Parenting doesn’t tend to be an instant-gratification gig.
Yes, of course there are those spontaneous and joyful — and entirely necessary — moments of pure delight, the ones that get us through the slog of sleeplessness and school lunches and tantrums. But some of the hardest work we do as parents doesn’t necessarily have immediate payback. Rather, we put in the hard work with the hope (but no guarantee) that the seeds we plant now will blossom in the future.
Alexa Leblanc is a testament to the fact that, at least some of the time, that hard work pays off.
The Montréal-based mom of two teenagers — Timothy is 17 and Benjamin is 15½ — is passionate about trying to live sustainably and reduce her own and her family’s impact on the environment. Whether that’s gardening, spending time in nature, composting, buying local and organic, or making a concerted effort to buy as little as possible, Alexa and her husband, Emmanuel, have tried to lead by example. They don’t own a car, opting instead to commute by public transit or bicycle, and to use a local car-sharing service when they really need four wheels. They belong to a community-supported agriculture program that delivers a basket of local produce to the house each week. About four years ago, Alexa went from a vegetarian/flexitarian to a completely vegan diet: as the family’s primary cook, her kids have come along for the ride, although they do occasionally reach for a can of tuna if they feel that a meal doesn’t contain enough protein.
Importantly, says Alexa, she has always talked about her choices — and the trade-offs and contradictions inherent within them — with her kids.
One of her sons, for example, really struggled with the family’s decidedly anti-consumer approach. “For a while, he was really into spending. It was part of discovering the world, I think: going out there and getting stuff. We had a lot of arguments on the issue, but he understood our position: It’s not good for the planet, and nope, we’re not buying it.”
Travel is a contradiction she struggles with. It’s a huge part of her family’s history and culture: Emmanuel flies constantly for his work with Doctors Without Borders, and the four of them go to Europe every summer to spend time with family in France, where the children were born. And air travel is also a huge producer of carbon. “I feel guilty about that, and that guilt translates to anxiety,” says Alexa. They buy carbon credits to offset, somewhat, the environmental costs of air travel. And she’s trying to figure out how to fly less — maybe move back to France? “Travelling has been such an important part of my life and has brought me so many amazing experiences. I couldn’t imagine saying, ‘We’re not going to Europe this summer.’”
For Alexa, who teaches in the humanities department at John Abbott College in Montreal, the key has always been open communication: “We talk about it. We just keep talking about it. The difficulty of that is that you are exposing your kids to the reality of our world and where it’s heading. So, especially when they were younger, I tried to do that in a soft manner.”
Today, Timothy and Benjamin “are very sensitized” to environmental issues, says their mom. Timothy, says Alexa, is interested in urban planning and creating smarter and more efficient cities and architecture; he’d like to move to France and will spend this coming summer there. This past year, Benjamin has become increasingly involved in his school’s garden project. What started, says Alexa, as a way to get out of study period has blossomed into a full-blown passion: “He stays late at school every day, working in the garden. He went in during the summer months to help prepare the beds. In the winter, he’s working to harvest micro-greens. They bring food to the community, to the local food bank. He’s gaining all kinds of skills and building his own community. I can tell it brings a lot of joy.”
Partly as a result of watching her son’s involvement, Alexa is now working to bring a gardening program to her own school. Benjamin’s passion for gardening says his mom, may well have come from the seeds she planted and nurtured as a parent, talking with her kids about eco-conscious choices. “I think it’s at least partly a result of my commitment to the environment. Maybe all of that inspired him. And now, he’s inspiring me.”