Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Birthday candle guilt

I feel like such a bad mom. We go out of our way to make homemade birthday cakes for the kids, and host creative, low-impact but high-fun birthday parties, yet I deprive the kids of birthday candles.

Why? Well, because, generally, birthday candles are a huge waste of resources, are made from paraffin (read: petroleum), have toxic wicks and aren't good for the environment. Sure, I want them to experience all the fun that other kids do, but last year, I just couldn't bring myself to do the birthday candle thing.

I felt bad, but there you go. I just couldn't do it. Maybe I am suffering from green psychosis. But, what's the point of letting your kids have fun when you are potentially poisoning them and the Earth in the process? Am I being hyper-vigilant or just controlling?

Down to Earth Beeswax CandlesSo, today, while I was looking for local flour in the baking foods section of my favorite local grocery store, I spied some beeswax birthday candles. Even though they cost more than the standard ones, I bought them, since these are the kind that will be used and reused as the occasion requires. And, now, this year I won't feel bad but excited about lighting those air purifying beeswax candles. Whew!

What things do you feel like you are depriving your kids of and what kind of substitute do you make, if any?


Maggie said...

Thank you for all the comments you make on your blog. Today I hosted a party for my niece, next year I shall make sure I use beeswax candles.
I like what crunchy chicken has to say!

J.G. said...

I just want to add that while you may at times deprive your children of traditional birthday candles or the like, you are giving them a greater gift than do many parents, i.e. a green conscience.

The Internetter said...

Honestly, I can't see why many kids would even bother to notice the difference between beeswax candles and colored "regular" ones. I can see some random kid whining about wanting pink ones or whatever, but I can't see every single kid--or even many--doing so.

I don't think it's deprivation at all. In fact, when I was 12 or something, I bought a beeswax candle on my own because it seemed like some special thing and it smelled sooooo good. I wouldn't worry about it at all!!

Anonymous said...

I won't buy non-British meat as the countries that we import meat from don't always have as high welfare standards as we do here in the UK, and I think that if I'm going to eat meat, I don't want the animal to have unduly suffered as a result. So, while I don't think I'm actually depriving my children, there will come a point where I will be refusing to buy something that they want because I don't know where the meat comes from (e.g. burgers, probably). Also, I'm depriving my children of a party at a bowling alley, and instead taking them for a weekend on a farm with their favourite uncle and aunt, but I'm hoping that they will realise that the fun lasts longer that way than if they just had two games of ten pin with some inedible chips!

Eva said...

Wow, thats just a great thing. I wonder if I could find those candles in Sweden. Or if it would be possible to make them myself. So far we have used traditional birthday candles, but we do use them again and again - still using the same candles that we bought when the oldest turned one. She´s five now and her sister is three :o)

healinggreen said...

My son discovered Jello at preschool but I just can't do it. As a former vegetarian, it's just too gross.. Until I found some vegan jello at the health food store! Now we're both happy.

Anonymous said...

When our daughter was younger-like in grade school and middle school-we always shopped at yard sales and thrift shops for clothes etc. So basically she rarely had new clothes for school. The clothes she wore were always gently worn and pretty much fit in with what the kids were wearing that year. At first I felt guilty about it then over the years just figured guilt was a waste of time. She never got teased about her clothes thankfully. I tried to pick out things that had the "popular label", went to yard sales at the "richer nieghborhoods".

Same went for any toys,games or books. All yard sale or thrift store. We didn't fll into the trap of buying her any electronic toys like gameboy. Especially when they were coming out with a new gaming system every couple of years. At first that was hard for her because it seemed everyone had one. Until we moved cross town. At her new school no one seemed to own one. While electronic games weren't important- outdoor activites seemed to be popular. Like cross country skiing, skating snowshoeing, cycling, hiking. We made a choice to buy skis and snowshoes at play it agian sports. None of the equipment was new but the prices were right. And what was nice was seeing people from the neighborhood there also buying used.

I know this is running long. I recently asked my daughter- who is in college now- if she ever felt deprived of anything growing up. If she felt she missed out on anything because we were avid "recyclers" of everything from clothes to what not. Basically she said oh heck no. She felt it taught her to think about how she spends now as a college student. And she felt she had real quality family time with us.

As a student she buys at yard sales or thrift stores for most of her clothing or other needs. Her college friends chuckled at first but her green ways are catching on with them. Now it's a norm for her and her friends to shop the thrift shops, yard sales and used or pawn shop circut. Along with bringing cloth bags. She figures it's way easier on the enviroment and her limited income. It helps the local economy, doesn't waste what resources we have.

