Consensual Living

Written by NPN Guest on June 28th, 2011

Edited by Amanda

Consensual Living, Parenting Philosophies
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This post was scheduled for inclusion in the 2nd Annual Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted at Parenting Gently. All week, June 27 – July 1, we will be featuring articles and posts about alternatives to punitive discipline. See the bottom of this post for more information.

Understanding consensual living as my family practices it requires a paradigm shift. There is a lot of emphasis in most parenting books and websites on making children do what we want. Even many so-called gentle discipline techniques are still about finding ways to control children. Consensual living is about living peacefully with each other and working together to find solutions that satisfy everyone involved while still allowing for individual autonomy and dignity. However, the term consensual living itself can be confusing.

I think I should explain what it means to me personally when I use the term. I like this definition from consensual-living.com.

Consensual living is a process, a philosophy, a mindset by which we seek to live in harmony with our families and community. It involves finding mutually agreed upon solutions, where the needs of both parties are not only considered but addressed. Everyone’s wants and needs are equally valid, regardless of age. Conflicting wants or needs are discussed and mutually agreeable solutions are created or negotiated which meet the underlying needs of all parties.

Consensual Living is broad and far reaching. It influences the way we interact with everyone, from our immediate families to our community and the world at large. It is about assigning positive intent and looking for solutions. This can apply in so many arenas. It can change interactions, even if they are historically adversarial.

I especially like the line about assigning positive intent. Instead of going into a situation with an adversarial attitude, which can set you up for power struggles and arguments, you go in with the assumption that all parties want to find a solution that makes everyone happy. It is about parenting who your child is now, rather than who you want your child to be.

A creative solution for a tub temporarily out of use.

Consensual living means honoring each person as an individual with her own needs and wants, and not implying that any one person is more important because they are older, bigger, or make more money. It means being creative and looking at a situation from another point of view. Conversely, it means the parent’s needs are taken into account too. It is not a child-centered way of living; it is family centered.

This is very important. I think part of the reason consensual living often gets mixed up with passive parenting or child-led living is because it is sometimes easy to forget that my needs are just as important as theirs (taking into account the age of the child of course)! If I’m always giving in to my needs for them, then it is not consensual and is a good way to start feeling like a martyr mom and create resentment. And of course, I do have more life experience than them and it’s unrealistic to expect that they can or should make all their own decisions with no help or input from me.

From Counseling Resource:

It is a big leap of faith, or rather trust, that a mutually agreeable solution is always possible. In theory we might even agree, but when developmental stages come into play and we have a toddler being extremely forthright about their needs at the expense of everyone else’s, it is a lot harder. We need to take a deep breath, jump, and be creative. Trust that other people have input which is just as useful as yours, experience that is just as relevant to the situation, which is after all being created by everyone together. Letting go of the attitude of having to be in control, and of having to be right (while not losing the responsibility for the physical safety of the younger ones) frees a tremendous amount of energy for joy, connection and finding solutions.

If you’re interested in consensual living but not sure where to start, a great resource is the Yahoo group. There you can search the archives and read through the resources. If you have specific areas you need help with, you can post on the list for ideas. It is not a support group, but a place where they will try to help you shift your thinking and come up with ideas on how to find solutions that might work for your specific family and situation.

Photo Credit: Author

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Lindsay is a stay-at-home mom to two daughters and wife to a wonderful husband and they just fulfilled a dream by moving on to a homestead. She blogs at Living in Harmony about homesteading, life learning (aka unschooling), and day-to-day life. She enjoys scrap booking, photography, anything musical, and, of course, seeing the world fresh through her children’s eyes.

This article has been edited from a previous version published at Living in Harmony


Welcome to the 2nd Annual Carnival of Gentle Discipline!

Please join us all week, June 27-July 1, 2011, as we explore alternatives to punitive discipline. We have collected a wonderful array of articles and essays about the negative effects of punitive discipline methods, like spanking, and a myriad of effective alternatives. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts – new articles will be posted on the following theme days:

June 27 – Practical Tips for Getting Started with Gentle Discipline
June 28 – It’s All About Feelings: Respecting Emotions and Consensual Living
June 29 – A Fork in the Road: Turning Points in Gentle Discipline
June 30 – Gentle Discipline Recipe: Love, Patience, and Cooperation
July 1 – Gentle Discipline Resources

5 Responses to Consensual Living

  1. Mrs Green @ littlegreenblog.com  

    Thanks Lindsay for this enlightening article I love the idea that we can assume our children want to find a solution that makes everyone happy as well as ourselves and how consensual living is so inclusive of all. It follows the idea of Non Violent Communication which I love!

  2. Melissa K.  

    Thank you for demystifying this idea. You make it all so simple and clear. I love that “it is about parenting who your child is now, rather than who you want your child to be.” That is such an important thing to keep in mind as parents who strive to be respectful and gentle.

    I appreciate the extension to ourselves as well – I frequently forget to respect my own need, though I’m getting better about it. I need reminders like this to fight the ridiculous mommy guilt than can creep in when I have to assert myself to have a need met.

  3. Rosemary  

    This is wonderful. I love how you clarify the difference between consensual living and a child-centered family. I think most people misunderstand AP & gentle parenting to be permissive, child-centered parenting. Not the case at all. Thank you for sharing this! :)

  4. Cynthia

    I love that you differentiated between consensual living and child-centered living. A parent’s needs are valid and important too.

  5. Dionna  

    Thanks for putting this in such clear and simple terms, Lindsay. I strive toward consensual living, but it does not come naturally to my husband or me, as it is not how we were raised. I find Rosenburg’s “Nonviolent Communication” very helpful!

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