Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Consensual Living

Imagine you have an appointment with your doctor for your annual physical. The morning of the appointment your eighteen-month old child wakes up in a grumpy mood. What would you do? Would you: A) take your crabby child with you and make her wait with you, as you had planned to do before you discovered she was Oscar the Grouch? B) arrange to have a babysitter? Or C) would you cancel your appointment and wait for a time when your child was in a better mood?

If you just answered "C", you might be a proponent of a growing trend called "Consensual Living", a lifestyle in which an itty bitty toddler has as much say in what to do and when to do it as her parents have.

The core principles of Consensual Living are as follows:

* Everyone's wants and needs are equally valid, regardless of age.
* Children can be trusted to know their own minds and bodies.
* Punishments and rewards are tools of manipulation, unneeded when family members work as a team.
* There is a creative solution that works for everyone.
* Each family member has a positive intent and desires harmony.
* When all are secure that their needs will be met, they will branch out and help others to meet their needs.

I'm sorry, but are these people on crack? This is the formula for producing happy, functioning adults? Oh, brother! This is all so ridiculous that I am getting nauseated from my head shaking back and forth in such appalled disagreement.

Let's start at the beginning: Everyone's wants and needs are equally valid, regardless of age. Um, no. It's true that children have important needs and wants, but childhood is a perpetual state of not knowing what you want, or why you want it, or why you should have it. You just want, want, want. Especially if someone else has it. Then you want what that person has and you want it now! As for needs, children only know a fraction of what they "need". Mostly they think they "need" TV and candy and to stay up late. This is why you set bedtimes and provide them with things like education and medical care, because they certainly wouldn't be lining up to take care of those things on their own.

Children can be trusted to know their own minds and bodies. Which is exactly why, if I let him, Michael would subsist entirely on hot dogs, fruit snacks and candy. And he would never be potty trained or go to bed. Sure, he might conk out on the floor after a couple of all-nighters, but why give in before that? And as for food, what kid wants nothing but veggies for dinner, after which meal he'll voluntarily clean his own plate and turn in for the night at 7:30, waking up the next morning fully rested and asking, "Mother, might I trouble you to help me use the facilities?" Not my kid.

Punishments and rewards are tools of manipulation, unneeded when family members work as a team. So one is supposed to sit idly by while her child sticks a steak knife into the electrical socket? Or hits another child? (According to one Consensual Living couple, they ask their child if he would like to express his frustration some other way, by hitting a pillow or using words, or whatever. And they never make him apologize because, "if he's going to apologize, we want it to be authentic." Huh? So it's better to not apologize at all?) As for "punishments and rewards [being] unneeded when family members work as a team"? Excuse me while I vomit. What child naturally gravitates toward any teamwork that doesn't involve some kind of planned naughtiness? I mean, Michael might coordinate with a friend to get out of the house or into the medicine cabinet, but working together just to hold hands and sing "Let There Be Peace on Earth"? I don't think so.

There is a creative solution that works for everyone. No there isn't, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It is good for children to learn that they can't have everything they want, and that sometimes life is hard and they need to compromise with others. If the solution to every problem has to be equally agreeable to all concerned, how is a child supposed to be learning about real life and how to deal with unfairness and disappointment?

Each family member has a positive intent and desires harmony. Have you ever seen my toddler antagonize another child just for the sheer fun of it? If not, you should check out the mischievous gleam that appears in his eye just before he steals a toy or smacks someone with a baseball bat. Positive intent, my foot!

When all are secure that their needs will be met, they will branch out and help others to meet their needs. I admit that my child can be very sweet and charming much of the time, but most of the sweet and charming things he does are things I taught him to do, such as saying "Please", "Thank you", "I love you" and even, heaven forbid, "I'm sorry". But even if every one of his self-proclaimed needs were met, that would not stop him from snatching a cookie from another child or induce him to offer assistance to a person in distress.

Yes, children are humble, sweet little creatures, but they are also the scriptural "natural man" through and through. Why do you think every little person runs around shouting "Mine!" all the time? Selfishness has to be rooted out. The problem is, who is going to do that when all the parents are caving in to the moody tantrums of their five-year olds?

Good heavens, have we really lost our minds so completely? How are we supposed to produce the next generation of responsible, independently functioning human beings if we are too busy giving in to their childish whims and immature feelings? Isn't the job of a parent to parent?

I guess I'm just not "consensual" enough.


Cameron and Nonie Gay said...

Thanks, I so needed a laugh. And I have to agree, parents who think this method is good are out of their silly little minds. Surely their parents weren't such ninnies.

Sara said...

Oh brother. I actually know someone who parents this way. Let me just say, we avoid outings that involve her child at all costs because he's a monster.

Evil HR Lady said...

I'm going to raise my children this way. I think it is the best way to go. Then when I can no longer control them I'll send them to aunt bonnie to straighten them out. Do you consent to that?

jmm43 said...

Evil HR Lady--You are back online--hooray!

Megan B said...

Can't wait to meet the Consensual Teenagers. "Maintstream parenting guru advice". I like that. You mean like BEING THE PARENT? And how do they expect these children to function in school. Are they homeschooled? And what about the real world? They are setting their kids up for total failure, IMHO.

"In daily life, she makes a practice of letting him know what her intentions are, she says, "and asking him if that's going to work for him." All I have to say about that is: What the hell?

""There are many less tantrums - and not just on the children's part." Well of COURSE. If a child always gets what he/she wants, of course they'll be happy. And it's always easier to just be the pigeon and give them what they want. Parenting is not meant to be EASY. Suck it up, step it up, and BE THE PARENT.

Idiots. I'm fired up.

mean aunt said...

EHRL if Bonnie doesn't consent I'm sure you can come up with a creative solution that works for everyone. I'm thinking Aunt Stephanie :)

Bonnie said...

Ooooh, I forgot to mention that, Megan. It drives me up the wall when a parent asks his child for permission to do something. I knew someone once who would always ask her daughter's permission to do anything - "Can I sit and chat with the adults for awhile? Would that be okay with you?" What??! Who cares if they are okay with it or not? The correct phrase is, "I'm going to sit and chat with the adults for awhile. Go away and find something to entertain yourself, or sit quietly and don't bother me."

And Mean Aunt, I agree - Aunt Stephanie would work much better in my book.

Stephanie Black said...

Ahem. Aunt Stephanie's needs are paramount here, and she says if you are going to ruin your own children, EHRL, you get to live with the results.

This consensual thing is just sad and scary. How are those kids going to function when they hit real life?

overlyactive said...

I honestly think this type of parenting is just the lazy way to go. Wouldn't it be so much easier to let you kids do whatever they wanted? They would be so happy, right? I don't think so, I know so. When my kids don't get good food to eat, get a good nap or nights sleep, they are so crabby. A consensual parent would never leave their house because these kids cannot behave in public. They would destroy things! I am a proponent of real parenting roles like, teaching, loving, and yes discipline. This is what kids thrive on.