The whole point of this is I think parents feel way to guilty about making healthier choices for their kids and the enviroment. Whether its buying the beeswax candles to buying used or local. And they shouldn't feel guilty or like they are depriving their kids. They do manage and they do get over it way easier than the parents do.

Green Bean said...

We deprieve a fair amount on the food front. Last year it was bananas, year round. This year, I decided we could buy organic ones during the winter when there was less fruit choice. I never buy any of the usual process snacks - jello, goldfish, etc. In fact, my 6 year old went to a playdate (I was there) and asked for some Oreos please. Neither the mom nor I had any idea what he was talking about but it turns out that he saw they had a box of Fruit Loops. See!! He doesn't even know what that stuff is called.

I also do a lot of deprivation on the media front. My kids don't know what a Wii is, aren't up on the latest characters, etc.

We also haven't traveled any long distances by plane - just a few 50 minute flights.

I don't feel guilty though. I feel like I'm making the right decisions and that, perhaps all those parents stuffing their 3 year olds full of processed food and letting their weekend on the Wii should feel a twinge of guilt. I do sometimes wonder though about fitting in when we go to someone's house and they bring out an X Box and my kids wonder what it's used for. :)

Greenpa said...

I was guessing it would turn out that you started making your own birthday candles. :-)

It's NOT that hard- you could even get the kids to help do it. They'd learn what "hot" means in a useful fashion.

You could either buy a lump of beeswax; or use "found" paraffin. Old broken crayons burn fine, and can add color. Mix em all up and you get- brown. Do some experimenting to find the right wick; then have a dipping party.

And they'd be learning another useful craft, for Camp Teotwawki!

Farmer's Daughter said...

I like Greenpa's idea.

I don't have kids (yet...) but thanks to you Crunch and the other commenters I'm already making a list of what I can deprive them of...

I do deprive my husband of things, since I'm the one who does the grocery shopping. I've stopped purchasing those little yogurts and make him mix plain or vanilla yogurt with some of my homemade jam in a glass container and take that to work. I also won't buy lunchmeat anymore because I saw "How It's Made" and was so totally grossed out. He has to have leftovers on his sandwiches.

Girl Scout cookies seem to be the one thing I can't say no to. There are so few cookies in the box, with all that cardboard and plastic. If you're looking for a post topic, I say write about the impact of those cookies. As a former girl scout, however, I just can't say no to those little girls.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Greenpa - I do have a huge lump of beeswax that I use for making soap. I'll have to look into dipping n' such. But, is it safe to burn crayons? Something about it makes me a little suspicious even though they are allegedly non-toxic...

Abbie - Glad to oblige.

Everydaywoman said...


I'm willing to bet that your kids didn't even miss the candles because they were having so much FUN! We Moms do beat ourselves up and bring guilt on ourselves!

I'm sure the beeswax ones will be a hit! Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Today I didn't buy the grapes :(. I just can't buy grapes from Chile. I live in Europe. I told my kids they can eat plenty of grapes from the end of summer, but they were not happy. Instead I bought some organic carrots. Not quite the same... At least they're from Austria, a neighbouring country.

Bucky said...

i think that the little buckster is getting used to doing without. he gets to enjoy all of those illicit treats when he is at friends or grandparents.

increasingly he thinks i'm a little crazy with all of this. luckily i've got a good friend who is almost as crazy our kids are the same age and good friends. i hear them talking from time-to-time about all the things they don't get to have or do. but i think that without the constant tv and video influence i probably spend more time actually interacting with the wee laddie. saturday game night (cards usually, or a board game) is his favorite night and he loves to have friends over. most of his friends never have a chance to sit down and spend a few uninterrupted hours with their parents just playing together.

for the record, his birthday was yesterday. 10. oh my. double digits. can puberty be far away. ugh. anyway, no candles on his cake. we never really started that tradition. we celebrate birthdays in small ways.

therese said...

When we had kids, we of course wanted them to have the best food possible, and to pass on our values as earth friendly low consumerists. But I also knew that denying kids something in a strict manner would probably just lead to their interest in it increasing. So I decided to let them try out things at their own pace; when they discovered it and asked for it. My son was 3 until he discovered and tasted candy and hot dogs for the first time. It happened because we moved from our own, private home where we were completely in charge of what he was exposed to, to a small community with lots of children running around and sharing everything from toys to food. From there, it was a question of subtly keeping his interest low, mainly by steering his interest in different directions and by never having that kind of food in our own home. Now he is 12, and it's impossible to hide that sort of stuff from him. My husband tries to deny him unhealthy foods, while I try to accomodate his 'needs' without too much fuss, hoping that the interest will wear off. I have to say, that so far, my method works best :)
I'll never forget my MIL's reaction when she tried to give him candy at the age of 2,5: "Poor baby! What will you put in his easter egg; carrots?!?" LOL
But we actually heard the 'poor kid' fro others as well. What's there to feel sorry for? He didn't even know the stuff existed!

