Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Maybe I'm secretly French?

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. Have you read any of the many articles floating around about a new book called Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, an American living in France? Pretty much everything she said about French parenting methods echoes what Jared and I believe and have implemented in our parenting.

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 a few points that especially resonated with me from the articles 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.
If you want to read the articles I've read about French parenting in full, here they are (thanks for the links Margaret!). 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)


anna said...

Oui! Oui! (help me I'm trying to speak French!) I agree!

Felicity said...

I totally agree and am very interested in checking out the links and book you mentioned! After watching Michael Moore's documentary, "Sicko", I told my husband I wanted to move to France :)haha! Here's another reason why :)

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Anne-Gaëlle said...

As a French mother I am flattered by the way French parents are perceived, but I can assure you Ms Druckerman is talking about a very small portion of French society (possibly that living in the wealthy "arrondissements" in Paris)! There are plenty of misbehaved, tantrum-throwing kids around, and parents who put their children at the centre of everything - sadly, even among some of my best friends. I hope I manage to bring my son up in this so-called French way - he is 14 months old so I have a way to go!

SupaFlowaPowa said...

Did you read the article on Wall Street journal? My husband raved about it and I really like a lot of the points like sticking 'em to a routine and making sure they understand when we go out to eat, it's time to eat! Not time to play and probably x-nay on the snacking 24/7. My only rebuttal/comment to the article my husband showed me was that I thought French people only had one or maybe two kids. That makes their odds a lot better than most Americans. Ditch the French, go Asian instead.. the Tiger Moms live on!!!

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time everyone was French. American parents used to bring their children up more like this in the past.

Did grandma have a children's chicken nugget and ranch dressing laden kiddie menu for her little ones?

I think the difference is between people who learn from their parents and take the best from the past making tweaks for modern times. And those who have decided they could re-engineer parenting from a new perspective- the child's.

I find lots of my generation (Xers) have wanted to re-create the wheel parenting-wise. I think people who do this have lots of great ideas and motivations- but I am not so sure they get the best outcomes (I speak from personal experience here :-)

The French are connected to their own parents and respect tradition- hence no need to reinvent parenting from scratch with a baby-centered approach.

Naturally if your parents made a huge mistake someplace, you want to correct it in your own parenting- but the idea that you can do a better job of parenting by virtue of applying a new philosophy to the task seems like an uphill battle.


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