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Are moms worried about the wrong things? How to keep your child safe in today’s toxic world.

I’ve had a slew of Ask the Green Mama questions recently that boil down to this: What are real dangers and what are the imagined dangers of parenting? This is at the heart of most questions, isn’t it? What will really kill my baby and what is actually not worth the stress of the worry.

Of course, much of this we just don’t know. Parenting is risky, because life is full of unknowns. Today’s science, however, is telling us much about where our worry line should be.

Here’s what we do know.

  • We know that kids exposed to common household or garden pesticides are up to 6 times more likely to develop childhood leukemia.
  • We know that children exposed to formaldehyde at relatively moderate concentrations (e.g. found in a pressed-wood crib) are more likely to develop asthma.
  •  We know that children who eat processed foods containing nitrates, e.g. hot dogs, are significantly more likely to develop certain childhood cancers, such as leukemia, and that moms who eat these same foods while pregnant are more likely to have babies that develop brain tumors.
  • We know that cars are the number #1 killers of children in North America.

So, when a mom asks me whether she should send her child to the green daycare (organic food, nontoxic toys, green cleaning) near a half-way house or to a daycare somewhere else, my answer is I don’t know.  However, if you are driving your child to a daycare where they use standard cleaning supplies, feed your child hotdogs, and have filled the place with traditional (formaldehyde off-gassing) cribs: these “invisible” risks are somewhat calculable. And the calculation isn’t pretty:  your child is at a greater risk of getting sick or being harmfully effected.

The problem is this: the studies tell us one thing and our gut reaction to seeing a drunk guy puking in front of our child is another.

These issues abound. Your child is healthier if she is exposed to some dirt, germs, animal hair, and even dog feces. Yet, look how many moms put vinyl covers on the shopping carts to keep their children “safe.” Vinyl is loaded with lead and phthalates. Research shows that routine exposure to both of these chemicals can have issues such as neurological damage, endocrine disorders, and cancer. Yet, who doesn’t cringe when they see their one-year-old toddle up to a park bench loaded with crumbs and bird droppings or cringe when they see the runny nosed kid licking the handle of the grocery cart you were about to use.

These dilemmas are at the heart of modern day parenting: Eat dirt at the park or stay locked in the toxin-emitting stroller? Risk a sunburn or use sunscreen with known carcinogens and estrogen-mimickers? Drink questionable water from the public tap or drink purified water from a plastic bottle that leaches plasticizers and more estrogen mimickers? Let the child play on the playground with the extra high monkey bars where Johnny broke his arm or watch him get bored to death on the plastic playground with the rubber surface next door?

Biologically, moms are set up to respond to the dangers that are immediate and visible. Learning to loosen up about these dangers, while getting more vigilant about the hidden dangers revealed by today’s science, is not an easy task. It is, however, possible. Our children benefit when moms have access to current research.  Knowing what today’s science really means, keeps moms more vigilant around reading labels and less vigilant at the playground.

Don’t we all worry a little less when we know what fears are founded and what aren’t?


Article by Manda Aufochs Gillespie, aka The Green Mama.
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