Anonymous said...

My kid's still little (not quite 4), so I don't know for sure, but so far he's fine.

Last week, we went and picked out 5 short-sleeve shirts, since he mostly only had long-sleeved shirts. The nice thing about the thrift store is there were only about 10 in his size, all cheap, so I could just lay them all out and let him pick the ones he liked.

We did have to stop visiting the noise-and-light toys at Target this winter, though - at Christmas grandma taught him the concept of "buying" things there.

(p.s. I have a stash of local-beeswax candles, because it hurts my heart to go to vigils against the Iraq war and see everyone driving to the vigil to burn paraffin candles. Finding them in the birthday-candle area is *awesome*, though.)

knutty knitter said...

Beeswax candles are great - our school makes them with the children every year so we have an interesting assortment of sizes and shapes to try out.

As for parties - we don't go there much as far as food goes. I found a couple of boxes of ice cream and some cones were all that was really required when they were young. Now they go to the movies or the museum or the skating rink and that sort of thing. No party stuff required apart from some popcorn and a few chocolates. I don't ask for perfection but I do ask that they think before they get. (doesn't always work - plastic hoodackies anyone?)

viv in nz

Anonymous said...

I think this one is a little over the top. Reuse the candles and they'll last for many birthdays to come. How much petroleum is used to make the candle? Paraffin is a by-product of oil extraction and refining.

I applaud all that you do. Guilt over birthday candles though? Seems a bit much. I'll play devil's advocate and say that you should let your kids enjoy some of things that might not be available to them in the future.

(ready to get flamed)

Greenpa said...

Crunchy- almost all the crayons out there these days are EDIBLE. While I don't know for sure, I think that's a really good indication that they're not going to be making any toxic combustion products. If you're worried- heck, just stick with the beeswax. You can also buy bayberry wax in lumps, and mix it in. Pure bayberry candles are a little tricky; the melting point is so low they tend to run away before they burn. But the wax is naturally- green. In both senses.

Hannah said...

I love using the beeswax candles. You can even buy them with cool rainbow colors--all natural. Sometimes we buy post-Hanukkah beeswax Hanukkah candles on sale to use for birthdays.

As Greenpa says, beeswax birthday candles are also really easy to dip yourself--and it is a great project to do with kids! We color ours with little pieces of our very worn or broken beeswax crayons. (We love the block style Waldorf beeswax crayons around here.)

You can also roll beeswax sheets into birthday candles. Very easy and safe for the youngest child, with no muss.

You can even roll little charms and the like into larger rolled candles (to be lit during dinner or something--not on the cake). They'll melt out as the candle burns and be a very nice birthday surprise.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Greenpa - From the crayola website regarding melting crayons:

"Provide adult supervision in well-ventilated area for techniques involving melted crayons. Overheating wax crayons during melting or ironing may release irritating fumes."

I think I'll stick with beeswax :)

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of beeswax candles. In costa rica, they simply don't exist and if they do, i have yet to find them. so what i did, I bought my son the teeniest tiniest candles and after he blew them out, i gave them to my friend to use. this way, we dont really waste, and the kids still see fire to blow out:)
Saucy Salsita, AKA The Green, Sexy Expat - Guide to Green Living!

Bucky said...

I'm feeling ornery today so let me say that, for the record, I think that kid's birthday candles are such a small thing. The environmental impact of burning a tiny candle for two minutes is really inconsequential compared to so much else that we do in the world. Perpetual war for example.

But the bigger issue is perhaps that we need to change our habits and our customs. They are going to be changed for us soon enough anyway.

In my house, we don't blow out birthday candles -- because our family tradition doesn't include that.

My son's tradition is that when I wake him up on his birthday, I've got his yummy double chocolate yummy cake ready to be frosted. We go into the kitchen and frost it and have cake and milk for breakfast (raw milk from a local producer, but shhhhhhh, 'cuz it's illegal). No time for candles. Who wants candles when there's warm chocolate cake? He's usually eating cake before I finish frosting. And then we eat cake all day long. Cake for every meal and snacks in between. I had to add an extra layer last year just so we'd have enough.

