Are you a “consensual parent” (a.k.a. an idiot)?
Friday, April 3rd, 2009
Okay, so I read a piece today about “consensual parenting,” a newish trend that’s as worrisome as it sounds: “In the consensual living model,” The Globe & Mail diplomatically explains, “father doesn’t know best. Neither does mom. Instead, parents and children are equal partners in family life.”
In describing this North Carolina-based movement (naturally started by attachment-parenting lunatics), the newspaper cites a mother who lacks even a passing acquaintance with “best.” When her willfully whimsical child, Savannah, refused to take off her “Halloween cat costume,” this mother let the girl wear it for six months straight. Until, that is, Savannah “decided” to shed her sly feline disguise. That’s the consensual way.
“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.”
In Brown’s defense, there is little more fulfilling than having a connection with a spoiled cat. If you choose to subscribe to consensual principles, you’ll soon learn that “punishments and rewards are tools of manipulation, unneeded when family members work as a team.” You won’t learn that whining until you get to wear your cat costume for half a year is also a tool of manipulation.
“In a conflict, identify the underlying needs,” consensual parenting theory dictates. (Curiously, Brown leaps avidly into the role of a bossy authority when talking to other parents.) To pinpoint these elusive needs, it suggests you try techniques such as validation (“You’re feeling sad that we’re about to leave the toy store, aren’t you?”) or clarification (“What I hear you saying is that you want more time to look at the marbles, right?”).
What I hear Brown and her cohorts saying is that they need more time to find their marbles. I’m feeling sad that Brown has established a Yahoo group with 900 members. My underlying need is to help protect children from these people’s eagerness to find cat-costumes appropriate for every occasion from school to funerals.
For more tips on this thoughtfully insane approach, also known as “gentle discipline,” see page 71 of The Perfect Baby Handbook. One-upping Brown, I outline both the “gentle” and the more advanced “extra-gentle’ responses to typical parent-child conflicts. For example:
Conflict: Child gropes a fragile vase, even though parent forbade her to do so.
Gentle Discipline: “Can you tell me why you did that, Amelie? Maybe, next time we can come up with ideas together than will help us avoid such misunderstandings.”
Extra-Gentle Discipline: “Can you tell me why you did that, Amelie? Maybe next time, I can be a different person, perhaps a wizened Russian diplomat, who mysteriously commands your respect.”