Parenting & Baby
Conscious Mothering with Sydney Piercey
This Mother’s Day, we wanted to interview a woman who has inspired us so much when it comes to sustainable parenting.
Sydney practices slow living in the French countryside with her three daughters and has lots of wonderful tips on how to have plastic free activities and natural living as a mother. We hope you enjoy it this Mother’s Day in the UK!
“I’ve been sustainably minded for a long time. I’ve always loved being outdoors and in nature. I loved picnics in the park as a child and climbing trees…I think these things get overlooked as being ways of living sustainably but they are. The birth of my children though led me to step everything up in a bigger way.”
Can you please start by introducing yourself – a little bit about your background and what you do?
My name is Sydney and I’m a mother to three young girls. I grew up in South London, where we were living until two years ago. My husband, our daughters and I now live in the South of France. I’m a crafter and make sustainable toys and games for my children and I run craft workshops too. My first book Sustainable Play, 60+ crafts for an earth- kind home is out in May.
How did you first become connected to sustainable living – was there something specific that brought you into this space?
I’ve been sustainably minded for a long time. I’ve always loved being outdoors and in nature. I loved picnics in the park as a child and climbing trees. In the area I’m from in London, I love knowing all the local shopkeepers and buying from them directly. For as long as I can remember I’ve made my own gifts, writing poems for friends or baking cakes for presents. I think these things get overlooked as being ways of living sustainably but they are. The birth of my children though led me to step everything up in a bigger way.
When your children were born did it change the way you viewed the world in any way?
Absolutely. It made me infinitely grateful for all the beauty in the world and for all of life’s ‘simple pleasures’. From the changing seasons, to the sun and moon in the sky, to colours found in nature, motherhood has really brought into focus for me how precious and sacred life is. It’s made me want to embrace it absolutely and do all that I can so that my children and generations to come can enjoy life on this beautiful planet too.
Your dedication to sustainable parenting is amazing – can you speak a bit about how you have tried to do things a little differently when it comes to raising your girls?
The biggest thing for us is being vocal in our anti- racist parenting. As a Black woman, I think about the ways in which prejudice affects me and my community a lot. And my husband and I are raising mixed race children so it affects them too, though there’s that degree of privilege as well. Environmentalism is one of many spaces where Black voices are often excluded – even though in so many areas, they’re the ones that are impacted the most.
How big a part does nature play in their lives?
A big part! It’s a big part of the reason we moved to France actually. We’re so fortunate to have a big garden where we live and are in the middle of the countryside. We do the school run through fields, along a stream and past our neighbour’s horses. My eldest and I both horse ride. We climb the hills behind our house a couple of times a week to watch the sunset. The girls are almost always outdoors – it’s wonderful.
How are you teaching your daughters compassion and awareness in this very challenging time in history?
My go- to way of teaching my children anything is to model it. I hope that my modelling compassion to them, and them hearing myself and my husband speak on global issues, race, social justice, the environment, helps them grow as compassionate, thoughtful women, and play their part in making the world kinder and more for groups outside just their own. It’s not possible to be earth- kind without being humankind after all.
You are now living in France, how did you feel about making a move with children?
Really excited! My eldest was 2 when we moved and my middle 9 months. Their ages at the time made it quite easy to move, as they were happy just being with my husband and I. We both work from home, so we’re all around each a lot. It’s been almost two years now, and we’ve found our little community out here. Our eldest is at French school and our youngest two have their French childminder. They’re growing up speaking two languages, get to spend so much time outdoors and more time with my husband and I too. It’s a wonderful way of life for our family and I’ll treasure the time we are having forever.
So tell us about your book! Sustainable Play is an amazing achievement – what motivated you to write it?
Thank you so much! Well I always wanted to write a book. And then when I was pregnant with my second the idea came to me. I was about to have two babies under two, and whereas my eldest’s first year had been full on (we got married in France, and we’d done trips all over the world with her), I knew I wanted to slow down this time round. I thought up all the ways I could enjoy gentle, drawbridge days at home with two babies and started listing ideas of things to make, do and play. And that list became Sustainable Play.
