I Should Have Been a French Parent

We’ve all heard how American kids are spoiled, whiny, co-dependent little zealots who are permitted to survive on boxed mac and cheese while their mothers drift off to Zanax-land because their demanding darlings still won’t sleep through the night at age four. Whether or not you agree with this is immaterial. This is how much of the world sees us.

We give into our kids food cravings because we are afraid they will starve themselves to death.

We permit them to wake as often as they want at night, always rushing in to sooth them at their first call.

We spend our lives shuttling them from Gymboree to gymnastics from toddlerhood on, intent on giving them structured play time so they never feel bored.

We play with them on demand so they never feel ignored or unloved, and push off our chores until they have finally drifted to dreamland, sacrificing our chance for some leisure time to catch up on laundry.

We turn ourselves inside out trying to appease our little major generals. They rule our world. And they know it.

The French, simply don’t.

We all knew those French were different. But, zut alors, perhaps we didn’t know how different. First we discover French women don’t get fat, and now they are better parents as well?

 According to all the buzz, Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting celebrates les Français strict, yet hands-off approach to parenting.  Pamela Druckerman, an American journalist raising her children in France, dispels the myths of typical American parenting vs. the traditional French approach in her new book. 

For example:

  • French kids eat real food. Sitting at a table, with adults, using silverware and napkins and manners. Their plates are more likely to be filled with broccoli and brie than chicken nuggets.
  • French babies sleep through the night at a very young age. It is the typical French  practice to start teaching  infants how to sleep through the night as early as two or three months, supposedly not through a strict Feberization, but more of an “attentive listening” process.
  • French children throw far fewer temper tantrums than their American counterparts. They are taught to delay gratification,  that they can’t always get what they want (sing it, Mick), and they are allowed to figure out how to resolve their own spats while their parents watch and nibble on a croissant.
  • The French parenting ideal is called the cadre or frame. Children have strict, set rules for things such as school/daycare arrivals and departure times, meals, and naps. But how they spend the rest of their time is up to them. Boredom is encouraged, so children to learn how to amuse themselves. 
  •  French parenting, as described by Druckerman, is “a combination of being very strict about a few key things but also giving children lots of freedom.”  No helicopter moms in French airspace.

    Happy parents lead to happy children, non?

    Honestly, this sounds quite a bit like how I parent.  And I cannot tell you the amount of merde I get for my parenting style.

    Since I can’t afford to move to France (yes, it is a dream — lavender fields, good food, fine wine…) I will  appease myself by reading this book, so I can discover if the French really do have more of a clue about parenting.

    Vive la différence?
    Oui or non?

    22 thoughts on “I Should Have Been a French Parent

    1. Scarlett

      Most definitely, Oui. My Basic Training was acquired in my days as a Nanny, before I had three kids of my own (self-taught). I was the first American Nanny they'd ever employed, among many European Au Pairs who'd come before me. Ironically, (I) was the "tough" one… I didn't count green beans to "be fair", as their last Au Pair informed me she did. Those poor kids didn't see me coming.

      I loved those kids, all of them, but the disassociation that they were, in fact, not my own allowed me to see what they really needed, amidst all of their MANY extra-curricular activities and their parent's mountainous guilt. I guess I'd toughened up a bit, seen through the ruse of all those tears and tantrums. I learned early that it was in my best interest, as well as theirs, that a certain standard needed to be achieved for all to be happy and fulfilled. The hardest part for me, in that situation, was accepting that the "mistakes" of their parents were (their) mistakes and (their) children. I was simply there to do a job. Ultimately, it was that which made me realize it was time for me to move on, so they and I could live our lives as we wanted without so much conflict.

      We now have three teenagers (and it doesn't have to be the NIGHTMARE everyone talks about, for the record). Consistency, Higher expectations than the norm, and Love in action were on our side. Viva la bebes who have parents who aren't afraid of the actual emotional work involved in raising well-rounded, happy kids!
      My recent post *Life is in the journey!* ~ Touched By Love

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    2. Gigi

      Scarlet nailed it – especially with the teenager statement and the "Consistency, higher expectations….."

      Unfortunately, as this book points out, this is how American parents are perceived – but it's only a perception – as in a few bad apples spoil the barrel. I know how I have parented – and it sounds pretty much like what the book has mapped out (maybe the French stole my parenting ideas?). And my teenager? A pretty darn good kid that I enjoy.

      Reply
    3. Barbara

      As an American mother living in France I have to agree with everything! I know this sounds crazy but at first I was so sad that there weren't gymboree classes abound but after having lived in the system I'm grateful. My son takes a nap every day at noon, he has been sleeping through the night since 3 months and he learns the most amazing manners at school. Vive la France!
      My recent post Wine Love

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    4. Barbara

      I was JUST reading some buzz about a book coming out in April – French Kids Eat Anything, by Karen Le Billon, with a subtitle of "10 simple rules to for raising happy, healthy eaters. " Right down these lines. I think I'll get both for my daughter who just had a baby girl and is a francophile extraordinaire. Thanks for the heads up on this one!
      My recent post Puff Pancakes

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    5. aka_vinobaby

      SO glad to hear I may actually survive the teenage years — they scare me more than toddlerhood. I cannot imagine being a nanny. That has to be one of the toughest jobs out there, hands down.

      Thanks for reading and for your insightful comment. Cheers!

      Reply
    6. aka_vinobaby

      This was new to me as well. I haven't read any of the Tiger Mom books yet –they scare me a bit. But whether I agree with them or not, I still find the differences interesting.

      Reply
    7. aka_vinobaby

      Absolutely. The statements above are how American Parents IN GENERAL are perceived. We all do the best we can do. And we all do it in a different way. I just happen to find the press about this book caught my interest, and I'm eager to check it out.

      Reply
    8. Greener Cleaning Mom

      Funny! This is the way Americans used to raise children. Dr. Lelia Denmark (now 114 years old) was my children's pediatrician and she taught these same practices. She practiced medicine until she was 104. Growing Kids God's Way also teaches these same parenting skills. It is difficult to go against the mainstream which we had to do. I hope this new book will help create a community of parents who support each other in this style of parenting vs. child centered parenting.
      My recent post Project Mahma: Moms at Home Making a Difference!

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