Earlier today, Slate’s “Dear Prudence” advice column took on the challenge of a non-vegan grandma refusing to provide vegan snacks to her grandchildren while watching them after school. Rather than providing helpful advice, Prudence chose instead to chastise the mother as “crazy” and tell her she should be grateful for whatever care is provided regardless of what her children are fed because it’s free. In other words, take what you can get and don’t have a fit. Since this family is surely still looking for useful advice, I’d like to share some thoughts from a vegan mom’s perspective.
If I were in this mother’s shoes, I would always send snacks along with my children packed each day as part of their lunches, or I would keep a stash of prepared vegan snacks at my mother-in-law’s house. But, perhaps the mother suggested this and was told that it would (somehow) still be too much effort? The letter is brief and doesn’t explain much about the dynamics in this family. How do we respond when family members charged with caring for our children are actively hostile about veganism and refuse to work with us? What if you provide food and it isn’t eaten? How much control can we reasonably expect to have once our kids venture into the world?
Since these children are in elementary school, I see this as a great opportunity to talk about and reinforce why the family is vegan. It may also be time for the kids to start advocating for themselves a bit more. Who knows what information has already been shared with them, but as they continue through school, they are going to be exposed to many ideas, lifestyles, and beliefs about how to be in the world. Our children need to be able to stand on their own two vegan feet (with parental support, of course). Veganism should never be a chore or something that we do “just because it’s what our family does.” Children need to understand why we have chosen a cruelty-free path and to hopefully, adopt that path for themselves.
Whether they are in a paid childcare environment or staying with Grandma, our kids will be exposed to opportunities to eat animals and animal by-products. How can we best prepare them for that inevitability? I try to strike a balance with my girls: encouraging them to ask questions and come to their own conclusions while also sharing key values about kindness, compassion, and taking responsibility for how our actions can affect others. My girls are only three, but they already understand the basics very clearly: eating animals’ bodies hurts them, animals can feel pain, cow’s milk hurts mother cows and separates babies from their families, and it’s not nice to hurt others—especially when we can easily choose not to hurt them. These concepts are simple and certainly won’t be found in any upcoming books about animal rights philosophy, but they are also honest and true. They’re clear ideas that even the smallest children can understand.
It may be that the childcare arrangement described in “Dear Prudence” will be fraught with too much angst to be worth it even though it’s free. While I want my girls to feel empowered in their own vegan choices and to be comfortable standing up for themselves, I don’t want every day to be a battle, and if this particular grandma can’t respect her son’s family and make some accommodations—even if it’s just pulling an already-prepared snack out of the fridge—it may be worth finding another after-school option. It’s not crazy to want a childcare environment that respects our children, but it may be a little crazy to expect others to accommodate our requests without being willing to put in any effort on our own.
To my fellow vegan mom: I understand wanting to help your children live the values you’ve been teaching them. If you can provide your own snacks and trust your mother-in-law to make them available, I hope this free arrangement will work out. I certainly understand wanting to save on childcare costs (I have twins, and everything is twice as much!). But, if you don’t think she has enough respect for your family, may try to sabotage your snacks, or may even provide non-vegan snacks and pretend that they’re vegan, it probably isn’t worth it regardless of how much money you save. I hope it will work out and that you can use this experience as an opportunity to help your children grow their own sense of compassion and kindness towards others. Please check out our “Why Veggie” section for a list of great resources and an overview of many of the key issues which concern our families. Good luck!