How activist burnout led one mom to start a climate action Facebook page for other exhausted…

Mel Fefebvre with her children

After an early life of environmental activism, marriage, kids, and life took over until one day Mel Lefebvre realized she’d left political engagement in her past. Wanting to get back to her environmentalist roots but not sure what she could on her own to make a difference, Lefebvre realized there had to be other parents, like her, who want to do what’s right but have little time and energy, and no network for action. So she started a Facebook page to reach out to well-intentioned fellow parents. Now with help from assistant director Pamela Francis and graphic artist Roxy Brisson, Exhausted Parents for Climate Action provides a place for parents who would like to do more for the earth with the time they do have to learn, engage, celebrate, and support each other on their sustainable journeys. We chatted with Lefebvre about burnout, starting the group, and how she talks about climate change with her own kids.

What inspired you to start Exhausted Parents for Climate Action?

I’ve always had the idea that I have the ability to make a difference in the world, so I should. But then kids roll around and life gets in the way and you realize you’re not doing anything at all. I have a background in environmental science and I’ve always kind of veered towards activism and trying to do what I can to make a difference but I’m just so tired all the time. No energy, none at all. I’ve done work with Greenpeace, David Suzuki Foundation, and other organizations but when you’re no longer associated with a group it’s all just you. So yeah, I’ll recycle but whoopty-doo, so what? It’s just me! So it just kind of hit me one day — I *can* do something and I’m sure other parents feel the same. We have the best intentions, we mean well, and want the world to be a better place for our kids, but have no time or energy. And sure, maybe people give to charity or maybe they do small things but all of a sudden it just kind of escapes you, and you’re disconnected from that world. So, the idea for Exhausted Parents for Climate Action is basically what it says in the name — we’re exhausted, we have limited time, and limited energy. So what can we do? We can learn. We can become engaged. We can do the little things. And when there are hundreds of us doing those little things it adds up to quite a lot. We can recognize that each of us can do something that makes an impact. And we can teach our children about doing their part. That’s the idea, in a nutshell.

I’ve noticed you share a lot of positive stories alongside the scary realities?

Burnout happens so quickly so if it’s only bad news people will be like, “forget it, I won’t follow this anymore it’s making me feel depressed. Yuck, bye”. So while I don’t mean to paint the picture that everything’s fine I also want to give recognition and props to the amazing initiatives led by people who are making a difference. If I can help people be exposed to that then I’ve done something good. One person commented a while back that the EPfCA page is the only place that gives her hope. For me, that was immensely powerful. I was validated — this is a good thing I’m doing.

So, do you talk to the kids about climate change? Is the teenager sick of hearing about it or on board?

Well, the teenager is kind of sick of hearing about everything [laughs]. But I don’t necessarily talk to the kids about climate change. I don’t know if they can understand (yet) what climate is, but we teach them little things like it’s our job to be helpers. We have to pick up garbage, we have to be nice to animals. It’s really more a tactical, get your hands in the mud approach. Appreciate nature. Go outside. David Suzuki once said something like the best way to protect nature is to learn to love it. And the way to learn that it is by being in it, and then we protect what we love. So that’s what I’m trying to foster with my kids. I don’t want to ram it down their throats so it becomes something they want to rebel against. If I can help it be something that they genuinely care about then no matter what they choose to do with their lives they’ll have that background.

In my family, we (try to) exclusively use metal straws — which can cause some frustration when out and about. Is it important to model making choices that aren’t convenient to encourage similar effort from others?

Mei [Lethbridge Family Centre], Mel, and her sone Corin.

Yes, exactly. Like going against the societal norm of the throwaway, one-time use, the world is my garbage can mentality. Humans like that scare me. I certainly hope my kids don’t end up absorbing that at school or from the shows they watch.

At birthday parties and other social events at people’s houses if they’re using disposables I’ll ask if I can take a real plate. I let them know I’ll wash it, but I really don’t want to add to what gets tossed out. Then they’re like, “but it’s just one plate…?” But everyone’s using just one plate, and at the next party, they’ll do the same — until we’ve filled the landfill with ‘just one’ plates.

Do people hate you for that?

[Laughs] They kinda groan, “if you wash it”, and I’m, “yes, yes, yes, of course!”. But I actually did it so often at one house that now they set out a real plate for me along with the disposable stuff… so I’m like, why don’t you just? But small steps, right?

How does it feel when people make light of climate change?

That’s absolutely frustrating. When you learn these cold, hard truths. This garbage will be here when our grandkids are old. We know it has an effect. It affects the water, it affects the soil, the food that we eat, and the animals that eat it too. It’s all connected and you’re not just polluting your future, but mine too. I get so frustrated, it feels like screaming alone into a void. Why doesn’t everybody understand? It seems so basic.

Do you get burnout?

Mel and her youngest

Absolutely. That’s why I feel good about the EPfCA page. Because some days I just can’t. I can’t post things. I can’t look for the positive. And then I remember that’s the point of the group — I can step back. I don’t have to be 1000% in it all the time. I can do this at the normal pace of life and that’s the point. I’m trying to show other people that if they need to walk away they can do that. It’ll always here for you to pick it up again. After I did an activist semester with Greenpeace — and it was amazing — I came back fired up to make a difference on my campus (I was going to McGill at the time) and then I got home and I just kind of fell flat on my face. I was burnt out. I was full of anxiety because I felt it was all up to me. And it was just too much in addition to going to school and being human. So yeah, I’ve definitely experienced burnout. I kept pushing myself and that just wasn’t sustainable so I had to take a step back while finding little things to do and even stop thinking about altogether for a bit. Because yes we still have the problems in the world, but with everything I was learning in my undergrad it was just overwhelming. I felt like not doing something every day meant I wasn’t making any impact at all and I was kind of going a little crazy. Yeah, I’ve definitely been in the burnout zone. That’s why I love my little Facebook page. It’s such a tiny, tiny, tiny thing in the grand scheme, but if it can help others feel positive about making a difference then, hooray! I’ll keep going.

Do you feel doing small things is worth it?

Absolutely, oh yes. Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely! You know when people are educated about their personal impact on the environment they can start making their own choices, their own changes in their lives. Like, let’s pretend our friends who use those disposable plates realize throwing things out unnecessarily is really horrible (The eco-mom was right!). So they stop! I really feel learning by exposure and repetition does make an impact.

Is there anything that frustrates you about running the page?

The one frustration I have with the page is I’m preaching to the converted. These are all people already open to environmental stuff and doing something good for their children’s in future. I would love to talk to more people that don’t feel that way. That would be ideal. That would make a bigger impact.

But that’s the struggle with social media, especially where Facebook’s algorithms are so limiting now. I totally rely on shares and people inviting their friends. I do get random internet people joining the group a few times a week, which is awesome and will hopefully keep up.

What does it feel like when you meet people who do care and appreciate what you’re doing?

It’s kind of a relief. Like finding a little gem in the ocean. It makes you feel happy — gets all those happy-making endorphins going — and makes you feel it’s worth it. It’s kind of a cheesy cliche, but If you can make a difference with one person it helps that feeling of community, the feeling of not being alone in this, and that helps restore the energy to keep going.

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