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Life is filled with choices, from the mundane to the epic. For the most part it’s an invisible process...
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...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...
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...Punishments and rewards are really just tools of manipulation and when you are working together as a team for shared solutions there is no need to manipulate...
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...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...
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Consensual Living

 

 

Introduction

 

The tools developed from the idea of living consensually have been a blessing for my family and me. Coming from different backgrounds, from different regions of the United States, my husband and I decided it was important, for our marriage and future family, to discuss problem solving and parenting beginning before we married in 1993.

 

We now have two sons and live life joyfully and peacefully in the foothills of North Carolina. It has been, and continues to be, a wonderful journey, loving, laughing, exploring, thinking, dreaming and living through the different phases of our lives.

 

Speaking and writing for the public does not come easy to me. But I feel the need to share these wonderful tools with you, in hopes that it will enrich your life and, like waves on the ocean, expand endlessly, to touch the lives around you.

 

I am writing this sitting on the beach watching my sons and husband splash in the warm, salt spray of the ocean. Laughing and enjoying each other at this late hour. I see other families with children, some playing, some walking and talking, and some splashing in the waves. I wonder to myself, what is it like for these families behind closed doors? Do these children have any right to self-determination? I know that the prevalent parenting philosophies, of our time, include some form of punishment or reward. “Experts” encourage rules and boundaries set by the parents. Most families employ some sort of rule, even if only a bedtime or meals plan. Have these parents thought about their parenting philosophy? Or, are they parenting by habit, the way they were parented?

 

Consensual Living

 

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.

 

There are underlying principles of consensual living that are key to successfully, peacefully, joyfully, living together. Listening skills and communication tools are essential to the process. Problem solving techniques for conflict resolution are continually used until becoming part of the family dynamic. I hope to share a few tips with you that have helped our family find its way to consensual living. With practice, the entire process becomes second nature, resulting in the ability to focus on living a joy filled life, and less time spent in conflict.

 

 

 

Principles of Consensual Living

 

Understanding and internalizing the underlying principles behind consensual living are imperative before moving through the rest of the process. These core concepts may already be part of your life experience, if not, I ask you to read and thoughtfully consider them now.

 

  • 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.

 

Take the time to really think about what these principles really mean…for you…and for other members of your family. They are the building blocks for consensual living. These concepts truly have the ability to change your life and how you interact with your family and the world.

 

 

Communication

 

Communication is the next important element for consensual living. It is so helpful in the family environment, if everyone has the ability to articulate his or her feelings, wants and needs, in a way that is understood by every other person involved. Having the ability to ask for what you want, and actively listen and understand the wants and needs of others is key to this process.

 

It is so important to listen carefully and actively, trusting that the person is telling you the truth as he sees it. Then reflect back what you have heard, without using judgmental words or inserting your own explanations. The reflection process is crucial so that you and the other person know that you have heard him correctly and understand exactly what he is working to convey. Clarification happens here before it leads to miscommunication.

 

Here is an example of communication between a mother and son, a good example donated by a friend.

 

Son - "Mama, Jake said he'd watch the new episodes of Red vs. Blue I downloaded. But when I try to watch, he says he's bored and keeps interrupting me, then he turns on the TV, which distracts me. I can't hear the episodes!"

Mom - "Mm. You're frustrated 'cause you can't do what you had planned."

S - "Yes, and he said he'd watch! They're the last three episodes, and I really wanted to see them."

M - "You made plans to watch them now because he said he wanted to, but he doesn't really want to."

S - "Right! It makes me so mad! I wish he wasn't here. I just want to watch the episodes."

M - "You've always seen the new episodes on Sunday, when they come out. I think if Jake heard how important it was to you to watch them, he'd be more willing to find something quiet to do while you watched."

M - “Stating your wants is usually a good place to start It can be frustrating when a friend says they'll do one thing, and then they don't want to do that. This is important to you."

