Monday, January 25, 2016

Are the French Better Parents?

    Americans are passionate about their children.

    Many parents dream, worry, calculate, plan, line up, sign up and do everything save stand on their heads to give their children a bright future.

    But do the French do it better?

    “Why French Parents are Superior,” was published in the Wall Street Journal in February 4, 2012 and it suggests that the French do a lot of things better than American parents.       The article is by an American mother, Pamela Druckerman, living in Paris with her three children.  She noticed that middle class French parents had children who obeyed their parents.  Even very young French children could eat in a restaurant without throwing food or screaming.  French children knew how to politely talk to adults, and keep themselves happily entertained when necessary without whining.

     Just like Americans, the French, middle-class parents she saw signed their children up for lessons, read to them often, talked to the constantly, showed them nature and took them interesting places.  She also noticed that French parents were less frazzled by their children, and enjoyed them more in public.  Americans seem to think that having a child with a pleasant temperament is just luck, while the French see it as something to cultivate.

`   Even Druckerman admits that French parents aren’t perfect, and their government system is vastly different, including tax payer covered preschool, college, health care and a cash allotment just for having kids.  But she suggests that French parents commonly do some things that are superior to the American traditional ways:

    1. The French are involved without being obsessive.  They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children.  Parents can have a life with time set aside that is not dominated by children.

    2.  Parents are in charge. “Remind them, and yourself, who’s the boss.  French parents say, “It’s me who decides.”

     3. Children learn to wait.  Babies can cry themselves back to sleep.  Children can wait for dinner without constant snacks.  Children can wait until their parents have finished talking without interrupting.  Delayed gratification and self-control are considered a crucial skill.

    4. French mothers cultivate the skill in a child of being happy by himself without constant parental involvement.  Children can play and keep themselves entertained.

     5. They view parenting as a time to educate children.  Discipline is a narrow notion involving punishment, but they see themselves as educating their children constantly with firm rules.

     6. “No” means exactly that.  Firm, convincing and absolute, when a French mother says “no” it means no whining or negotiation. “Don’t be afraid to say “no.”  Kids have to learn how to cope with some frustration.”

     7. When they misbehave, give them the “big eyes,” a stern look of admonishment,
(Which works because they know who is in charge, and that parents know how to say “no.”)

     8. 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.

     Druckerman noticed that French children actually view their parents as a genuine authority figures, and that French parents have a very different view of what is and is not possible in teaching a child.  Chasing a child that likes to run away is viewed as inevitable for most American mothers.  Getting a child to listen and obey without shouting, tears or tantrums is entirely normal to a French mother. 

    The author also postulates that teaching children delayed gratification actually makes them calmer and more resilient.  American kids who are generally accustomed to getting just what they want immediately seem to fall apart under stress.   I think she’s right.

    I think American parents do a lot of things right, but Pamela Druckerman has some great observations of things we could really do better.  Rules are not bad. Manners make life more pleasant.  Parents should be in charge.  Waiting is an important skill.  And teaching all of this will make children and parents happier.

    I haven’t read Druckerman’s book on the same subject, but the article had some great points.  Pamela Druckerman’s book is Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, published by Penguin Press.

© Diane Mangum