Open 9 am - 2 pm (Early Close)
Shedd Aquarium will be closing at 2:00 p.m. today for a private event.

Essay: Mom versus conservationist. Can the two find harmony?

I love being a mom. It is by far the most love I have ever felt, and to be honest, sometimes the most tired too. I also love my job! My career focuses on animal care and training at Shedd Aquarium, an organization that strives for conservation; it is our mission! I share connections with the animals in our care and help inspire people to find ways to take action for animals and the planet we all call home.

Shedd advocates for reducing plastic waste, and I fully support that mission. You can see the ripple effects of plastic in our oceans down the food chain when apex predators (including humans!) eat the large fish that eat the small fish, that eat plastic! The impact of plastics especially hits home for me and should for you too.

Shedd Animal Care Specialist, Madelynn Hettiger, holding barred owl Rainier.

Madelynn Hettiger, with barred owl Rainier.

However, when I’m tired and want to make an easy dinner for picky kids, I sometimes choose plastic items that appease the masses. I envy moms who have a better grasp of the plastic-free lifestyle than I do. I have these thoughts as I peel the plastic from an individually packaged cheese stick for my daughter. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. I feel like a fraud. I am not the best example of what I preach to aquarium guests, my kids and their classmates at school.

Nevertheless, it’s my goal to teach my children to be animal and planet advocates, even it isn’t perfect. I look for ways I can make an impact in our community and in our home. I’m not perfect, so better is the key word.

  • Volunteering at my children’s school and advocating for conservation actions that students and their families can do at home.
  • Turning lights off in the house as we leave a room is everyone’s responsibility in my family, not just mom’s.
  • Working with my family to manage our water usage. (I love that my oldest daughter belts out songs in the shower, but her voice is just as pleasant everywhere else too!).
  • Packing food in reusable sandwich bags (try to avoid putting sticky foods in them!).
  • Growing our own veggies (when we remember to water them!)
  • And, of course, we recycle, upcycle and reuse…

Most of all, I am listening to what I ask others to do and remembering that even small actions for animals are good actions. I’m trying to make conscious choices for conservation and coming to understand that taking “mom shortcuts” can sometimes live in harmony with conservation action, if there is awareness and balance. Like a lot of us in the Surge community, I am learning too. Keeping sustainability top of mind can be both helpful and stressful (don’t get me started on all the plastic in school supplies)! Support the moms in your life and be kind!