One of the issues I had when I first began to consider parenting in a more consensual way was the idea that my children would be ill-prepared to handle real world challenges. Lets face it, much of what our kids are going to encounter in school, their future jobs, even being out and about will sometimes be different than the way they are treated home.
I am fortunate to have had good models to show me that consensual living is really identifying the needs of the parties involved and addressing them when coming up with solutions that work for everyone. But I was still unsure of how this would look for my kids outside of my household. What impact does consensual living truly have when my children are out in the world with adults who don’t consider their needs as I do?
Tim is my 15 year old in high school, and he started having problems with a teacher who I will call Mr. Frank. Mr. Frank is a very authoritative teacher. He is strict and commands absolute silence in his classroom at all times. According to my son, he is inflexible and will berate his students for what he perceives as impudence.
Tim had only a couple of encounters with this teacher before determining that he hated him. His thinly veiled contempt was something that Mr. Frank noticed, for he began (in my son’s opinion) to single Tim out for reprimand. According to Tim, Mr. Frank would shout at him for talking when others were talking as well. Tim admits that he would roll his eyes and huff at Mr. Frank when this would happen.
One day, Tim had enough. When Mr. Frank singled him out yet again for talking even though several others were, he snapped at him. Mr. Frank started shouting at Tim, and told him to stand in the corner. Tim refused. The teacher screamed at him to get out of the classroom. Tim threw his bag across the room and it hit the wall.
That afternoon, my husband received a phone call from Mr. Frank. He was very upset when he told my husband about the incident. It was clear that he wanted us to punish Tim to make him be compliant in the classroom.
Our first reaction was that it was very unlike Tim to speak disrespectfully to a teacher. We knew that there was more to the story than what Mr. Frank had told us. Rather than handing out a punishment and saying it was “just because; you have to listen to your elders, or else,” we asked Tim what happened. We put ourselves in his shoes and thought about how embarrassing it would have been to have to stand in the corner. Or how unfair it must have felt to be the one shouted at for the same thing others were doing. We didn’t blame him in the least for refusing to stand in the corner.
We did, however, let him know that regardless of the circumstances, it wasn’t appropriate to yell at his teacher or to throw his bag. Although we understood his anger, the behavior wasn’t acceptable. We then went on to explain that his teacher may seem tough, but inside he is experiencing the same intense emotions that Tim was. We did our best to describe what those might have been, and to ask Tim what he thought his teacher might have been thinking and feeling in that moment as well.
Mr. Frank probably felt embarrassed to be talked to like that in his classroom in front of others. He was probably afraid of students joining in and losing control of his class, or becoming a laughing stock around the school.
After helping Tim understand that his teacher’s actions were likely based on fear and insecurity, we asked him which of his behaviors may have contributed to those feelings. He responded, “Rolling my eyes, talking.”
We asked him what he might have done to stop the incident before it went so far as Mr. Frank trying to “save face” by putting him in the corner. He replied that he could have quieted down and went to work.
Finally, we asked him what he thought he could do to help make things better in class, both for himself and for Mr. Frank. He volunteered, “I think I should apologize.”
The following day, Tim went to Mr. Frank and offered a genuine, heartfelt apology. This wasn’t a begrudging, “My parents grounded me and are making me do this,” apology and I do believe Mr. Frank would have felt the difference. The latter would have done nothing to soften his teacher’s attitude towards him, and they were able to talk it out.
Since this incident, Mr. Frank still sometimes acts like a bully in the classroom. Tim is 15, so there are some moments of contention. But by teaching empathy, respect, and cooperation at home, we helped to lay the foundation for Tim to diffuse stressful situations with his teacher before they get out of hand.
Mr. Frank got what he wanted, which was for Tim to apologize and be more respectful. Tim also got what he wanted, which was to stop being treated unfairly and shouted at. This was achieved without punishment, and with very little fuss, simply by showing our son empathy and teaching him to use it towards others.
Destany Fenton, Author of They Are All of Me
Destany is an artist who works from home while raising her four kids, who range in age from teens to littles. A self proclaimed cheapskate and “maker-queen,” her do-it-yourself attitude compels her to promote self-education, frugality, and taking responsibility for our global community. She is attentive to her children and works to foster and maintain a deep connection with each one, while finding harmony within herself and remembering to take time for her husband. When she is not painting, cooking, gardening, knitting or playing with her kids – even the big ones, she is blogging about her life at They Are All of Me, where she shares crafts, recipes, and crazy mama mishaps that are bound to crop up when living with pets, teenagers and little ones.