S - "Yes! (crying now) And I really just wanted some time to play my new video game, too, without distractions and interruptions. I wish I hadn't asked him to spend the night!"

M - (holding son) "It's so frustrating when things don't work out like you'd planned."

S - "Yeah." (after a few minutes of crying) "I'm gonna go ask Jake if he can find something quiet to do while I watch Red vs. Blue. I can let him know I'll play with him after that. Then maybe he won't take it personally."

M - "OK, sweetie. Good night"

S - "Goodnight."

 

 

But communication is not just verbal. Those of us with children know that babies find a way to communicate their feelings, wants and needs. Much of what we, as parents, do at this age is based on the limited sounds the infant creates and the non-verbal body language. One example is when a baby opens her mouth and turns her head from side to side, indicating she is hungry.

 

As our children age and become toddlers, they have more non-verbal gestures, are increasingly mobile, and are also learning the ins and outs of language.

 

At this age I remember interacting with my boys using reflective listening with a “twist”. Having only early language skills, I would interpret their body language into words for them, “you seem upset” or “you seem frustrated”. Then I would pause and let them tell me as much as they could. I would listen and watch more non-verbal cues, followed with my best guess at the cause of their frustration or irritation. “Is it the blocks, are you upset because they won’t stay where you stack them?” I verbalized the process out loud. In that way, the boys learn what different emotions felt like, and how they are articulated using language. This is how they learned to verbalize feelings.

 

It seems like no time before they can verbalize their feelings and tell you all about the situation. Time passes so quickly.

 

 

When conflicts arise, good communication skills can diffuse a situation quickly. By observing body language we can see when someone is becoming uneasy. They start to fidget, become restless, may start wringing their hands. To see these signs and say “you seem anxious” or “you seem upset”, will often give the individual the opportunity to explain their feelings and the problem as they see it. Perhaps, preventing the situation from escalating and allowing reflective listening and further problem solving to begin.

 

When you have a relationship founded in equality, trust and a right to self-determination, and you add good, productive communication, you are fostering an environment for the flow of information. Family members are surrounded by this loving environment and find it easy to share facts, ideas, thoughts and opinions. The individual knows that all information comes from a place of love and respect. They are free to use it as needed. No coercion takes place in this family, so no one feels the pressure to “take” someone else’s advice. A loving, nurturing, family has developed and will continue to grow.

 

 

Conflict Resolution

 

Conflict resolution is the hidden blessing in this whole process. Remember that now you are working within a family unit where all members truly know they are equal, where thoughts, ideas, wants and needs are not judged but accepted as equal, valid, and important. Each family member trusts that the others are speaking the truth, as they know it to be, and doing their best at this point in time. Each member trusts the strength of the family unit and his ability to live within that unit, and to work out mutually agreeable solutions where everyone’s needs are met.

 

Each member knows he has a right to self-determination. To identify his own wants, needs and desires. A wonderful foundation for a joyous life together has been created. The strength in this family will spread like those waves in the ocean.

 

It would certainly be ideal to end here. But, the reality is, when you have individuals with the freedom to live a life truly mapped out by him or herself, conflicting wants and needs will arise. How we handle these conflicts will determine how our family will grow within the foundation already created.

 

I believe the key to conflict resolution is first to truly understand the wants or needs of each person involved. Once all of these are out on the table, everyone can begin tossing out solutions that may or may not work. Be creative; try each solution on for size before discarding it as unworkable. Remember that every solution from each person is valid and worth consideration. Each person is capable of contributing no matter his differences or limitations. Continue with this process until you reach a mutually agreeable solution, always trusting that the solution is there, we just need to work, at times, to find it.

 

One huge benefit of this whole process with younger children is that they grow up in this win-win environment. It becomes second nature because they know no other way. As children mature, they carry these problem-solving tools into other relationships, more waves on the ocean. Problem solving becomes easier with continued use, and enjoying a peaceful, loving home becomes your life.

