Friday, June 5, 2009

Consenual Parenting

I am highly critical of parents who want to be friends with their children and are afraid to discipline a child, afraid to not give them what they want, etc. Parents generally do this because they fear the child may not like them if they discipline the child or say "no". This is bad parenting and now it has a new name - consenual parenting. From the article (emphasis added):
In the consensual living model, father doesn't know best. Neither does mom. Instead, parents and children are equal partners in family life, according to the principles laid out at
Founded in 2006 by a group of families in North Carolina, consensual living is gaining ground in alternative parenting communities and online, including a Yahoo group with about 900 members.

Devotees study books such as Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn and Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication, and they consider parenting based on punishment and reward structures to be "coercive."
"When parents put themselves in the role as authorities, they may believe they are doing it 'for the child's good,' " writes one of the movement's co-founders, Anna Brown, "but they could be missing an opportunity to have more connected relationships with their children."

Lindsay Hollett of Nanaimo, B.C., says that she began to snap less with her husband, Craig, and her 18-month-old daughter, Kahlan, after she adopted the consensual-living mindset about a year ago.
Wouldn't telling a child they shouldn't do something be "coercive" as well? I just don't understand.
So, how do they handle conflict?
When Kiernen strikes another child, Ms. Keller asks him what he's feeling and whether he'd like to express his anger or frustration in another way, such as using words or hitting a pillow.

She tells him it's not okay to hit others, but she and her husband, Josh, do not force Kiernen to say he's sorry. "If he's going to apologize, we want it to be authentic," Ms. Keller says.
I am going to make an educated guess that this child is not one I want around my kids. What happens when little Kiernen goes to school? What about when he doesn't want to eat anything but M&Ms? What about when he just wants to play Wii all day? What about when he refuses to do his homework?

This shouldn't be called "consensual parenting", but rather parental neglect. Abdication of parental duties = neglect.

I don't think every parent needs to spank, but there is much wisdom in the Proverbs that speak of punishing children, for their own good:
He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him takes care to chastise him. - Proverbs 13:24

Withhold not chastisement from a boy; if you beat him with the rod, he will not die. Beat him with the rod, and you will save him from the nether world. - Proverbs 23: 13-14


Terentia said...

I recently witnessed the difference in results between real parenting and "consensual" parenting. I had taken my grandsons to Best Buy to get them cell phones (with their parents permission) While there the older grandson picked out a phone with a full keyboard because he wanted to text message. I told him that I couldn't afford to pay for text messaging. His response, "that's OK Grandma, I just glad to get a phone." About that time, a woman walked in with her teenage daughter to replace the girl's broken phone for the 3rd time in 6 months. The woman handed the salesperson a phone and said, "I want her number programmed into my old phone." Now this phone looked new, lots of features from what I could see. The girl pitched a fit and demanded that she get her mother's new phone and her mother could use the old one. Guess what happened. You're right if you guessed that the girl got her way. The mother just rolled her eyes and sighed, saying "Fine, whatever you want." We all just stood there flabbergasted. My grandson shook his head and walked away.

Origami said...

Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more common for today's children. The majority of kids I have in my classroom (125 students) get their way whenever they demand something. If I was to put this model of parenting into play in my classroom, it would be total chaos. Learning would never happen! Kids want and need authority, and parents who attempt to "buddy" their children through life will find that they've created monsters who have no respect for anyone because no respect is demanded from them, and who believe they are entitled to everything (cell phone example). Too bad that parents who use this model of "parenting" will find this information out too late to really help their children.

Beate said...

Have you actually read any of Alfie Kohn's books? It's interesting to read them with a Catholic perspective :-) We've been given a beautiful model in our parenting both in our Mother Church and in Our Lord. Ultimately, we are won over by gentleness, love and good example, rather than by force. I've found, that when respect is modelled, it is also returned :-)

Marie said...

Your post and the Globe and Mail article do some disservice to Alfie Kohn, the author of Unconditional Parenting. He does not advocate parents abdicating and children becoming tyrants. He advocates unconditional love, and outlines lots of ways our customary ways of parenting make kids need to earn attention and approval from parents. When I first read it I took a deep gulp and then read Familiaris Consortio (again). There I saw it confirmed that parents are the first image of God children perceive. And I thought, does God make me earn the right to stand before Him (as if I could!). No, He gets things rolling by forming a relationship with me -- me in all my silliness, me in all my immaturity. This love that I experience from Him (through the Church, through other believers) shapes me, draws me and teaches me how to love others. THAT is what Kohn essentially is advocating between parents and children. That parents put the work into forming relationships with their children as they are (not just hold up behavioral expectations they'd somehow like to see their offspring magically live up to, or that they think they can punish their children into). Those relationships then really do change and form those children. If rules, power, authoritarianism come first, you end up with resentment and rebellion. If relationship comes first, relationship lasts.

