When I went vegan almost 9 years ago, I did it alone. My choice to go vegan was an immediate, a-ha moment realization after reading The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone. I gave up all animal products right then and never looked back.
Although my husband admired my choice, he wasn’t ready to take that journey with me. My kids were seven, four, and one at the time. I was heartbroken and confused as to why my family didn’t see it my way. I immediately went into activist mode, throwing out all animal products from our fridge and pantry, imposing my new beliefs and lifestyle onto my family. The result was rebellion, ill feelings, and an angry family.
Once it became clear that my family was not going to jump fully into plant-based living with me, I had to figure out how to raise a happy and healthy vegan / omni household. After all the battling and struggling over the food in our home, I realized that imposing my beliefs was not the answer. I wanted my family to choose healthy and kind foods because they wanted to, not because their vegan mom forced it upon them.
My goal quickly shifted. I now lead by example and educate my family about the power of our food choices with the intention that they will make informed, compassionate choices for themselves. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and below I’ve shared the top 5 things I’ve learned as a vegan mom with a non-vegan family.
1. My example is far greater than what I feed my family
Any parent understands that little eyes are always watching. We are living, breathing role models 24/7 with a responsibility to lead by example. Although I have chosen veganism as the way to “be the change I wish to see in the world,” my children are seeing me commit to something greater than myself. They watch me make conscious adjustments in my life so an animal doesn’t have to die, or a mama doesn’t have to give up her milk.
They see this example when they choose a cupcake at a birthday party and I decline their offer for a bite. They also witness it in the passion projects with which I volunteer my time. They understand that I have a choice in all of that, and I repeatedly choose compassion. They also witness it in the enthusiasm with which I celebrate my choice – the t-shirts I wear, the affirmations posted on my wall, the media I consume and share.
I am a walking example of compassion – and that means more than anything I could ever urge my child to eat or not eat.
2. Progress, not perfection
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I celebrate any choice that helps ease the suffering of animals. For years, my family has hosted Taco Tuesday with my parents. The spread always included all the fixings, alongside a plant-based and a turkey taco filling (prepared by my dad). About three years ago on one of these Tuesdays, my parents and children casually told me, “We don’t need the turkey filling anymore. We like your vegan taco meat. Just make that from now on.” My kids still sprinkle cheese on that vegan Beyond Meat filling, but I count that as a win.
Around the same time, my oldest daughter chose to become a vegetarian. She made the decision thoughtfully after asking me lots of questions. However, she wasn’t ready to give up dairy yet. Instead of trying to convince her otherwise, I celebrated her compassionate diet shift. I saw her choice as major progress, and again, another win for animals.
3. Veganism is a lifestyle, not just a diet
Don’t get me wrong. You won’t ever find me cooking or feeding my family scrambled eggs for breakfast or steak for dinner, but being vegan is far more than what’s on my plate. It’s a lifestyle and mindset that seeks compassion for all beings in this Universe, and a desire to ease all suffering in the world.
It’s the movies we watch together, (such as Free Birds or Okja). It’s the traditions we’ve started, like our annual “Adopt a Turkey” from Farm Sanctuary at Thanksgiving. It’s also the festivals we go to as a family, (where they support my book readings!). It’s the non-leather shoes and wool-free coats we proactively choose to buy.
Even if they haven’t made the complete transition to a plant-based diet 100% of the time, they have come along with me on the rest of the lifestyle, choosing compassion in many other ways. Although the diet is the biggest step anyone can make towards veganism, there are many roads on the journey. I am grateful for the opportunity to travel several of them with my family.
4. Everyone deserves a choice – without judgment.
I admit that had I been vegan before I had my children, this would be off the table (I’m not sure what my husband would say about that!). However, I didn’t go vegan until my children were seven, four, and one, and already had opinions about the world. As I mentioned above, I tried to impose my new diet on the whole family, and a very unhappy family ensued. I was reminded of the years that I was an omnivore…and the years after that when I was vegetarian…and the years after that when I went back to eating meat until I became vegan. I was reminded that I wasn’t a “bad” person when I ate animals. I just wasn’t there – yet.
It became very clear that veganism was my choice, and a personal choice it is. Although I didn’t understand their choice, I accepted that they were allowed a choice, and as a mother who loves unconditionally, I had to accept their choices without judgment, and with the same compassion I offered the animals I was trying to save – which brings me to #5.
5. Compromise is the spice of life
As soon as I came to accept #4 above, I still struggled with the fact that I was a mother – responsible for her family’s health and safety. I knew too much not to enforce some changes in my family’s diet, so I did impose one choice on them – no dairy milk. My son had just weaned from breastfeeding the week I went vegan, and the connection between a mother’s milk and her baby was very personal for me. Combined with all information I had learned about the atrocities of dairy farming, this was a decision they had to accept.
As the person who does all the meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking in the family, for every meal just about six days a week, we needed a middle ground for our meals. I proposed the following compromise: They could choose to eat whatever they wanted outside of the house, but at home, when I was preparing the food, it would be vegan.
During the first few years as a vegan, my husband would prepare chicken a couple times a week. Soon thereafter, red meat stopped coming into the house and onto our grill. Little by little, I noticed he and my kids weren’t supplementing any of my meals with non-vegan proteins. Today, my husband prefers Beyond Burgers over ground beef and chooses Gardein Scaloppini over a chicken breast. And then, there’s my oldest who went vegetarian on her own almost 3 years ago. I believe these transformations happened because of the compromise we made together, versus me imposing my new diet on them.
I don’t think I will ever have it all figured out, but my family has come a long way in the last nine years. I am constantly learning on this journey. I hope the vegan mom lessons I share are useful and helpful for your family.
Hungry for more from Stephanie Dreyer? You can read her other World of Vegan articles here, and you can get loads of family-friendly vegan mom tips and recipes when you subscribe to her newsletter here. Cover photo by Blum’s Brand House. This article is not sponsored but may contain affiliate links which help us keep the lights on here at World of Vegan.