“From the changing seasons, to the sun and moon in the sky, to colours found in nature, motherhood has really brought into focus for me how precious and sacred life is. It’s made me want to embrace it absolutely and do all that I can so that my children and generations to come can enjoy life on this beautiful planet too.”
What sort of things can we expect to find in there?
A lot of cardboard crafts! I began sharing my crafts online a couple of years ago and seeing so many other parents inspired to do the same, I’ve packed them in. There are step by steps to make all sort of cardboard toys, costumes, decorations and learning resources. And there’s also a lot of play ideas for outdoors. Either to do outside, or to bring the outside in. The idea of the book came to me when I was living in London and we didn’t have so much garden space. It was important for me to include ways to enjoy the garden whether you have one or not.
Do you have a favourite sustainable activity to do with your girls?
I have so many it’s too difficult to choose just one! I love watching them play with a toy I’ve made them – their cardboard doll’s house for example or the cardboard shopping basket. I love going on long walks with them in the countryside here, picking wildflowers, sending leaf boats or “Poohsticks” down the stream, watching the sunset. And dancing with them. I love blasting our favourite songs on the speaker and dancing outside in the sun.
How have you address fashion with your young daughters? I know we have a lot of people asking about how to do sustainable dressing for babies and children!
Having three girls all very close in age means I’ve been able to pass almost everything down. We’ve even had old clothes of my husband’s to pass down! We shop second hand a lot, at vide- greniers which is the French equivalent of a car boot sale. And online – we love Dotte and Kids O Clock where you can find so many beautiful brands that are pre-owned. I’d also say, speak to friends and family, those with slightly older or slighter younger children. Pass things back and forth. And learn how to mend things – something I’m working on!
And what about plastic – with so many plastic things being marketed to children and new parents how have you tried to avoid it?
Understandably, plastic gets a bad rep. But it’s more about how we treat it – getting rid of it after just one use rather than respecting it as a durable, long lasting resource. And for many families – the more affordable option. I’d say if you are going to do plastic, avoid new plastic and buy existing plastic second hand. Play mobil from the charity shop or from your friend whose child’s grown out of it. And then pass it on. And if you want to avoid it entirely then make your own toys! Instead of a plastic kitchen or a plastic costume, make one from cardboard, nature or things around your home. Making your own toys is fun, affordable and planet kind.
Do you have any other resources you would suggest for any parents out there looking to make sustainable changes within their families?
My friend Kate @my_plastic_free_home has an amazing account where she shares so many wonderful eco tips for the home. Aja Barber’s book Consumed, on fast fashion has been eye- opening, and another book, The Flightless Traveller for travel ideas. We reduce waste and save time and money by meal planning for the week, I’d definitely recommend that. And one pot cooking – One Pot Pan Planet and One Pot: Three Ways are firm favourites in our home and we look to those for ideas of what to cook with our seasonal ingredients. Lastly cloth nappies. Even if only using them occasionally, it makes an impact. We love Pim Pam Cloth Nappies.
Any final top tips that you would love to share to any parents out there trying to make sustainable swaps?
Start small so as not to overwhelm yourself. Enjoy the things you already have and get as much use from them as you can. Collaborate with your community, whoever that is for you. Consider: what can you reuse, borrow or pass on? And when you find swaps that work for you, share them! You’ll keep them going that way. And of course, keep hold of your cardboard!
Finally, what is making you feel hopeful at this time about the future?
Connecting with like- minded parents and thinking of how the next generation are being raised. The wonderful environmental activists and groups that I follow, who are doing great work. My online community massively – I’m old school and not a huge fan of technology but cannot deny how incredible it is for sharing and discovering more earth- kind ways of living.
What is one thing we can do today to honour Mother Earth?
Enjoy her. Open the window or get outside. Listen to the birds sing, the wind in the trees. Walk barefoot on grass or on the beach. Watch the sun come up and go down. Enjoy the sun on your face or the sound of the rain. Marvel at the moon.
Love Mother Nature. Love her so much that looking after her becomes second nature.
Words from Sydney Piercey @sydney.piercey