Family Health

How I Parent: A Zero-Waste Dad Who Jokes 'Ignore All the Advice You Get Except for My Advice'

Name: Max Cameron
Location: Marin County, California
Occupation: Cofounder, Wild Minimalist
Family Situation: My wife Lily and I have a nine-month old son named Grant. Two years ago we founded Wild Minimalist, the Bay Area’s first zero waste store. Our mission is to help people ditch single-use plastic items for beautiful, sustainable alternatives. We are lucky to have a strong team in place that handles the majority of day-to-day operations, which allows both of us to work from home most days and split childcare duty.
Parenting Philosophy: Lily and I strive to practice the RIE Parenting technique (Resources for Infant Educarers). We don’t go crazy trying to entertain or stimulate Grant or put him in unnatural positions. Rather, we let him teach us what he’s feeling and what he needs, and we try to facilitate how he discovers the world around him.

What was your journey to having the family life you have today?
I’m originally from Toronto and my wife Lily is originally from Southern California. Before we had actually met, Lily was attending UC Berkley and living in Oakland and I was flying back and forth to San Francisco from Canada for work. During one of my trips, we matched on JSwipe, which is like Tinder for Jewish people, and we started chatting. At first, she was really skeptical about this guy from Canada who was just in and out for a week but we started talking more and eventually, we ended up getting a coffee at 7 a.m. before I flew back that night.

I don’t believe in love at first sight, or at least I didn’t up until that point, but when I met her, I just had this feeling of certainty that I had met my partner for life. I offered to cancel my flight so I could spend the weekend in the city with her. We ended up having dinner that night and from that point forward, we were inseparable. After a few months, I asked the company I was working for if they would allow me to move to San Francisco and they said yes. I sort of immediately moved in with Lily and the rest was history.

While we were dating, we started to feel unhappy at our jobs and decided to travel for a few months. We drove from San Francisco up to Vancouver and we did a lot of backpacking and hiking. After that, we flew to France and had an incredible experience visiting vineyards, going to various markets and enjoying that lifestyle. We learned how to live minimally because we were basically living out of a suitcase. We discovered that we really didn’t need a lot of things to get by.

I had asked Lily what she wanted to do once we got back home, and she said wanted to open up a little store to help people get started with the zero waste lifestyle. I suggested that she start online, and we opened the Wild Minimalist website. The company grew way faster than I anticipated, and we decided to go full time so we quit our jobs and put everything into the business.

By 2018, we had gone on all these great adventures together, we had our business established and even gotten married so we were basically like, let’s do one more thing: Start a family. We were really, really lucky because it only took about a month for Lily to get pregnant with Grant. Then we started thinking about how we were going to incorporate our zero waste lifestyles with having a kid. There was a lot of pressure to buy all these things — toys, swings, play mats, rockers — for the baby, but a big part of our journey was learning how much we didn’t need. 

For us, being zero waste is not an absolute. We’re not a family that can fit all of our garbage in a mason jar. Although it’s a powerful symbol, I don’t think it’s very helpful for the movement at large. We still produce a small amount of garbage every week and we’re okay with that. We also know it can also be unrealistic for people who don’t live in communities that enable you to live a zero waste lifestyle. We’re in the Bay Area and we are so privileged here to have grocery stores that allow us to bring our own jars so we can buy freshly ground peanut butter or refill our olive oil. Not everybody has that. But if you’re doing your best to find one small thing that you can do every week to swap out a single use plastic item for a reasonable alternative, and getting a little bit better every month, that’s what I think zero waste is all about.

How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
I’m very lucky to come from a family where my parents are still married after 45 years. My father always made sure that I knew right from wrong. He taught me things like holding the door for elderly people and giving them your seat on the bus. He taught me to treat others with respect and how to stand up for myself. These are the type of values I’m looking forward to passing onto my kids. 

What’s your favorite thing about parenting?
The mornings are my favorite part. Since we’re small business owners, Lily and I have flexible schedules so we were able to avoid sleep training. I get to spend the first couple hours of the day alone with our son and we have so much fun together. I’m super lucky to have a schedule that accommodates my father-son time. You only get one shot at parenting, especially when they’re little, so it’s something I value 100 percent.

What’s the hardest part?
One of the hardest parts about parenting is deciding your approach. There are so many schools of thought on how to do things; some people think they’re right, but you can always find a viewpoint that says the complete opposite. For us, learning what works for our baby through trial and error has been the most difficult part but it’s been the right way to go for our family. We’ve read books and researched a lot but ultimately, we made decisions based on what worked for us.

How do you find time for yourself and your relationship?
During the first couple of months, it was all about the baby. But overtime, we’ve been able to schedule in some alone time that allows us to pursue hobbies and activities we love to do. For example, Lily goes to yoga on Saturday afternoons. She really values that time to help herself reset for the week.

A big part of having a healthy relationship involves taking care of yourself, too. Including self care into your routine is super important. When it comes to our relationship, Lily and I will spend quality time together cooking, talking and hanging out once Grant goes down for the night, which is usually around 7:00 p.m.

What’s the best advice you can share with new parents?
The best advice I can give is to ignore all the advice that you get from other people except for my advice, which is to explore all of the different approaches to parenting and go with one that works for you. It’s important to approach parenting in a nonjudgmental way, and that includes not judging yourself. Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy the ride.

Also, if you’re interested in zero waste, there is an incredible community of online bloggers, and stores like ours, that share a ton of helpful information that can help you get started. Whether it’s buying second-hand clothing or trying out cloth diapers, you should research and engage with online communities because there’s a whole bunch of people out there that just want to help others on their journey to zero waste. That’s certainly why we started our business and that’s what we’ve devoted ourselves to. Every small step counts.

How do you embrace the most unpredictable moments of parenthood?
When dealing with uncertainties, trust has been key. As first-time parents, it can be hard to embrace those moments because you’re scared and you just want to make sure your child is healthy. I’ve learned to get through tough spots by trusting myself, my partner and my child.

Max Cameron

What would you want your kid to say about you as a parent?
I would be really happy if Grant was able to say that I was always there for him, that I always listened and helped him through whatever he was struggling with. Lily and I are always going to be here to support Grant with whatever he needs and we’re very excited to watch him as he goes on his own journeys through life.

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