That's how we do do birthday cakes Bucky style. No candles but you get to eat as much as you like all day long.

The point is that birthday candles are just what is usual for most kids. But we can each create our own normal for our children. We can create their expectations. It doesn't need to include things that are harmful to the planet. And we don't need to create a mindset of lack and need either.

The BooBoo has never once asked about candles on his cake, even though all his friends have candles on theirs. He much prefers -- and thinks he's actually lucky -- to get to eat chocolate cake for breakfast on his birthday. None of his friends get that. He doesn't think he's missing out because he doesn't get to blow out candles.

We've all got to change our children's expectations, I think, because the world they will inherit from us is vastly different from the world in which we grew up. That's not a bad thing. It just is.

Crunchy Chicken said...

My kids don't really expect birthday candles, they are only 5 and 6 and aren't indoctrinated into what to expect. The issue at Emma's birthday party was that all the other parents were there and I felt really weird bringing out the cake, singing Happy Birthday and then.... nothing. It was my own sense of critique of what the other parents thought or expected and me second-guessing myself that was the issue. Hence the guilt.

And, yes, burning some paraffin candles for a few seconds isn't really significant in the grand scheme of things, it's really just the lack of the gesture that counts. And, perhaps me spending the time talking (or, rather, justifying myself) to the other parents educated them a little bit about the problems with petroleum-based candles. I'd like to think it was a teachable moment.

Anyway, I try to be conscious of every action I do, sometimes the green alternative gets punted. This was just one I was getting stuck on.

Bucky said...

It was a great teachable moment.

Prof. Crunchard, you are so amazing with those teachable moments. And so good at creating those teachable moments. That's why we all keep coming back here.

I was just pointing out that you shouldn't beat yourself up over the birthday candles.

I'm lucky in that my son's birthday always falls during spring break, so we never get to do that "birthday party" thing because all his friends are out of town.

I'm continually amazed at the expense and grandiosity of kids birthday parties these days. A month ago, the Toad Boy went to a party where the parents had rented out an entire ice skating rink for twenty kids. And bowling alleys. And there is always lots of STUFF. And give-away bags for the attendees. And you must provide lots of food for the kids and the parents as well. People are spending many, many thousands of dollars on birthday parties for little kids. It's crazy.

And I always go and look around and think ... how much energy did this consume? I look at everything in terms of energy consumption these days. Oy.

So ... I'm glad you've found the beeswax candles. But you've got nothing to feel guilty about for a couple of little birthday candles.

I think we're all happy to give you absolution on that one. Now, go and parafin no more.

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

Did the beeswax candles burn well? I had a bad experience when I bough some locally made beeswax candles - they didn't burn well because they had "bad wicks". Since it was a fundraiser, I couldn't return the candles (the following year I just bought their the honey they sold from their local hives.) Since being burned by those beeswax candles I've been shy about giving them another go. I know I should but lately my mom has gotten into making soy candles which I use as much as possible. And if I can get a soy candle FREE from mom - bonus!

Indiamommy said...

Guilt is such a waste of time. I will say that my kids give it a try from time to time. : )

I occassionally feel bad for not having ready made snacks on hand in the pantry, so they can snack when they need a little something. I make chocolate chip cookie bars often, and we always have fruit and carrot which the kids can just grab, wash and snack on. It's amazing how quickly a bag of gala or honey crisp apples disappears at our house! : )

When they are visiting with other friends, and a mom calls everyone to the kitchen to snack on a plate full of chips, I get the pressure from my kids too, to buy those things.

You know what it is that makes your family healthy, and you know that guilt is a waste of time, so let it go.

I enjoy reading your blog entries Crunchy. You have alot of creative ideas. Also, I would love to find some of the bees wax candles, since we do use the candle tradition in our house (making a wish) during birthdays.


Anonymous said...

skymring - Are your mil and my mother related? I had similar issues with the Easter baskets the last few years. No, my toddler does not need candy. We compromised with goldfish.

Lisa said...

When I started to read this I thought I was going to be able to tell you about the beeswax candles! DARN IT! haha I'm not a parent but I often beg my husband not to eat non-organic candy and junkfood.

Anonymous said...

Hi, gave you a shout out on my blog. Have a great weekend.
Saucy Salsita, AKA The Green Expat Mom - Greening it up in Costa Rica!

Misty said...

Beeswax candles are great! As long as they're on fire, they really won't notice. There's a great mail order bakery around here that sends beeswax candles with their cakes, Dancing Deer.