Consensual Living is a parenting style that eliminates the need for rules, punishments/rewards, and parental hierarchy. It is a process that seeks consent from each member, placing high emphasis on listening to their feelings and thoughts to reach mutually agreeable solutions.
The more I’ve researched and read, the more questions have been raised in my mind. It is impossible to get a clear picture of what this parenting style looks like simply on paper, because the process will look so different depending on the specific situations and people being considered. That is why I decided to call upon one of the best teachers I know; experience.
The girls and I gave this parenting style a trial run for a day (eh hem, yes, just a day) and I learned a thing or two. I still can’t say I truly grasp the whole concept of Consensual Living or how it could ever really work for us, but I can say that I have come to see a few of its strong points and to identify areas in my own approach that could use tweaking.
CONSENSUAL LIVING “ON PAPER”
Consensual Living gives everyone an equal say. The first time I read the words, “equal say,” my type-A mind went into overdrive. I’m all for family meetings, talking things through, & respecting and understanding each other, but if parents were to relinquish “the final say” wouldn’t that lead to the end of civilization as we know it??
I mean, what if a kid wanted to eat processed or sugary foods all day? (Yes, that really is my worst nightmare.) What if they insisted upon walking in the street or refused to buckle up? How about when they… impulsively wanted to buy every toy or pack of gum they passed in a grocery store; decide they liked to hit or bite others; developed a habit of sneaking out or not coming home at night?
In order for me to find answers to those questions, there were a few things about Consensual Living that I had to understand:
- Consensual Living does not declare the child the boss. If that were to happen, the whole idea of consensus would be lost.
- It does not allow for reckless endangerment; it demands that the laws of the land be followed (i.e. car seats, using cross walks, helmet wearing).
- It views each individual as autonomous. A major part of working together consensually is valuing each other’s autonomy & right to making their own personal decisions.
- This style requires communication, empathy, and understanding of the child’s concerns and feelings. No more, “I told you so.” Consensual Parenting means talking things out and problem solving. Respect, trust, and communication are critical to its success.
- It believes that there really are mutually agreeable solutions. In fact, there are often many solutions. It is just a matter of hitting on the one that works for everyone.
- Consensual Living eliminates the need for punishments/rewards. Punishments and rewards are really just tools of manipulation and when you are working together as a team for shared solutions there is no need to manipulate.
Based on my understanding of these ideas, here are a few ways that solutions for my questions above might be found:
JUNK FOOD: When facing a child that wants to eat chocolate all day long and not eat true meals, a parent should first listen to why they feel that way. Are they not liking meal foods that are being served? Are they getting hungry at times other than meals? Are there sweet things that are good for the child that aren’t currently stocked at home and should be? Perhaps an agreement could be reached of favorite fruits and a few pieces of chocolate to be left out every day for the child to take from at his leisure.
BUCKLING UP: Though seat belts would be required by law, this issue would also require investigating the root cause and problem solving together. Is the place they intended to drive not interesting enough to the child to make buckling up seem worth it? Is there truly a need to get in the car? Could the errand be postponed or done later after the child is in bed?
BUYING TOYS: Before saying no, a parent should consider why they feel the need to respond that way. Is there truly no money available in the budget for extra purchases? Is it because the parent doesn’t value the item the child does? It is because they think they are supposed to say no to their children’s whims? Once that is identified, the parent can explain their feelings to the child and find a solution. If it can be afforded, “We have $10 extra that you can spend however you want on this trip, some of the things you want cost more than that. Is there anything you want that we can afford?” If there is no room in the budget, “We aren’t able to afford that right now, but let’s come up with ways together that we can make some extra money to be able to afford it in the future.”
HITTING/BITING: If violence of any kind becomes an issue, parents should again try to find the root cause of why it is happening instead of just instructing that hitting is bad. An apology would never be forced or coerced as it would not be genuine. Instead, feelings should be expressed as well as points like hitting hurts and how it makes the other feel when they are hit.
SNEAKING OUT: If Consensual Parenting is put into practice at a young age, it is argued that problems like sneaking will not be much of a problem as kids have since learned to both respect the feelings of other family members and that they are respected enough to discuss and find a solution for things that they want to be doing.
CONSENSUAL LIVING “IN ACTION”:
The worldview my husband & I share differs from some foundation points of Consensual Living (and if you have read my first Parenting Values post, you know how important I think using personal values as a lens is) so I knew we wouldn’t adopt this style as a whole. At the same time I felt there was something to be learned.
I do believe parents should talk through issues and discuss feelings and root issues further with their kids no matter who gets “a say.” Communication is key to relationships, problem solving, understanding, and being efficient and effective. And when giving Consensual Living a try yesterday with my eighteen month old, I realized that even young children want to be heard too! Clementine can’t put all of her feeling into words yet, but having me take the time to ask her questions and help identify why she was upset really went a long way in curbing her frustration. She really wanted me to understand what was going on.
I was also surprised to find that when mutual respect was displayed, there were less repeat offenses. By normally instructing her to do (or not do) things a certain way, I demand a certain respect from my child. Seeking solutions with her, on the other hand, communicated to her respect also from me and that really nipped the behavior in the bud. She could sense I was interested in her needs and the solutions we found really worked much better than a simple, “no.”
I really want to communicate and connect with my children and look forward to hearing them share. I want them to know that I care about their wellbeing and about their concerns too. That being said, my husband and I feel a responsibility to lead, guide, and be lovingly authoritative toward our children. We wish to parent with respect and compassion, but we will continue to identify our roles as just that; parents.
What do you think about Consensual Living? Would you implement it in your home?
Please join us for the remainder of our Parenting Styles Series! We’ve already covered Why you Need Parenting Values and Attachment Parenting vs. the Continuum Concept. Next up: Equally Shared Parenting and Unschooling!