When I began my homeschooling journey in 2003 I had no idea how many doors would open, how many belief systems would be challenged and how my life would be changed forever! Yes, the initial reasons for choosing to homeschool changed along with our styles of homeschooling; yet, the greatest change was with my relationship with my children and how I parented. For me, well for us, our relationships have benefited most from the evolution of our homeschooling decision to unschool. After making the leap to unschooling, I realized I needed to take a closer look at my parenting, and why I reacted and made the decisions I made regarding my children.
Relationships are critical to our happiness and well-being. Our happiness and well-being are critical to our ability to learn. From the beginning I wanted to respect, love and nurture my children. From day one of motherhood I wanted to raise happy, well-adjusted kids. I had NO idea what I was doing or how to go about that. I read, I talked, I got so much bad advice! The truth is, it’s not actually all that complicated. If you stay in tune with your heart and natural mothering instincts, you can’t go wrong. It’s when you listen to others that you will most likely run into problems. Now, this may seem kind of ironic because I am passionate about helping other parents learn to transform their families into loving, peaceful, respectful, happy and connected homes. What I really do is help them sort through their own conditioning and beliefs, so they can listen to their hearts and natural parenting instincts again. The issue is, we come into this parenting role carrying all our baggage and BS (Belief Systems), which totally confuses us and causes us to react completely outside of our family vision. So, how do we stay on track and allow ourselves to have that connected, loving relationship we so desire for our family?
Here is where consensual living stepped into the scene for me. I was looking for guidance and help when I met an amazing woman who is still a very close friend and she introduced me to the concept of consensual living. It was so funny at first as I had never even heard of such a thing in regards to parenting. The word “consensual” was always tied to the idea of sex for me––kind of embarrassing to write, but true. She helped me understand the principles and pointed me in the direction of some great resources (which are listed at the end of this article for you).
And the journey back to basics began.
Why do I say back to basics? Because it’s truly not complicated. What’s complicated is undoing all we have been taught about parenting and the process of healing from our childhoods. Examining our conditioning. Basically, the idea is to do unto your children as you would have them do unto you. Be loving, kind and respectful with your children so they learn how to be loving, kind and respectful to you and others.
Day by day it became easier and easier and felt so right!
Let’s talk about the basic principles of consensual family living.
- Everyone has a voice.
- Everyone, regardless of age, deserves equality. In other words just because I am the adult does not mean my opinion is weighted as more important than someone who is 3 or 15.
- Everyone is autonomous and self-directed.
- Everyone’s needs count.
- Safety comes first, especially with little ones.
- We follow the laws of our society (carseats etc.) and the tenets of our community.
- We respect each other and are non-violent in action or words.
- We discuss most everything. There is no “because I said so.”
- We problem-solve, not punish.
- We are honest about our feelings.
- We are honest about our needs.
- We trust each other to tell the truth and care for one another.
- We are connected, engaged parents.
- We are accountable for our own issues, and we look deeply at our own triggers.
- We heal from our own wounding so we do not wound our children.
Why *really* consider this way of living? Take a moment right now and think about your goals for your family. What kinds of things do you think you want for your family, as a whole, and for your kids individually? Allow this information to come from the heart, not the head. If you hear words like happy, love, respect, successful (whatever your determination of success is), clear communication, freedom, individuality, works well with others, knows who they are and what they want out of life….you’ve come to the right place! Basically, we want to find what “works.” We want to know that if we choose to live by these principles, our kids won’t turn into wild animals or “worse.” We want proof.
If I haven’t lost you yet, you probably want to find something that feels right to you, your philosophy, your loving and kind spirit, and you want kind, respectful, smart kids. I hear you. Who wouldn’t?
So here is my case for consensual living family life. My kids are 18 (girl) and 16 (boy), and they are usually kind, respectful, smart kids. Truthfully, they are not astronauts or going to medical school to cure cancer; they are just complicated, amazing, human beings like the rest of us. But, I can tell you that there is very little conflict between us. My daughter is responsible, kind, respectful and loving, enjoying her second job at Whole Foods, in a committed relationship, saving money and figuring out what she wants “to do” with her life. My son is an avid gamer, just learned to play the violin and is starting piano with the hope to compose one day. Oh yeah, he’s also an overall knowledge junkie. He is planning on going to college for computer science and music and reserves the right to change his mind at any time. Both self-determined, with only guidance and support from us (my husband and I) when they desire it. Yes, I am a proud Momma! Of course we have challenges, yet we know how to communicate, ask for what we need and find solutions which lead to a very peaceful life. Our life is not perfect, and if you are thinking anyone’s is…stop it! They are either lying or in denial.
Family life is complicated!
Relationships are complicated!
Following these principles has helped me feel connected to my children and husband. We talk, we do our best to understand one another, we’ve got each others’ backs. To me, those are good results!
True confession time. I have never regretted or worried about choosing to live with my family consensually. I honestly can’t say that about unschooling g-a-s-p! Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled with our choice to unschool and so are the kids, yet it can sometimes be scary, to be so outside the “norm of society.” Consensual living is *really* not that radical, or at least it shouldn’t be! It just makes sense. We want to raise children who can think for themselves, communicate well and make good decisions. How would that be possible if we control and manipulate their lives until they turn 18? Instead, we need to model appropriate decision-making, good communication and cooperation so they can have successful adult relationships and lives.
