys, let’s go back to the car and get the bags because this is something we can do to make a difference.”

Shannon Shea:

And explaining that why is very powerful. Kids are BS detectors. They know if you talk but you don’t walk the walk. And I think that’s one of the biggest things that leads to a lot of cynicism in teenagers; is seeing adults telling them, “Yeah, X, Y, Z is important,” but then [inaudible 00:35:41] do anything about it. And so, if we both do the action and explain the why to our kids, that’s really the… You need both.

Teri Miller:

So good. I’m so inspired.

Dr. Amy Moore:

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve purchased reusable shopping bags in the store because I’ve left mine in the car. Anyway, which I think is better than using plastic, so you can never have too many, I guess. We need to take a quick break and let Teri read a word from our sponsor.

Teri Miller: (reading sponsor ad from LearningRx)

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Dr. Amy Moore:

And we’re back talking to you, Shannon Brescher Shea, about becoming more environmentally sustainable as families. So, you’ve mentioned your book a couple of times, called Growing Sustainable Together: Practical Resources to Raise Kind, Engaged, Resilient Children. Talk to us more about your book; what kinds of things you talk about. How would moms benefit from getting your book?

Shannon Shea:

Absolutely. I think anybody who sort of struggles with, “I want to be more sustainable, but I have no idea where to start or what to do, and I don’t have any time,” will definitely benefit in some way. I start out with a definition of what kindness is, because, parents say that they want their kids to be kind, and yet in a survey that Harvard University did several years ago, and it was of high schoolers, I think it was like 75% or something of the kids said that their parents valued either happiness or material success more than being kind, which was just sort of damning. And it’s showing that, again, if we want to say that we want to raise kind kids, then we got to show them how to do it and we’ve got to demonstrate that in our own lives. So, I start with a definition of what that looks like, both in terms of values but then also in terms of the skills, like emotional regulation and executive function and things like that, that actually allow us to go do stuff.

Shannon Shea:

And then I go into one chapter each of some kind of environmental activity or a set of environmental activities. The first one says sustainable food. I talked largely about gardening, although also about things like farmer’s markets. The second one is on using walking, biking, and public transit. So, getting yourself around places, transportation that’s not in a car. The third one is on, I’m trying to remember, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and waste reduction. This is usually what most people think of when they think about being green. And there’s a lot of space for it, but at the same time, I only did one chapter to it because I feel like there’s a lot out there already on that, and that, some of these other topics don’t get as much coverage. It’s also the thing that I think takes the most time sometimes, that is not always the most fun, for example, washing out… recycling, but can teach your kids really important responsibility if you get them to do some of those things.

Shannon Shea:

I have a chapter on anti-materialism and both on not just having so much stuff coming into our house and then having to deal with those things, but then also the whole life cycle of a lifestyle of being less materialistic, wanting to accumulate not just less stuff, but also worrying less about what other people do and think of you. And that was one of the most striking things in terms of the scientific literature; was that being materialistic will basically make you into an unhappy jerk. And so, I think that’s something that, again, we all want our kids not to be materialistic, but don’t know how to go about it. So I really wanted to address that.

Shannon Shea:

Another chapter on environmental volunteerism, so getting outside. I talk about… It’s interesting you mentioned ADHD, because, getting outside, actually, there’s some really nice studies showing how it helps kids attention and memory and all those things that kids, both with ADHD and just kids in general, sometimes struggle with. And then a chapter on environmental activism and whether that’s working, and talking to corporations and writing letters to them, and things like social media, or your local government, or even the federal government.

Shannon Shea:

And then the last chapter is on talking to kids about difficult issues like climate change, which sums up a lot of the stuff that we talked about in our last question. And I’ve got an appendix about working with your school on projects. And then each chapter has sort of this, why this is important and what are the benefits, through a combination of my own experience, observations I’ve made of very practical on-the-ground things, like the Washington Youth Garden in DC, I tagged along with a boy scout group that was doing an invasive plant clearing, social science literature. And then it’s got a list of very practical tips, or at least I tried to make them very practical, people have told me they are, about how to do that thing. And then picture book and some chapter book or activity book, suggestions if you want to go deeper, and then resources if you need more information.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Excellent. It seems super comprehensive.

Shannon Shea:

Thank you.

Teri Miller:

Yes. Yeah. You also have a really great website-

Shannon Shea:

Thank you.

Teri Miller:

…That I have enjoyed poking around in and read a lot of your blog posts. And you guys, listeners, if you are familiar at all with children’s books and particularly the book, Where the Wild Things Are, the name of her website is, welleatyouupweloveyouso. And so, that’s a line. I love it. That’s a line from Where the Wild Things Are. So, I love that, Shannon. That’s the name of her website, welleatyouupweloveyouso. And I want to mention specifically, a blog post that you did that was really impacting to me. This morning, I was reading it. Juggling the Standards and Ambitions of Modern Parenting is the post. You did that this summer. And you were just talking about your chapter in there; not worrying about what other people think. And man, I think this is a big point, I think for moms, for our listeners, that sometimes being more environmentally aware and less materialistic means that we’re making choices that don’t feel like we’re measuring up.

Shannon Shea:

Yeah. It’s hard.