 

 

Suggestions

 

I know this all sounds too easy, too good to be true. It can be your reality. I have compiled some of my thoughts that have made this process easier for us. Maybe they will help you along this journey as well.

 

  • It’s OK to change your mind. When you live within a supportive relationship, you don’t hang on, so tightly, to what your original want or need was. You trust that your needs will be met so it becomes easy, during the process of information gathering and problem solving, to see other ideas that may be equally or more attractive. Since the environment is loving and nurturing, with no judgements placed on an individual, you can easily say “what about this instead” or “that sounds OK too”. We become less invested in only one outcome.

  • Problem solving is easier when we can focus on the conflict at hand. Being tired or hungry or otherwise distracted decreases our ability to reach mutually agreeable solutions. When the boys and I are going to out of the house for a few hours, I plan to begin early in the day rather than late in the afternoon, when we are more likely to be tired. I bring along snacks and drinks. By being at our peak, we are best able to concentrate, to listen to each other and reach win-win solutions.

  • Remember they won’t be babies forever. So many moms feel like they are so focused on the babies needs that their own needs fall by the way-side. True, a baby will not be able to problem solve with you, to see that your needs are met. At this stage the parent needs to look to others, partner, friends, family to help problem solve so that the primary care giver’s needs are met as well. There are no martyrs in a family living consensually.

  • Anticipate needs if possible. Think about your day and try to anticipate your needs and the needs of others. Modeling this concern for the well being of family members is contagious. You will see other family members anticipating your needs as well.

  • Our body runs on what we feed it. If you find yourself or a family member consistently lacking energy, irritable, or otherwise just “out of sorts”, it might be worthwhile to look into foods. Each person is different and different foods affect each body differently. Maybe starting a food diary, where you log all the food taken in, your feelings before and after you eat that food would be helpful. And, perhaps, help you to connect dots you may not have considered before.

  • Clearly identify your wants and needs, in simple terms. Get to the root of your want or need, which may not be what first comes to mind. An example could be: “I need to go to the grocery store today, and my son doesn’t want to go.” OK so now explore the situation more, from both sides. Do you need to go to the store TODAY. Do YOU need to be the one to go. Do you need to go to the STORE. Does your son not want to go at all or is there some part of the store he dislikes. Do you need to go to the same store you always go to. Is it, perhaps, the amount of time spent at the store he doesn’t like. Understanding the real underlying needs and concerns easily leads to mutual problem solving. I can see several possibilities in this scenario. Maybe you could go to the store when your partner gets home for the day. Perhaps, borrow the essentials from a neighbor. Maybe your partner could pick up the essentials on the way home from work. Maybe you could go to a store that your son would agree to. Maybe you could make just a quick stop on the way home from the park. Maybe he could help you shop. Maybe it is the cold of the freezer section that he dislikes and you could agree to avoid that. Maybe eat out tonight or order take out or delivery. I am sure you can see many more solutions and your son could probably come up with some great ones also.

  • The best tip I can give is to stay connected. If you are in touch, connected, you can sense when things are not quite right. You can also sense when things are great as well. Take the time to say “hi” when your daughter or husband enters the room. Tell your family how much you love and care about them. Take a few minutes to share your day with them. Invite them into your world, your passions, and your interests. Ask them about their interests and passions. A connected family is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children.

 

Common Issues

 

One issue I hear frequently from parents involves toddlers and preschool age children and hitting. Believing that we are all doing the best we can with the tools we have, I see this as a tool. Young children are trying to explore their world with limited language skills. Hitting is a tool that they have, a tool for communicating, a tool for problem solving. We need to give children more and better tools. I, personally, don’t believe in telling a child not to hit or that hitting is bad. I can, as I am sure you can too, think of several situations where I would say hitting is not only OK but also encouraged. This is a tool I would want my child to have and use if a situation arose that required it. Also, telling a child “it’s not nice to hit” does not reach the root of what the child wants, nor does it help to solve the problem.

