Photo by Clare Bloomfield at www.freedigitalphotos.net

I had no idea. My husband and I are actually parenting like French parents. And it’s working like a charm – so far at least.

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the articles people keep forwarding to me about a new book called Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, an American living in France. Pretty much everything she says about French parenting methods echoes what my husband and I believe and have implemented in our parenting – and what I see in many other families where old-fashioned firm parenting methods are combined with more modern love and understanding.

Here are some of the questions that led Pamela to write her book:

“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… I decided to figure out what French parents were doing differently. Why didn’t French children throw food? And why weren’t their parents shouting? Could I change my wiring and get the same results with my own offspring?”

Here are some points that especially resonated with me from the two articles about Pamela’s book that I read (links to articles at end of this post):

Parents are supposed to be in charge. The French believe in “an iron fist in a velvet glove.” Jared and I believe in being firm but kind and making boundaries very clear. We believe in making one meal and expecting our children to eat what is placed before them thankfully. We believe in explaining rules and consequences and gathering input from our kids on many things. We believe in giving our children lots of choices within certain parameters. But we’re the parents, we’re in charge of how things go down around here, and our kids totally get that. As stated in one article, “Kids are not king in France…Though they love their kids passionately like everyone else, the French generally don’t subvert their identities to the lives of their children…Kids are essentially expected to adapt to the grown-up world and not the other way around.”

Children need to learn to wait. Jumping to meet the requests (or more especially the impolite demands) of our children immediately does not help them learn patience – and it often leads parents to resent their children and dislike parenting (a 2009 Princeton study showed that compared with French moms, American moms considered it more than TWICE as unpleasant to deal with their kids). The Wall Street Journal Article (link below) cites that study done ages ago where 4-5-year-old American children had a marshmellow placed in front of them and were told that if they could wait to eat it for 15 minutes, they’d get TWO marshmellows in the end. Few children could wait more than 30 seconds. The study followed the children over the years and found that the children who waited and received the two marshmellows were better at concentrating, reasoning and handling stress. My kids know they need to wait until I’m off the phone, to politely ask for me to get them something when I’m done with whatever I’m doing. They need to respect what others (including their parents) are doing and wait a little bit for what they want. The need to earn up money for toys and activities they’d like to do. They don’t get what they want right away. And I think that’s really good for them.

Get rid of guilt over things that are just fine. The article talks about how ”French mothers certainly don’t suffer the same guilt about everything.” In a kid-centric society, guilt is a big, sad part of so many moms’ lives. I used to put my kids in the child care at the gym for an hour three times a week so I could work out. They loved playing in there and I loved the uninterrupted time to work out. But when I mentioned that I was doing this to some friends at a play group, a couple of them seemed shocked. “Do they have good caregivers in there?” “I’ve heard there are a bunch of sick kids in there and it isn’t that clean so the germs get passed around” I started to feel guilty and I looked more carefully at the interactions between caregivers and kids and the cleanliness of the child care the next time I took my kids. I found that the caregivers seems fine. Not stellar but fine. The place seemed clean. Not sparkling but clean. I decided I was a much better mom and person when I had my hour to work out and that my kids weren’t suffering at all that I could see so I kept going. And it all worked out just fine. I think we can put our own needs first sometimes while ensuring things are fine for our kids and that’s OK. Our kids don’t need “perfect” or “stellar” all the time and it’s good for them to see that their parents have needs as well. I love that my kids see me prioritizing exercise and reading and going out with friends – not at the expense of prioritizing time with them – but in addition to prioritizing time with them.

Here are a few overall tips from French parenting as stated in the Wall Street Journal article linked below:

  • Children should say hello, goodbye, thank you and please. It helps them to learn that they aren’t the only ones with feelings and needs.
  • When they misbehave, give them the “big eyes”—a stern look of admonishment; speak to them kindly but sternly. Make sure they know you mean business by being consistently firm and following up with lots of love.
  • Allow only one small snack a day. In France, it’s at 4 or 4:30. (then they’re actually hungry at meal times and eat what’s put in front of them much better)
  • Remind them (and yourself) who’s the boss. French parents say, “It’s me who decides.”
  • Don’t be afraid to say “no.” Kids have to learn how to cope with some frustration.

I don’t think the French have a corner on the parenting market. I’m sure kids in France have tantrums just like American kids do. There’s no one right way to parent. But I thought Pamela’s observations brought up some good food for thought and highlighted some of the issues I’ve seen in American society. I believe kids need strong parents who offer them clear boundaries alongside loving explanations of those boundaries and compassionate enforcement of rules that everyone understands and accepts.

If you want to read the articles I’ve read about French parenting in full, here they are. There are great stories and example in these articles that illustrate the points above.

French Parents: Vive La Difference? (Huffington Post)
Why French Parents are Superior (Wall Street Journal)

 

QUESTION: What do you agree and disagree with about the parenting philosophies laid out here?

CHALLENGE: Talk together as husband and wife about this article and the discussion may lead to some validation of some things you’re doing and some fresh ideas on what you might want to change.

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