La superiorite of French parenting

In the past month, two things I posted on Facebook caused me real-life conflict. The first was hurtful to a sister and a close friend. The second caused me to leave a mommy group I quite enjoyed being part of.

Facebook is a balancing act for me. My Facebook friends include three of my four sisters (a long story), my parents, my former students, my principal and assistant principals, my coworkers, my husband’s college friends and their wives, as well as my former schoolmates.

Many of my updates are child-related. I try to be funny, but I have to watch my language and my subject matter. Writers consider their audience. When I post on Facebook, I am posting for married mothers of 1-7 children, single moms, childfree men and women, single dads, divorced people, teachers, students, one Israeli and one Palestinian, Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, gays, bisexuals, those who do not wish to gender identify, Ron Paul enthusiasts, and Mormons.

Understandably, I stay away from religion and politics in my posts.

I got into a bit of trouble when I posted an article from Psychology Today which described research supporting my belief that allowing babies to “cry it out” is harmful to them. The issue inspires deep, passionate feelings and it’s a good one to stay away from in polite company. Something the youth of today have no concept of (I’m practicing being old in anticipation of my 40th next month).

Recently, the popular article to post and repost is titled, “Why French Parents are Superior” by Pamela Druckerman. It appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

Let me sum up: French women not only don’t get fat, they are better parents than me and you. They have excellent control over their petits enfants. They don’t say “no,” they say “NON!” in an authoritative tone, and it works. The article claims French children are well-behaved, self-sufficient, and obedient. These petits sit at the table quietly and eat their vegetables. They do not throw tantrums at playgrounds. They share their cigarettes.

I didn’t get offended. I didn’t get pissed off. I didn’t unfriend anyone. Yet, I still want to criticize the article. What is a good parent? If it is someone whose children are obedient, quiet, and vegetable-eating, then I agree that the French have succeeded where I have failed. My 33 month old throws tantrums, ignores me, argues with me, and refuses to eat almost everything. We don’t even have a table, much less do we sit at one and eat meals as a family. That’s what restaurants are for.

I think a successful parent cannot be gauged simply by the behavior of the children. Our job as parents isn’t done until our kids are grown. Are French adults more successful than Americans? Do they have better health? More successful relationships? Less addiction? Are they smarter? Happier? Do they shower daily?

The author gives some anecdotal evidence wherein she describes a French mother teaching her how to say “no.” What a beautiful story. Apparently, all I have to do is say “no” the right way, and Viva will obey me like a good little French girl. The author insists that French parents have excellent boundaries and they do not plead with nor negotiate with their children. There is what is possible, and what is “pas possible.” The French parents do not yield.

Unless their kids suddenly start speaking German.

Personally, I know someone who is both French and a father. His wife is American, but I think they have raised their daughter in a very “French way” and she has always been perfectly behaved. The five of us used to go out to breakfast or dinner about once a week, and she sat at the table with us, ate, and never once threw a tantrum or complained in any way. Nor did she need to be endlessly entertained or walked around. She was content to sit and eat her food while interacting with us or going into her own internal baby world.

I wasn’t a mom at the time, so I just assumed that babies were like that. Then I had my own, and restaurant trips became rare indeed. I came to believe that my friends’ French daughter was a special kind of baby who sat quietly in high chairs, and I just didn’t get that kind. Odie and I often remarked to each other how well-behaved this little girl was and what great parents our friends were.

I still believe that. I think that people can be great parents and have vastly different parenting styles. To say that one is “superior” to another depends on what you want the outcome to be. Who says children are supposed to sit still and be quiet while adults have conversations? Kids like to be included in what the adults are doing. My life is far more child-centered. When the kids go to day care or to sleep, then my life is my own. From a child’s point of view, I cannot think of anything more boring than sitting in a restaurant while grown-ups talk.

And how much can we really trust a society that thinks Jerry Lewis is a genius?


About Mrs Odie

Friendly Pedant; Humble Genius
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8 Responses to La superiorite of French parenting

  1. Summer says:

    It is harmful. Nuff said.

