Parenting feels both completely natural and, most definitely, challenging at times. And being vegan can be kind of the same, but for much different reasons. If you weren’t blessed to be raised vegan, it may feel more challenging, as it can seem like uncharted territory, and you might have the disadvantage of having a less than supportive social circle.
Parenting is one of those things that you can’t completely prepare for, and regardless of how many books you read, you will have to find your own ‘right’ way. It’s the same with some of the different ways to raise a vegan child. I have two wonderful little girls who are vegan. My 6 year old knows clearly what it is to be vegan and has always had a good understanding about why we choose not to eat certain things, and my 3 year old also has an understanding of it (they love to play with dinosaurs, and I sometimes hear them talking to about whether their own dinosaur is a meat-eating one or a vegan one! : )
It was always our aim to make sure our kids did not feel left out, or like they were missing something, by being vegan. On the contrary, we want them to feel that they get SO much more, by having more knowledge and by choosing to live this way, …not the least of which is knowing that we choose not to cause harm to any others, that we always choose kindness! Parenting as a vegan, I think, solidifies your reasons to be vegan, as so much of what is taught or marketed towards children, in books and cartoons and kids shows, is about the amazing attributes and intelligence and caring natures of different animals and how we should care for and protect them … so how do non-vegan parents rationalize teaching that to their kids, and then feeding them those same animals on a plate?
Although vegan parenting can pose certain challenges, it isn’t nearly as difficult as typical omnivores might think it is, and daycares, school, playdates, parties and holidays are all examples where just a little bit of pre-knowledge and planning can go a long ways. My husband and I have always taken and made opportunities to teach our children the reasons we don’t eat animals, or drink their milk or take their eggs (or wear their skin and wool, or see them at zoos etc.), so that they understand the huge important WHY for keeping those out of our diet and our lifestyle. So, the harm to the animals, the farming conditions, the breakups within the families, how a mama’s milk is for her babies, and that chickens certainly don’t lay their eggs for us, as well as that each animal has their own desires and lives and families, and homes that they want to be in! We also talk about the health risks and benefits of an omnivore vs. vegan diet, and the environmental consequences as well. I know some children may be different, but mine have never truly been tempted or desired to eat something if they knew it wasn’t vegan. My eldest started asking at her daycare when she was just 2 ‘Does it have cow’s milk in it?’ whenever she was offered something, since she knew that that was the most likely culprit in most things she was offered (such as crackers or baked goods). Even now, when she asks if something is vegan and hears that it isn’t, or they aren’t sure, she shrugs it off as she does not desire anything that may have caused harm to an animal. Even my youngest, if I steer her away from something at a table with the phrase ‘we don’t eat that because it’s not vegan OR it has cow’s milk /eggs/ from a dead animal’, she does not argue or fuss. I think explaining to a child why you don’t have those things is so important, and that there are many opportunities to bring it up. I highly recommend getting some of Ruby Roth’s books, too… we read V is for Vegan: The ABC’s of Being Kind, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, and Vegan is Love, as our favourites, and they really cover the wide range of reasons for being vegan.
So besides instilling understanding, there are lots of different practical things you can do to help a vegan child to not feel like they are missing out on anything. At daycare and school, we leave a vegan cupcake in the freezer or a couple of store-bought cookies to pull out in case of another child’s birthday where goodies were brought. For playdates and parties, I talk to the parent to find out what will be provided and send something similar (unless they are willing and wanting to get something for them that you can be sure is vegan). With my daughter, we have a ritual of baking cupcakes a day or two before the party, then she helps to decorate them, and usually does one special one for herself and one for the birthday child, which she gives as an extra little gift. Part of the bonus of doing that, is that instead of just getting a cupcake one day like the other kids, we get to have cupcakes around for days!
Some things you will figure out as you go along, but it’s also great to talk to other parents who have navigated the same waters before you to gain knowledge and ideas for what might work for your family. Just as parenting is love, and vegan is love, vegan parenting is a wonderful adventure in teaching and modeling love, too. Enjoy it!
By A vegan mum