I've tried it. It works for children. It also humbles me as a mother so that I can realize might does not make right.

Marcel said...

I disagree with the concept that parents are not to "force" their children to act in a certain way. The church teaches that children do not know right from wrong at an early age and giving them what they desire and trying to reason with them doesn't work in many cases. They need strict boundaries and consequences to breaking those boundaries, otherwise they will continue to push them.

The problem in our society with rebellion does not come with being too strict, it comes from laissez-faire parenting, as Jennifer Roback Morse points out in her wonderful book - Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work.

Problems with being too strict come when the boundaries and rules are not tempered with mercy, love, compassion, kindness and teaching. The two are not in contradiction, but should be held in balance.

Marie said...

Just wanted to come back to this an share an experience that just happened in my home to illustrate how relationship-based parenting can work.

My daughter was sitting on our black living room couch (the kind with zip-off arm covers) eating her breakfast banana smoothie. As I neared her, I realized that the lasagna that she had eaten the night before (my husband was with her while I was otherwise occupied) had been eaten on the couch, with bits of sauce and cheese wiped on the arms. I had just washed the arm covers a few days ago. I expressed my sadness (not anger) that my work had been undone, and reminded her that messy eating needs to be done only at the table. I told her that this was a real problem for me, and I went to get a rag to clean up the sauce (which came out quite easily, really). Without a word, she immediately picked up her smoothie and moved to the table and finished eating.

The reason my daughter (she's 4, by the way) immediately changed her behavior was because she wants me to be happy and realized that what she had done had made me sad and caused me extra work. She knows the value of effort spent. She saw the effect her behavior had on me, and it was clear to her what she could do to make it better.

As I walked to the kitchen to get the washrag, I considered that I could "make" her clean it so she could "learn" responsibility, but realized it would be a symbolic effort that wouldn't really fix the problem. Alas at that moment she was already showing me what she had learned by using the information I gave her to change All I would accomplish by "making" her clean the mess is to rub her face in the mistake she made. I know I don't like that, and the only thing I learn from it is resentment and a questioning that my dignity can out-live a failing.

And you know, there's a reason we have a black, washable couch.

Beate said...

Consensual parenting isn't Laisez-Faire parenting, since L-F parenting seeks to avoid providing discipline and guidance. Neither Alfie Kohn nor Marshall Rosenberg advocate this principle. Rather, consensual parenting is based on mutual respect. Wouldn't you agree that this fits in with the Catholic belief that children as well as adults are formed in the image and likeness of God? Why is it inherent that an adult's wants and needs are more important than a child's? How does this fit in with our Church's teachings?

In a conflict situation, parents and children seek to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem; this involves respectful dialogue, not just caving in. Of course conversation is tempered by the age and ability of a child. It wouldn't be respectful on the part of a parent to demand adult reasoning skills of a toddler. Respectful dialogue a lifelong process. If teens are secure in the fact that they will be truly listened to, there is no need for rebellion.

It's rather ironic that you followed this blog post with a post not imposing prayer, as this fits perfectly with the ideal of consensual parenting. We model our faith to our children and thus far all of mine happily attend Mass and practice the faith.

Could you tell me where the Church teaches that children do not know right from wrong? The CCC does say the "education of the conscience is a lifelong task," yet also maintains that "(m)oral conscience (is) present at the heart of the person..." We as parents have a duty to help our children in the formation of conscience, yet it isn't necessary to use coercion to achieve that goal.

If you have a chance, you could read Punished by Rewards, it really is an interesting book :-)

Marcel said...

I understand what both of you are doing, I just disagree that this is the best method of parenting. I will take your word for it that it isn't Laissez-Faire parenting, but it still lacks the discipline that children need, in my opinion.

It seems you have made parenting a false dichotomy - either you parent with respect in the consensual parenting model or you don't parent with respect.

The Church teaches that children will learn obedience to God by being obedient to their parents. This REQUIRES that the parents have guidelines, punishment, etc. Respect is in the same boat.
As the Catehism states:

CCC 2216 "Filial respect is shown by true docility and obedience. "My son, keep your father's commandment, and forsake not your mother's teaching. . . . When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you." "A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.""

It then continues:

2217 "As long as a child lives at home with his parents, the child should obey his parents in all that they ask of him when it is for his good or that of the family. "Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Children should also obey the reasonable directions of their teachers and all to whom their parents have entrusted them. But if a child is convinced in conscience that it would be morally wrong to obey a particular order, he must not do so.

