Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I have been doing quite a bit of thinking lately about why I parent my children the way I do. It seems to me that people end up with a style of parenting that fits their own family; therefore there are as many styles as there are parents, since every adult is different, every child is different and every family combination is different. To me any serious thinking about parenting is going to produce better parenting practices (no matter which route you choose) as opposed to people who don't really care and don't think about it or try.

Someone once told me their approach to this that made so much sense I have thought a lot about it ever since. It has to do with a child's maturity level. When children are small they need a lot more guidance. They don't have very good judgment yet and can easily get themselves into danger. When they get older, they need to be able to make more decisions on their own in preparation for adulthood.

So I see it as a process that evolves over the child's first 20 years or so. When children are young I see my parenting as being on the more authoritarian side (as some would view it) in order to keep them safe, teach respect and learn social practices. My kids need to use a car seat, eat healthy food, brush their teeth, hold my hand in the parking lot, treat other people and animals with respect, not destroy property, etc. It takes a lot of training to teach them these things and they are not always things a child naturally wants to do, in my observation.

But as time goes along, I feel like more and more the child needs to be put in control of his or her own life and destiny. I want to try "unschooling", for example, following the child's lead on what to learn and when. I do feel I need to add that I, as an adult with more experience and the overall "big picture", might need to offer a little guidance here and there in that respect.

Growing up, as I got older, because my parents had already taught me to make safe and healthy choices, they trusted me to make decisions for myself and I hope to do the same for my kids. I got to choose what to eat, when to sleep, who to have as friends, where to go, how much to spend. As my kids get older I hope to be able to entrust them more and more with those kinds of decisions until they come of age and are able to be responsible adults because they have had practice.

The danger of a toddler who is raised consensually, in my observation, is that the child may be exposed to danger (running out in a parking lot, for example, because he or she doesn't habitually obey the parent's order to "freeze" or "hold my hand") or that the child doesn't have an appropriate understanding of the social rules needed to function in groups of people. They eventually learn, but they learn the hard way, with a lot of pain and rejection from others, more so depending on their personalities. Some children who are shy don't have such trouble with this, but the spirited ones will step on a lot of toes before they figure out what they are supposed to be doing.

On the other hand, a parent who uses the authoritarian approach all the way up never prepares a teenager to live independently. Telling an older child what to do, what to study, where to go, how to spend and save money, etc. never allows the child to "do it wrong" while the stakes are still low. Some children rebel, some save it until they get out into the "real world" and go crazy, spending money freely or making other even more dangerous choices.

So I would say it evolves from some "control" when a child is little to "suggestions" or "guidance" when a child is older. By the time they are older teens, it would look very much like "consensual living". When they are toddler, it looks much more like "authoritarian".

I observe kids of all ages and it seems to me that kids raised in this manner seem often to do really well. They know and observe enough of the social "rules" to do well in society but are self-confident enough to make their own decisions and make healthy choices. They also seem to have the least resentment towards their parents. There's no perfect "system" and no perfect people, but from my observation, either extreme (authoritarian, totally consensual) has problems and the best turns out to be something of a balance in between.

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