I know you’ve all heard of and experienced the usual Mum guilt that comes with the territory of Motherhood and the desire to do right by our kids while maintaining our sanity at the same time. I don’t think there’s a single Mum friend of mine who doesn’t experience this feeling of guilt at some point every single day. Today though, I’m going to talk to you about an altogether different type of Mum guilt and one that I’m about to do something about…Vegan Mum guilt.
No, I don’t feel guilty for ‘depriving’ my children the chance to eat roast chicken or fish and chips. I don’t feel guilty because they have never tasted pork sausages or chicken nuggets. I don’t for a moment feel guilty about that. Instead, I feel vegan mum guilt because one of my children is more vegan than the other and it’s causing me a lot of inner turmoil.
To fill you in on the back story…
I went vegan back in 2016 when Jasmine was less than 2 months old. I was already veggie at the time and planning to go vegan but what with the challenges of new Motherhood, I just didn’t feel ready enough or now I realise, confident enough, to make the switch. But it was Jasmine’s suspected allergy to cows milk and severe silent reflux that pushed me to make the change as I was advised by so many people to cut dairy out of my diet immediately to improve her symptoms. Brilliant. Not only was that something I wanted to do anyway, now I had another reason (to add to the many) for ditching dairy once and for all. That only left eggs which I just stopped eating too!
I was a fully-fledged vegan and damn proud of it but my first stumbling block came when we started weaning Jasmine onto solid food and our Paediatrician AND Dietitian strongly suggested carefully introducing dairy to Jasmine’s diet to a) test for a possible allergy and b) ensure she gets her calcium needs. If there was a facepalm emoji I could use right here, I would, because you do not need cow’s milk to get calcium and it can be found in plenty of plant-based food sources.
In my state of ‘first-time-mum’ worry and being new to veganism myself, albeit not without a lack of passion, I continued to follow medical advice and weaned Jasmine on a vegetarian diet that included very little egg and some dairy. When she then started nursery at 10 months old, this meant she could be catered for as a veggie (no vegan meals are provided but that’s a project for another time) and that she didn’t have to “miss out” on traditional treats like birthday cake, ice cream cones and snacks that were bought in the absence of vegan options in everyday life. Jasmine continued to be vegan at home, veggie at nursery and as vegan as possible everywhere else. And this is where the vegan mum guilt started. I felt guilty for indirectly supporting an industry I know to be abhorrently cruel to animals, destructive to the planet and bad for our health. I felt guilty for not feeling strong enough to just say, “no she doesn’t eat that,” in social situations and I felt guilty for not sending her to Nursery with vegan meals packed from home as many vegan families do. Strangely, there were moments I felt oddly comforted by her being able to eat some cheese on a fussy day or have cake with her friends but then equally I felt guilty that this choice didn’t reflect my own values and my stance on raising vegan kids, which I fully support.
If you want to know more about the truth about the dairy industry and why I don’t want to support it, you can find out here.
This way of life became our new normal and although it cropped up in my mind often, I also didn’t do too much about it, comforted in the fact that Jasmine was healthy, generally loved her food and was easily included socially. Fast forward a few years to the arrival of baby Summer, vegan since conception, as healthy as can be and not a single taste of animal products has yet passed her lips (except of course the one time her well-meaning Grandpa shoved his ice cream towards her face and she may or may not have taken an accidental lick!) My own vegan journey has also come a long way, with more experience of vegan cooking, a greater understanding of the nutritional needs for both me and my kids, not to mention my dedication and passion for living a vegan lifestyle which I believe in so strongly. So when it came to weaning Summer onto solid foods, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind about raising her fully vegan. There was absolutely no need for her to have eggs or dairy (and of course no meat or fish) and that was that.
So now I’m facing a dilemma. My older child, and the one who actually understands what being vegan means and whose identity is in part shaped by this, isn’t as vegan as her little sister whose circumstances have been different. My vegan mum guilt now comes with the fact that every time Jasmine eats dairy, I feel like I’m doing her a HUGE disservice in that I would not choose NOT to give it to Summer in the same situation. What’s going to happen in another years time when we go out for ice cream and Jasmine can have a cone because it’s what she’s always known but Summer can have the ice lolly because it’s the only vegan option? What’s going to happen when we go to a coffee shop and one daughter chooses a different snack from the other? This inequality in their upbringing, let alone the confusing message this may give Jasmine is what has sparked my desire to make a change.
Raising vegan kids in a very non-vegan world (for now!) has its challenges for sure. There are times when giving Jasmine non-vegan food seems like the easier option, for the sake of her not missing out or when it seems almost trivial in its quantity, but then, I know better than that and neither rule applies to me. I believe in this way of life with every fibre of my being and I also know I can explain to Jasmine in an age-appropriate way, the reasons she may no longer be able to have that Mr. Whippy! The fallout from it may be another story altogether, but seeing Jasmine’s understanding of veganism and low-waste already, I’m hoping she’ll just take it in her stride.
I want to raise my girls to understand their vegan upbringing, to own it and to be confident little vegan leaders themselves. To do this, they both need to be living with the same set of clear guidelines and have parents who aren’t afraid to stand out from the crowd and gently say, “no” even when it may feel easier not to.