As they grow up, children should continue to respect their parents. They should anticipate their wishes, willingly seek their advice, and accept their just admonitions. Obedience toward parents ceases with the emancipation of the children; not so respect, which is always owed to them. This respect has its roots in the fear of God, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit."

In other words, to properly raise obedient Christians, you have to teach them a proper obedience in the home. Respect grows along with it, but is not alone.

Then it goes on to talk about the RESPONSIBILITY TO CORRECT your children:
"Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

The Church tells us that parents not only have the right to make guidelines for their children, but the obligation and duty to punish them if they stray from them.

Beate said...

We agree that we must provide good examples. The CCC doesn't infer that this needs to be coersive :-) To discipline is to teach and the shepherd uses a rod to guide his sheep, not to beat them ;-) I'd hope my children do as I wish out of love, not fear of punishment. If it is only fear that keeps them from misbehaving, they will never have learned self-discipline. Wouldn't you agree that we would be poor Christians indeed if the only reason we followed Christ's commandments was because we fear eternal punishment? Mustn't we serve out of love?

Btw, I like the definition of obedience as being in loving service to one another.

Your sister is in my prayers ~

Marcel said...

I still think you are placing a false dichotomy into parenting. I (ultimately) want my children to do something out of love and not fear of punishment as well. But, sometimes fear of punishment is the first step toward love - and even our act of contrition alludes to such. Remember that fear of punishment is enough for forgiveness of sins.

Beate said...

...and I firmly believe that love can be first. The CCC states: " God created man in his image and established him in his friendship. A spiritual creature, man can live this friendship only in free submission to God." I judge that I'm cognitively and spiritually much more like my child than I am like God. Thus, if God established us in friendship, a friendship that is restored through reconciliation, should we not have that type of relationship with our own little ones?

You say "fear of punishment is enough for forgiveness of sins." I'm wondering how this can be. Don't we have to be truly sorry for what we actually did?

Back to your original post. You wrote: "...this child is not one I want around my kids. What happens when little Kiernen goes to school? What about when he doesn't want to eat anything but M&Ms? What about when he just wants to play Wii all day? What about when he refuses to do his homework?" I'd wager that if you met my children you'd probably be more than happy to have them associate with yours - albeit you didn't know who their momma is ;-) I've met plenty of children whose parents are much more authoritarian than my husband and I. These kids (and young adults) say all the right thing around adults, manage to act perfectly around their parents, yet turn into mean little terrors as soon as they are out of their parent's line of view. At any rate, the candy eating and video playing does temper itself. Ultimately, my crew would much rather hang out with me than play video games alone, and they know what causes cavities :-)

Yesterday afternoon my soon to be 13yo was resentful and rude. I pointed this out to her and dropped the subject. Later, she came to talk to me. She apologized (being genuinely sorry) and then told me that she judged that I was acting "like she wasn't there" and wanted my attention. We agreed that she didn't have my full attention and I was wrong for making her feel that way. We also agreed that there are much better ways of getting attention than by rolling eyes ;-) I realized how right she was - I'd been busy with littles as well as teens, plus I'd taken time to converse with you. While I did take her to the library and listened peripherally as she talked, I wasn't truly engaged. She deserves that from me. I'm just glad that she trusts me enough to point out my short-comings.

I suppose you and I will have to agree to disagree on this topic, but I ask you not to judge that I'm somehow less Catholic and less intelligent than you are just because I believe in a gentler, non-fear based, way of parenting. I have read the books mentioned in the article and do refer to Church teachings when making decisions; esp. decisions as important as raising children in a Catholic way.

Yesterday my sis and I were talking of shepherds. As a child, I loved watching these peaceful men with their sheep. The staff wasn't ever used to hit. It was a visual aide for the dog and a support for the shepherd. My sis pointed out that this didn't mean no shepherd ever hit his sheep. I replied that yes, hands can also be used for hitting, but that doesn't mean it's their intended purpose ;-)

God's peace be with you ~

Marcel said...

"I am heartily sorry for having offended thee" - fear of punishment is enough to have your sins forgiven. It is still sorrow, just a lower kind of sorrow - the basic kind.

I am not making any judgment on individual parents, rather I AM judging the philosophy of parenting, which I am free to do.

Lastly - shepherds have the hook in the staff in order to be able to wrap it around a sheep neck and force them to go to a place that is best for them, even if they don't want to. The staff is also used for killing wolves - so don't think a shepherd is just a really nice guy. Heck, even the image of a shepherd with a sheep on his shoulders is faulty for many. That sheep had it's legs broken so it wouldn't run away any more. That is why the shepherd had to carry it...