Permission vs Consent

You know how, sometimes, you run across new information that leaves your mind spinning? That happened to me this past week when I read something about the difference between permission and consent, and immediately thought of my efforts toward anti-childism. It’s not something I’d really thought much on before, so I’ve been doing a little more reading and reflecting. To be clear, here’s the deal:

Permission means gaining approval from a superior whereas consent means coming to a mutual agreement that either party can say yes or no to.

I talk a lot about the need for consent on this blog, but there are also times when I’ve mentioned “allowing” and “letting” my kids do things. I’m realizing that my permission-based orientation is at odds with my efforts to elevate children. What I really want to do is flatten the traditional hierarchy parents and children tend to operate from, which means preferring agreement over commands wherever possible.

I’m sure many of y’all reading this will immediately question what this means in terms of safety issues. Children are a unique group of people. They are fully human and fully deserving of rights while also being newer to the world and in need of guidance. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what anti-childism really looks like when we, parents, are responsible for protecting our kids from danger, but I’m doing my best.

A few days ago, my daughter broke free from my grip outside our home and immediately bolted for the street. She made it into the street before I was able to reach her. Terrifyingly, a car was coming right for her. She had put one foot down into the street when I leapt forward and pulled her backward by her forehead. It all happened so fast! Fortunately, no one was hurt this time. But, clearly, my two-year-old cannot manage the freedom to roam around a busy state highway unsupervised.

So, what does consent look like with a two-year-old? For us, it looks like giving her the toothbrush when she demands it instead of brushing her teeth for her. She generally lets me brush them after she finishes anyway. It looks like accepting her choices in clothes without complaint. It looks like sitting up with her for a while when she’s not ready to go to sleep yet. It looks like giving her full control over what she eats from her lunch plate. There are so many daily decisions where I can give her the authority and autonomy she craves. Same goes for my 5-year-old. With him, I negotiate quite a bit (something that wasn’t allowed when I was a child).

I’m reminded of a graphic I ran across some time ago by Kristin Wiens:

"Rethinking Power Needs" graphic. Please contact me at peacefulmom@peaceigive.com for an image description.

I’m challenging myself to rethink those moments when I want to use my adult authority to pressure my children into bending to my will. In those moments, it’s difficult to remember that sharing power ends up creating an environment of cooperation. I invite you to this challenge as well. Let’s see how often we can come to an agreement with our kids rather than lording over them. I bet it gets easier with time.