Teri Miller:

You wrote about your family coming, and you’re like, “My house isn’t as clean as I want it to be.” And my teenage son, we’re hosting his pasta dinner for his cross country team. A bonfire and pasta dinner tomorrow night. And I have been stressing about, especially since COVID, the lack of upkeep we’ve had. We’ve not had people over. The lack of upkeep on our deck, our mowing, our landscaping, the furniture around the fire pit, because we haven’t used it in ages, it’s decrepit. And I’m sitting there stressing like, “I want to go buy some better chairs, I’m going to go buy some better furniture.” And I’m reading your posts, thinking, “No, let it go. That is not a wise environmental choice, and that puts such strain on me as a mom, just trying to measure up.” So I love that perspective. Talk to us a little bit more about that.

Shannon Shea:

Yeah. I mean, I think it’s something that we all struggle with. Keeping up with the Joneses has existed since the beginning of humanity. I think it’s far harder now in the day and age of social media. No matter how unpolished maybe some of the people you follow are, you’re still only going see the good parts of people’s lives. And not just because you’re trying to hide it. I don’t want to embarrass my kid by putting their meltdown on social media. That would be wrong for them because that’s not my choice. And I write about my own personal struggles so that people can see, “This stuff isn’t always easy. It’s not always fun, but that’s true of parenting period.”

Shannon Shea:

And that’s why I wrote that post; because I wanted people to know, “I am not some angelic being who does not care what other people think.” No, of course, I care what people think. But I think trying to find ways to flip that around or to be, “No, I’m going to push back against that line of thinking,” is really valuable in so many ways because… And this is a skill that parents can develop. So much of my book is not just about developing your kids’ skills, but your own, including mine. That’s a skill you can pull in when your friend is like, “My kid got into Harvard. Where’s your kid going?” You’re like, “They’re going to the state school because that was the right school for them.”

Shannon Shea:

And having a much more healthy attitude towards this more, more, and more of society that wants “the best for our kids,” which may not even always be the best. Not every kid should be in a super high-pressure, super workaholic college path, or should be wanting to become a lawyer or a doctor. Lawyers and doctors are great, but that’s not all we need. And so, there’s a great book I’ve been reading called Lessons from Plants, that’s by a plant biology professor at Michigan State University, Beronda Montgomery. And she talks about what we can learn from plants. And one of the things she talks about is the diversity aspect; is that plants thrive because of the… A monocrop, a crop that everything’s the same is not healthy.

Shannon Shea:

They thrive when there’s diversity; when there’s some plants that are really tall and some plants that are really short, and some plants that produce nitrogen or take nitrogen from the soil, and some plants that break down really quickly and die really quickly, and bring it back into the soil. And that’s true of us too. If we’re all trying to be towards this mythical standard, then we don’t have the diversity we need, and then that just perpetuates this toxicity that says that you have to be more and more and more, and then everybody feels like crap, including our kids.

Dr. Amy Moore:

I love that. Yep. Shannon, is there anything that you want to leave our listeners with, that you haven’t already gotten to talk about today?

Shannon Shea:

Yeah. I think I’ve talked about it, but just to sort of sum up, and I realized this after I wrote the book, so the confession here. Sort of the four things that I found useful for thinking about how people can have a big environmental impact is, like I said, small actions with big impacts, especially ones that either you can build on personally, that builds skills that you can use later on, or that other people will notice and normalize those activities.

Shannon Shea:

Expand the conversation. So talk to your kids about why you do stuff, or if you can’t do those things and want to, what’s keeping you from doing them. Why did our city choose to not build sidewalks here? Why is it hard to go to the grocery store and buy something that doesn’t have plastic packaging, for God’s sake. That’s a [inaudible 00:48:36]. Change the system or shift the system. Find ways that you can change that system or you can influence that system so that it makes it easier for everyone. And connect with others, become friendly with your neighbors, work with groups, be connected with a community because we can’t do any of this by ourselves, we have to do it with other people.

Teri Miller:

I love that piece, that addition. Yeah. So important. That creating an impact on the world can’t be done well in isolation.

Shannon Shea:

No, and not at all. Or maybe even badly.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Good point.

Teri Miller:

Yeah. So good.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah. So, Shannon, this has been an eye-opening conversation and a super important one. And I just want to thank you for taking your time out of your busy day to talk to us and inform our listeners of a topic that can be scary because it’s unknown to a lot of people but so important. So, thank you for being with us today.

Shannon Shea:

Thank you for the opportunity.

Dr. Amy Moore:

If you’d like to connect with Shannon, you can visit her website at welleatyouupweloveyouso.com. We’ll also put her social media handles in the show notes, and a link to purchase her book in The Brainy books tab of our website in addition to in the show notes. So, thank you so much for listening today. If you loved our show, we would love it if you would leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. If you would rather watch us, we are on YouTube. You can follow us on social media at The Brainy Moms. So, look, until next time, we know you’re busy moms, and we’re busy moms, so we’re out.

Teri Miller:

See ya!

Show Notes:

Connect with Shannon
Facebook / Instagram: @WellEatYouUpWeLoveYouSo
Twitter: @storiteller
Website: welleatyouupweloveyouso.com
Buy her book through our website BrainyMoms.co:
Growing Sustainable Together: Practical Resources for Raising Kind, Engaged, Resilient Children
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