Consensual Parenting

Hello friends. Sorry it has been so long. Lots of cooking and things to talk about. For now, a parenting topic.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what consent means in the context of parenting. We live in a community that talks about consent a lot, and about how consent is not the absence of “no” it is the presence of “yes.”

Now that our daughter is over a year, they say that their “needs” and “wants” are no longer the same thing. But what does that look like? And aren’t her wants still important?

This has come up as we have begun the process of night weaning. The great thing about attachment parenting is that it is all about what is best for the family. It was getting to the point where having our daughter in our room, and nursing her to bed, and then nursing her whenever she woke up, and then having her in our bed for most of the night… well, you can see where this is going. It wasn’t working for us.

And thinking about consent, what does that mean about my body and doing extended breastfeeding with my daughter? I was starting to resent the night nursing and feeling like I wanted my body back, at least during the night.  So saying no to my daughter at times, about my body, at night, feels a little like getting some autonomy back. It also means finding other ways of comforting her during the night. Whether that means my wife going in, or me snuggling with her in the rocking chair, we are forming a new relationship.

Trying to put her down has been hard for all of us. We started without me in the room, and now both of us are trying to put her down and I’m trying to put her down without nursing at naptime. I always nurse her before sleep, but the idea is that she doesn’t fall asleep nursing and that we say “night night” to nursing and she knows she can nurse again in the morning. It doesn’t work to wrestle with her, and get her to lay down, it just helps to reiterate over and over that she can nurse in the morning and rock her and wait for her to ask to get in her crib.

This is what brought up this idea of consensual parenting. The nights when she goes to bed without screaming are nights when we do what she wants (other than nursing), be that giving her water, holding her, whatever it is, and then letting her decide when she is reading to lay down and rest. We can’t force her to sleep, but we can calm her down, set the environmental, and wait for that “yes.”

This is not the same as not setting boundaries. In fact, the biggest boundary we are setting right now is around my body and saying goodnight to breastfeeding. And we model boundaries all the time. But I think the idea of consent, of truly child-led parenting, and trusting that she knows what she needs, is a great way of thinking about it. This new attitude has allowed me to listen to her more and will hopefully lead to more peaceful nights.