Thursday, November 27, 2008
...we can make a choice; a choice to threaten and intimidate to get our way, or a choice to reach out in compassion and connection to find common ground...
I'm reading tonight about a concept that is new to me. It is called Consensual Living. The ideas behind it are not all new, but the articles and resources that I'm discovering are giving me some new ideas to use in my relationship with my children, my husband, and other family members. I first came across the concept when reading a Mothering dot com thread discussing the discipline chapter of Peggy O'Mara's book Natural Family Living (which is on my Christmas wish list!).
The author of an article on what consensual living is describes it this way:
Consensual Living, to me, means living with family members in relationships where each individual is treated equally and has the right to self-determination, living in an environment where each family member’s wants and/or needs are valued and met. When conflicts arise, mutually agreeable solutions are reached.
She goes on to list the following principles:
- Equality: The thoughts, feelings, wants, needs and/or solutions, of each individual involved, are equally valued, and equally considered. Everyone has thoughts, feelings, opinions, wants, needs, and/or solutions. We all must see those and the individual as equal regardless of our differences. It is more than just treating everyone as equal, each member of the family must be equal. If all family members do not truly feel equal, the process will be less than successful.
- Trust: We must trust that all members of the family are being truthful, when sharing their wants or needs, sharing information or finding solutions. We must trust that each individual is doing the best that he can at this point in time, with the tools available to him. We must trust that we can move through life and the world peacefully and joyfully. We must trust that, in times of conflict, mutually agreeable solutions can and will be found. By trusting the members of our family they, in turn, come to trust us, trust our honesty, and trust the process.
- Self-Determination: With accurate information, only the individual is capable of making decisions regarding what is right for him. No one is better at making those decisions than the individual. We are masters of our own fate. If we take the right to self-determination away from any individual, we are changing the course of their life, and may never come to know the person they were meant to become.
Her article also contains other information on communication, conflict resolution, and other topics.
I'm intrigued by the concept. It is essentially about mutual problem solving when two peoples needs and wants are not aligned. I do have to admit that while it sounds interesting, when I think of the areas where I do face some conflict with my four year old are the areas where he truly does not understand the consequences of the choices he wants to make or isn't able to appreciate, despite an explanation, the negative impact of his wishes on other people and eventually on himself.
Let me give two different examples:
- What to eat and when to eat: My son often doesn't want to eat at mealtimes. He doesn't want to eat what is offered either. He wants to eat chocolate instead. He isn't old enough yet to prepare his own meals and while I often give him choice about what is for dinner (should I make white sauce or red sauce for the pasta tonight, do you want macaroni or spaghetti), I don't think it is fair to me to expect me to drop everything and feed him when he wants to be fed, I don't think it is good for his health for him to eat primarily junk food, and I think it is important for family harmony and communication for us to eat together as a family. I can explain the importance all of these things to him over and over and try to make him understand the consequences of his wishes on other people and on his own health, but it falls on deaf ears or just doesn't sink in. So ultimately, I make the decisions on these issues while considering his needs and giving him choices where I can.
- Time, time, time: For a four year old, there are no time constraints. You can take as long as you want to play, to eat, to get ready for bed. Unfortunately, the real world imposes some schedules and limits on us. We do have to get up at a certain time each day (even if we would rather stay in bed), we do have to eat our breakfast within a 30 minute timeframe (even if a leisurely 2 hour brunch would be preferable), we do need to get dressed and get out the door by a certain time (or else mommy will lose her ability to make a living which would have dire consequences for the family that a 4 year old cannot or does not want to fully comprehend despite explanations).
I guess my biggest challenge, and I raised this in the Mothering thread, is that I don't know how to get my four year old to understand the consequences of his wishes and actions on other people. I think about and consider his needs when I make choices but it isn't reciprocated. I hope that with more discussion and work on emotional intelligence that it will come with time and then we will be able to be more consensual in our decision making, but until then I feel like I still need to have the final say a lot of the time.
In any case, I just came across this concept tonight and I will read more of the articles and other resources on the Consensual Living web site and see what I can learn elsewhere, but my first goal is to find a way to help my four year old understand how his actions impact other people and also how they may impact him in the long term. Until then, I don't know that I can give him full equality in the decision making process.
Please tell me! How do you make life more consensual in your family? How do you deal with the emotional immaturity of young children when doing so?