  2. Meghan2 says:

    I am sorry but I will not be reading your entire post today, I will have to calm down first so I can get past my emotions, because I am LAUGHING MY A** OFF from the one simple, elegant, intelligent, hillarious sentence “Unless their kids suddenly start speaking German.” Even typing it now has me laughing so hard my four kids are asking me “what??? what is it mom?” and I think I may have tinkled a little (I blame the kids for that). Beautiful sentance!!! Thank you for the best laugh of the day. I’ll read this again later and try and appreciate the entire content.

  3. Mamaof3 says:

    Hmmm. I’m 1/6 French so maybe that’s where my parenting style comes from? My kids are mostly very well behaved. They have all had a tantrum but it’s rare. I’m can’t take credit for it all but I do take credit for a lot of it. I have stayed home with them from birth (oldest now 10) and while I’m very cosleeping/bf’ing/ overall granola the first year of life- expectations of them rise with their abilities. A 3 year old is entirely capable of behaving during a 30 minute dinner. It’s just got to be practiced and expected. I imagine having the consistency and care of being their only full time care giver helps with consistency. I still can’t figure out why you send your oldest to full time daycare while you are home. Maybe she would be less
    Clingy at night if she had you during the day? What could be better than a child growing up each day with their loving mother, siblings and comfort of their own home?

    • Mrs Odie 2 says:

      Did I say she was clingy at night? When did I say that? My oldest started full-time day care when I went back to work as a teacher. I soon became pregnant again. The plan was for me to stay home for 3 months, then go back to work. In order to hold her place in the school, which has a waiting list and is the best school in my budget in our are, I had to keep Viva in school. It came in handy when I was ordered to bedrest. I was able to take the whole semester off, thanks to some financial aid from my husband’s family. Then it stretched to a whole year. My oldest loves school and thrives there. I spend mornings with her, then drop her off at lunchtime. She then naps, plays, and comes home.

      My oldest behaves during dinner, but she’s avery picky eater. When she was younger, she got bored quickly and didn’t want to sit a table long enough to make a meal enjoyable. Luckily, my baby is well-behaved (it’s her nature) and we are able to have family dinners at restaurants without bothering the other patrons.

      Viva spends lots of time at home. But she needs more stimulation and socialization. And her little sister needs some one-on-one mommy time. If I wouldn’t lose my day care spot, as well as a guaranteed slot for her little sister, I would keep her at home as you suggest. Alas, this is not a perfect world.

      • Mamaof3 says:

        I had thought I’d read that you or your husband had to stay with her for her to fall asleep? Maybe that was a while ago and had passed.

        I understand saving spots at daycare, it just seems keeping a child in unneeded care for over a year to save a spot is a bit extreme- but I understand needing a break too. If only part-time, quality, afforable care was easy to find… (it must be near the pot of gold at the end of rainbows).

        Thanks for responding. I like your blog, I tend to read yours and ETST’s for a sweet and salty, chocolate covered pretzel blog experience. Keep it up! 🙂

        • Mrs Odie 2 says:

          Yes, she needs us nearby. We have always coslept and we never “taught her to put herself to sleep.” I believe this will come with time as she gets older. I feel bad about the day care now. See how susceptible I am to criticism? For fear of sounding like one of THOSE moms, my oldest is very bright. She talks as well as children several years older and has always been a serious child. Our day care is like school. They do pre-literacy activities, dance, drama, music, math, etc. I think of it as school. She is better off than if she were home with me and Pringles. I truly believe that.

  4. Auntie M says:

    Well, I am quite French, my Grand Mere was born I Paris, Grand Pere in Normandy. I am actually heading to Paris in a few weeks to visit La Louvre and family. All opinions, articles, evidence anticdotal or otherwise aside…damn you make me laugh! As you were.

  5. Jane says:

    Our facebook mom’s group got into a heated argument over that French parenting article as well. Americans really love comparing ourselves to parents in other countries and then making ourselves feel like shit, don’t we? I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that the authors of these “controversial” and debate-sparking articles also have a brand new book they happen to be peddling.

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