Consensual Living - When Kids and Parents are Equals

Filed under: Weird But True

princessWe've all seen parents who seem to have a hard time standing up to their kids. Whether it be getting them to clean up their rooms or eat all their vegetables, these parents almost always give in at the first sign of resistance. You might call a parent like this lazy, but maybe there is more to it than that. Perhaps they are proponents of a new parenting movement called consensual living.

Founded in 2006 by some North Carolina families, consensual living is an alternative parenting model in which kids are equal partners in family life. In these non-hierarchical families, it is all about understanding each other's feelings and finding mutually agreeable solutions where everyone's wants and needs are addressed. In a consensual family, the smallest child's desires are equal to those of the parents and, unless it involves safety, nobody makes anybody do anything they don't want to.

If little Bobby hits another child on the playground, dad might talk to him about how hitting is wrong and offer him other ways to express his anger, but he won't make him apologize. If 2-year-old Susie doesn't want to tag along with mom to her doctor's appointment, mom might cancel her appointment.

According to the Consensual Living Website, punishments and rewards are considered "tools of manipulation" and unnecessary when the whole family is working together toward a common goal. "When parents put themselves in the role as authorities, they may believe they are doing it 'for the child's good,' " says one of the movement's co-founders, Anna Brown, "but they could be missing an opportunity to have more connected relationships with their children."

But wait a minute here. Is consensual living about what is best for the children or is it really about the parents? In reading about it, I picked up on a common theme that seems to run through the comments of parents who are raising their children this way. They, the parents, are all much happier now that they have given up setting boundaries and disciplining their children. Well, of course they are! They've eliminated the most difficult part of their jobs.

Fully expecting her to think it was the best thing ever, I asked my 8-year-old what she thought about this alternative parenting model. She said she felt like those kids would grow up to be bullies and probably get in trouble a lot. I believe she is right.

I can see the attraction from a parent's point of view, but just how does this benefit their children? What happens when these kids are teenagers and start really pushing the limits? And are these parents not setting them up for a rude awakening in the real world where it isn't all about them and nobody cares if they are happy all the time?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.