So What is a Crunchy Parent?

Me, a little Alina, and Peggy O'Mara, Mothering Magazine's former Editor and Publisher at the La Leche League 50th Anniversary Conference in 2008.

Me, a little Alina, and Peggy O’Mara, Mothering Magazine’s former Editor and Publisher at the La Leche League 50th Anniversary Conference in 2007.

When this blog was initially conceived 8+ years ago in its original version (read more about that here), we were trying to come up with something to call it. I knew that many of the parenting choices that we had made up to that point were different from those of most of our peers who had started having children around the same time. It had become increasingly clear that some of the notions that we had with respect to parenting were non-mainstream, at least in our culture. Finding a community to toss around these ideas or share these experiences was something that we were mostly able to do online. That was what we wanted to share and do through the blog. One day it just struck me and I called my husband, Rich at work, “They call them crunchy,” I said. “What?” was his very well-articulated reply. “Parents like us. They call them crunchy.” And so it was that was born.

This of course begs the question as to why parents, or people, like us are called crunchy. Although I cannot provide any official insight into the etymology of the term, it is my understanding that the “crunchy” reference is a throwback to the idea of granola and its association with the non-mainstream, nature-loving, hippie culture of yesteryear. For this reason the term crunchy parent can evoke patchouli-scented visions of Birkenstock-clad, long-haired, treehuggers espousing the benefits of raw foods as they gently shift the baby and toddler wrapped to their torso to allow for free access to the tandem-nursing experience. This could very well match the image of a given crunchy parent, but it is equally likely that it will not even bear a resemblance. Just as there are countless varieties of actual granola, there are endless iterations of crunchy parents.

In my head, the crunch in crunchy is not one that I associate with granola, rather it is the sound of the Earth beneath one’s feet when he or she deviates from the well-traveled path trodden by the masses. It is the snap of twigs and the crumble of brittle leaves when we venture off in a slightly divergent direction because we are called to explore something a little different than the road that has been carved out right before us.

One of the things that I find most interesting about this non-mainstream “crunchy” idea is the extent to which it is an ever-shifting definition. I was a huge admirer of Mothering Magazine after discovering it in the early 2000s, a bit prior to embarking on my own parenting journey. For those unfamiliar, the magazine was founded in 1976 as a natural parenting resource. It was in my opinion, an amazing publication that brought together previously marginalized parents to discuss the thoughts and ideas of what has historically been a counter-culture of people embracing naturally-based parenting choices that may have been atypical amongst their peers. I was a longtime subscriber to the magazine, from the time that I discovered it until they ceased production in 2011. I also was quite obsessed for a while with the idea of amassing every back issue of the magazine that I possibly could and devouring the contents, not only as a way to continue to shape my beliefs, but also as a fascinating glimpse into what it looked like to be a “crunchy parent” in the recent history of Western cultures.

I remember being struck by one topic of discussion in particular because it so perfectly illustrated to me how mainstream versus counter-cultures evolve with time. As I recall (and you’ll forgive my inability to reference accurately as all of my treasured Mothering magazines are currently in storage as we wait to move into our new home, and I can’t look at them) in the 70s or 80s there were passionate movements in the United States natural-parenting community to allow for children to sleep in cotton pajamas. At that time, cotton pajamas for children were banned from sale in the U.S. because they were believed to present a fire safety hazard. Only synthetic pajamas that had been treated with flame-retardant chemicals were permissible as children’s sleepwear. Concerns were voiced among Mothering’s readership that flame retardant chemically treated pajamas might not be healthy for their children to wear, and may in fact have ill-effects over time. Thus, they were motivated to find alternatives (They may have been onto something, and sometime I will tell you my very sad tale of how I was slated to be a participant in that landmark study but had to withdraw due to the extremely unusual circumstances of my first birth, but that is for another day).

In response to this perceived problem there were discussions about how to get ahold of untreated 100% cotton pajamas from other countries where they were legal or how to sew pajamas for your children at home out of natural fabrics. To me, a parent in a new millennium who could buy her children (snug-fitting) untreated, 100% cotton pajamas at just about any big box or children’s clothing store in the nation, the whole conversation seemed amusingly absurd but also incredibly enlightening. Sometimes, being a crunchy parent at one moment in our history just means that you are clearing a new path that others will come to follow in droves when the larger society shifts to embrace the same school of thought. Other times, you may just be out merrily traveling along with your like-minded tribe on an issue that the mainstream culture may never come to accept.

In my opinion, it is not an all-or-nothing proposition, nor is it constant. I, like most parents, am always learning new things and contemplating how to best support the health and wellness of my family. My children and family are always changing as are their needs and our resources to meet those needs. Sometimes choices that I make or things that I do may seem uber-crunchy, and sometimes they may seem crunchy-light. The eye of the beholder will influence this perception as well.

I hope that the people (parents or otherwise) who make their way to this blog will find a connection to some aspect of my life; a life that as a whole I think fits within the crunchy label, even though individual parts of it may be interesting to those who do not feel a relationship to that term. You do not need to be crunchy to enjoy crafts or simplicity, to prepare foods at home with an eye on food allergies or sensitivities, to seek out organic or non-GMO foods, or to desire effective cosmetic, skincare, or household products without toxic ingredients. In fact, many of these choices have become increasingly mainstream since I started parenting twelve years ago. Of course, once you travel the road not taken, it is less intimidating to trust your own compass and continue to venture out, so I think that you will see the ongoing evolution of my interests into avenues that are still off the beaten paths of today. One day, perhaps when they are navigating the world of parenting, I hope that my children will look back at some of the things that we did as parents and view us more as trailblazers and visionaries and less as quaint, but misguided odd-balls. I suppose that only time will tell.

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