 

I think we should first try to be involved with and around our children to anticipate the build up of frustration or anger. We can observe their interactions with each other and step in to help with the communication and problem solving process. By doing this on a continuing basis, we all have the opportunity to practice.

 

If you do not see the build up of frustration and just observe the hitting, get in between the children involved. Give them a minute to just breathe. Offer some soothing words, “we can work this out, just take a minute to relax”. It gives reassurance that their needs will be examined, and that a solution will be reached. You are not going to just ignore the problem. While at the same time, it gives the situation a chance to de-escalate. Then move forward to assisting each child to articulate their wants and needs, helping them if needed. And proceed from this point into problem solving.

 

Screen time is another common question relating to Consensual Living. Many parents question the whole principle of self-determination when they see their child sitting at the game system for hours on end. I believe an important component in this scenario falls under connection. Ask your child what they like about the game or TV show. Get involved, play with him or watch with him. Truly believe that he has a right to self-determination and it is OK. Maybe offer other activities that you think might be interesting, going to a TV station, to see how things work. You can certainly voice your concerns. He knows you love him and it is OK for him to say no. Consider that maybe this is a phase or maybe it is a life passion. It is, after all, his life.

 

 

 

Consensual Living Beyond the Family

 

Consensual living is an investment. These are people we love and care for. We want to see that not only is our need met but theirs is as well. We want to spend years living, loving, laughing, and exploring as a family, well into the future. But can this process expand beyond the immediate family? YES! It can extend to co-workers, friends, extended family, the mail carrier or dry cleaner. The same process that works with close relationships can work with people you are less familiar with, that you care less about.

 

I see my children applying these problem-solving techniques with their friends. Some of their friends are not accustomed to asking for what they want, yet, my boys are proficient at asking the right questions. They experience it at home and have practiced it over and over again. Then they move to throwing out solutions. Even when the other child may be ready to give up, I see my child say, “no we can work this out”. If frustration starts to build, they will come to me for help. I am glad to help. With each new experience we learn more about communication and problem solving.

 

When dealing with someone you only interact with sporadically, who has no investment in your family, like the dry cleaner, I don’t feel that intense connection is necessary. You are spending very little time with this person. The basics still apply. Everyone in the situation is equal, you must trust that the person is being truthful, trust that they are doing the best they can with the tools they have, and trust in the process. You have to identify wants and needs in any conflict. And can work out mutually agreeable solutions. A non-judgmental attitude and non- judgmental communication is key. It will help defuse many situations. It will keep it on a business level, instead of taking it to a familial level, while at the same time you are displaying a true concern for the other individual’s needs. That will assure him you do care about him and the outcome.

 

 

 

Afterthoughts

 

I hope that this booklet will give you a little glimpse into our lives, living consensually. We would have it no other way. For us it has led to such peace and joy within our home and gives me a feeling of being so connected with all members of our family. It is a joy to be able to share all of this with you. I hope you are able to incorporate, if not all, maybe some of the ideas presented. You will see a big difference in the way you view the world. A couple of friends, who are totally committed to consensual living, and I have created a yahoo list for discussion of just this topic. The web site address is: www.yahoogroups.com/group/consensualliving

If you have any questions or concerns, or would just like to explore Consensual Living in a deeper way, please feel free to join us there at the yahoo group.

 

We enjoy sharing our journeys, discussing different situations and struggles. With a group of individuals as large as the list is becoming, you are sure to find other families with similar issues as yours. We talk about communication with all ages, we talk about problem solving, we talk about living, loving, laughing, exploring, as a consensual family.

 

I do want to leave you with a book list. This list is not an inclusive list but just a list of books that the yahoo list owners have found to be helpful in our journey. While, I have not yet found a book that totally believes in self-determination for a child, these books have been very helpful in exploring key concepts. And for me have been helpful. They are in no particular order.

 

I hope to be able to expand on this booklet as time allows and see where this journey takes me. Thank you for your time and helping me create more waves on the ocean.

 

Pam