How do I measure success? It’s all about perception and values. I really value relationships and communication, so if my children can have honest, vulnerable relationships where they give as much as they receive, I consider that success. And when I say “relationships,” I consider the relationship with Self one of the most important. Without a good relationship with Self, we/they cannot possibly have it with others.
One last very important point I would like for you to consider––vulnerability. Let’s talk about vulnerability a bit with regard to following the principles of consensual family living. Vulnerability is where it all spirals down. Kids are vulnerable. They are small, they don’t have money, they don’t drive cars, they can’t feed themselves (in the beginning), so we must honor their needs and desires so they can feel safe. As soon as something breaks that level of trust, the first wall which hides their vulnerability is being built. The goal is not to break the trust with our children by using power over them or manipulate them with punishments or rewards. The goal is to allow them to grow and learn in a safe environment that does not mandate what is wrong or right. It is also to nurture their secure place in the world, allowing them to stay vulnerable and open instead of having to heal and relearn how to be vulnerable and open, as many of us have had to do in our adult lives. Judgment is one of the quickest ways to build a wall and shut a person down.
Brene Brown, researcher and author illustrates it well when she writes, “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”
I don’t want my children to be afraid to show up and be seen. This is why I live consensually with my children.
So, how does this look in real life, you might be wondering? At first it looked and felt a lot different than it does now. This way of being is simple, yet not always easy! In the beginning I had to really stop, become aware (conscious), think what to say or how to handle any given situation. It took a real commitment. When I think back, one of the initial things we had to figure out as a family was about finances. We wanted (well I wanted and my husband came along for the ride at the beginning) to be able to allow the children to feel empowered. To feel they had a say in getting what they wanted––whether it was a new video game, Lego set or guitar. Everything needed to be considered seriously, just as we adults consider what we want to buy seriously. For us the process looked somewhat like this: first, my husband and I had to get clear on our feelings about money and budgeting. There were disagreements between us on this topic, yet my husband and I agreed that if we had the money at the time of the desired purchase we would say yes. If we didn’t we would have an honest discussion about why we can’t buy x,y or z right now and we would start problem solving. We would look for solutions together with the child that wanted the item. Together we would look for a way for them to get what they wanted!
We were careful (which wasn’t always easy) to not deem that item not worthy of our purchasing power. Remember, all needs, desires, requests are valid! We would talk about ways to save or make money, we would talk about when we (Mom and Dad) would have the money and would happily buy the item, etc. Of course when the kids were much younger this could be challenging because they would sometimes have an issue with the idea of not getting what they want, when they wanted it. When that happened I would remember to breathe, stay grounded in my principles of consensual living, tap into my heart space and the love I have for my family and keep looking for solutions that would help everyone feel safe, heard and loved. We are very fortunate in usually having enough money in the budget for what they desired, so we did say YES a lot. My husband had the occasional concern (or conditioning) that they would grow up feeling entitled and not understanding the value of a dollar. Guess what! The exact opposite happened! My teenagers are very responsible, considerate and giving when it comes to money. My daughter bought her first laptop with her babysitting money when she was 13 years old. Not because we “made her” but because she wanted to. She still surprises me with what she offers to pay for when we have no requirements for her to pay for anything.
My husband really hates doing yard work. We are pretty sure it is because he was made to get up early and get to work on the weekends. What do you hate doing? Let’s talk about “chores”. I want my children to live in a family that feels like a community that is willing to help one another out. So when they are out in the world they will be giving, helpful people who aren’t carrying around resentments about “having to do this or that”. It’s a choice and they feel empowered and good about their choices. When it comes to the daily chores of life, we all take care of ourselves and pick up after ourselves to the best of our ability. When they were little it was different. I would ask for help and sometimes be met with a NO (or worse), so then what? Usually, I made the choice to just continue to clean up. I would share my feelings when appropriate which to me is a vital part of living this way. Being honest and sharing feelings in a non violent way is vital to the process.
When the kids were younger I modeled helping them and asking for their help. None of it was a “you made this mess, now you have to clean it up” sort of thing. It sounded more like “wow, you sure had a lot of fun building all these things with Legos and they are all over the floor. I’m having a hard time walking through without hurting my feet so let’s clean up the ones you’re not using” (me), “No, I’m still using ALL of these” (child), “Hmmm, how about we just scoot them all to one side of the room or make me a path I can walk through. Tell me what you think would work best.” (me) Usually they would and we would work together to make a path or move them to one side of the room or, better yet, sometimes they would realize they really were done and we would just clean up together. It’s not rocket science, it’s common sense, it’s respect for another human being, just as we would give to another adult or wish to be treated by another.
We have been able to consensually decide on everything from food choices to health care. Stick to the principles, be present and patient and soon you will be able to see and feel the peace in your home. You will have met challenges with love and respect not only for your children, but also for yourself.
Consensual Living Resources
Be sure and check out their recommended reading list.
Awakened by the birth of her first child 18 years ago, Tracy Liebmann has dedicated her life to her own personal development and the relationships closets to her. She is an Unschooling Mom, Certified Life Coach and Energy Medicine Practitioner who lives and works near the beaches of SC. She has been assisting in personal and family transformations all over the world since 2006 and you can connect with her at www.transformingfamily.com
This article was published in the March-April 2014 issue of HEM: