Are French parents superior? They achieve remarkably different results

It’s all in priorities. Don’t tolerate whiny, screaming, demanding kids. Expect better of them. Do you want an independent or dependent child?

From the WSJ, an article penned by American ex-pat Pamela Druckerman explains the difference between American and French parenting styles. It’s rather illuminating. She writes:

And once I started thinking about French parenting, I realized it wasn’t just mealtime that was different. I suddenly had lots of questions. Why was it, for example, that in the hundreds of hours I’d clocked at French playgrounds, I’d never seen a child (except my own) throw a temper tantrum? Why didn’t my French friends ever need to rush off the phone because their kids were demanding something? Why hadn’t their living rooms been taken over by teepees and toy kitchens, the way ours had?

Soon it became clear to me that quietly and en masse, French parents were achieving outcomes that created a whole different atmosphere for family life. When American families visited our home, the parents usually spent much of the visit refereeing their kids’ spats, helping their toddlers do laps around the kitchen island, or getting down on the floor to build Lego villages. When French friends visited, by contrast, the grownups had coffee and the children played happily by themselves.

Before you chide the French for not involving themselves in child-rearing, think again:

But for all its problems, France is the perfect foil for the current problems in American parenting. Middle-class French parents (I didn’t follow the very rich or poor) have values that look familiar to me. They are zealous about talking to their kids, showing them nature and reading them lots of books. They take them to tennis lessons, painting classes and interactive science museums.

Yet the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this. “For me, the evenings are for the parents,” one Parisian mother told me. “My daughter can be with us if she wants, but it’s adult time.” French parents want their kids to be stimulated, but not all the time. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are—by design—toddling around by themselves.

Fostering independence is a primary goal–or should be–of parenting. If, after all, you’re preparing your kids to go off into the world alone, should they not be able to care for themselves? If nothing else, decades of helicopter parenting reveals overly sheltered kids who are ill-prepared to enter the world, by failure of the parents. No wonder the “youth vote” breaks so heavily for Democrats: they need Big Brother since they are unable to care for themselves.

Druckerman highlights myriad facets of “French parenting” she hails as highly successful. Read the rest. I plan on downloading her new book.

H/t: Lisa


12 Responses

  1. I don’t let my toddlers snack all day and they still don’t behave at restaurants. I also wonder about spanking.
    As a matter of comparison, Russian toddlers throw tantrums on playgrounds, they wouldn’t be toddlers if they didn’t throw tantrums.
    Although I’ve seen many American moms drink coffee and let their children play on their own, I do agree with her general point of being too child-centered. Although, on the other hand, if French had figured it all out, why do they have so few children?

    • @Edge, I’m not saying I agree with everything she wrote, but I think it’s thought-provoking. My daughter’s eating habits tend to vary greatly. I let her snack when she’s hungry primarily because she’s about to fall off the height and weight curve. For what the kid eats, she should be a giant. Our restaurant strategies are easy–keep her busy–but she also loves dining out (like us!) so she knows that if she’s acting like a brat, we leave. She bawled all the way out the door on more than one occassion. And all the way home. Painful. But she knows that we won’t stay in public acting like that.

      As for tantrums, I dunno. I think too many kids have learned to use ’em as a manipulative tool. When it’s not nipped in the bud (no, we don’t give in to that behavior) then it stops. pjKid *knows* she won’t get her own way, but soemtimes her anger still gets the best of her. She has my temper. Sigh. But she’s not quite 4. So we work on it daily.

      Laughing re the last comment. I do agree, though, that Americans in general are too child-centric, which is why so many of them think they really are superstars. I had a few students like that. So. Much. Fun.

      • I’m going to read it too, it sounds interesting.
        American kids probably have too many tantrums, but all toddlers have them, and it’s unrealistic to not expect any.
        We also like to eat out. The 4 y/o is doing well now, but the 2 y/o might be a problem. I found that getting to a restaurant when they are not yet hungry makes a huge difference, although we don’t always make it to the restaurant before it happens.

  2. I am a very strict parent by today’s standards. I set high expectations of my children. Whining is out of the question, jumping on furniture at home or anywhere else for that matter is a non starter. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say

    I see parents all the time say if you do that one more time, giving them candy when they scream, and letting them run around like crazy people in public. They behave that way because parents allow it.

    My kids are far from perfect, but they know the boundaries I have set for them and I have finally gotten my MIL to respect them as well.

    My kids play by themselves all the time. My son loves to color and paint, that keeps him busy for at least an hour in the afternoons so I have time to get other things done, like a read a book he has no interest in to his much younger sibling.

    One of my dreams when it comes to my children is when they return home from a play date I get told how polite they are and they would be welcomed back anytime. I have already heard that about the six year old. That matters to me and sadly I don’t see it mattering to many other mothers.

  3. One silly article and we’re all frantic about our frantic parenting? Gimme a break. The French produce compliant socialists (when they bother to reproduce). This mother of three says “go with your gut” parenting is best. You know what’s right, just do it.

    • Actually, Donna, the body of work concerning the ill state of helicopter parenting and the obnoxious whiney pestering kids it produces could fill libraries. I’m a John Rosemond fan and have been for years. I find it compelling that the French as a whole reject bad behavior in kids the way we USED to before it became trendy to subvert to kids’ every whim.

      • yeah but does she ever mention spanking? I haven’t read her book but I’ll bet the French do plenty of it. That, my friend, is what makes the difference with defiant children. That’s why I said go with your gut. You know when your kids need a swat but our hypersensitive (and probably childless) elites tell us it’s “abuse”. Anyway relying on the “body of work” that fills libraries is probably what got us into trouble in the first place. My grandmother had loads of common sense that she passed down the line and my experience is that it works. Ask your grandmother.

      • Not in the article, but I’m not sure of the book. I disagree that spanking makes all the difference. It has its place–I’m not saying that. But it shouldn’t come to that. My fondness for John Rosemond (and this ex-pat) is that they rely on common sense. It’s old-school traditional parenting. Rosemond is brilliant. And a psychologist. I love him because his advice is sound and so counter to the gobbledy-gook usually touted by the “experts.” He’s not afraid to discipline a child. Discipline instills self-discipline, which most kids these days don’t have.

    • I dono. Helicoptering moms produce kids who move into the city square upon college graduation.

  4. As I keep telling folks, raising kids like this woman is claiming the French do, is exactly how children were raised in this country through the 1950’s. It was exactly how I was raised (and look how well I turned out – heh)

    As children, we did not interrupt, we played for hours on our own (because our mommies taught us how to play), we didn’t argue, whine, or demand. We ate our meals at the same time each day and dinner was a family affair. A snack was eaten at the table and not running around getting crumbs on the floor. We didn’t “eat at will” and “ruin our dinner.” We could be silenced with a mere glance from our mother.

    In all things our mothers were consistent. We didn’t jump on an old couch in the “rumpus” room because mom knew we couldn’t tell the difference between a “good” couch and an “old” couch. I go bonkers when I see children running on the pews in church or climbing of the booths at McDonalds. I can hear my Mom saying, “Chairs are for sitting, not standing.”

    We did not hear a constant stream of NO. Instead we heard, “No you can’t do that, but you can do this.” Need time for cooking and the little one wants to trash the kitchen? Simple. Clean out the lowest drawer in the kitchen, fill it with some measuring cups, spoons, plastic whatever, and that becomes the child’s drawer. Mom gets to cook and the kid is happy as a clam.

    Oh my gosh – I didn’t mean to turn this into a blog post…

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