‘Why French Parents are superior’ pronounced the headline, sure to grab any slightly competitive non-French parents attention, including mine. What are they doing that’s so right, I wondered? Well, aside from feeding their children croissants, cheese and baguettes everyday, which let’s be honest is how I’d like to live.
In the Wall Street Journal article, author of ‘Bringing up Bebe’ Pamela Druckerman writes about the differences in children’s behaviour she noticed while living in Paris. She noted there was a big disparity between her half American half British children and the local French children, particularly when they dined out at restaurants. As she explains,
‘French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables.’
Now, there’s nothing revolutionary there. My children have been known to do all those things. Possibly not all at the same time and definitely not in the same outing, but it’s achievable. But with fairly stock standard children herself, the ones that make restaurant excursions akin to stabbing yourself in the eye repeatedly with a fork, this observation lead Ms Drukerman to start taking note of how else French children were expected to behave. Soon she realized there were many differences.
‘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?’
Now if I noticed children doing all those things I may conclude they had been possessed, kind of like those blonde children in a movie I can’t remember the name of. But no, Ms Drukerman determined it was the French style of parenting that was achieving these miraculous outcomes. As she writes,
‘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 pre-literacy training, French kids are—by design—toddling around by themselves.’
And this is where it started to become clear to me. She was essentially saying the French parent all their children like they’re their second (or third, fourth, fifth) kids.
Because that is a little parenting secret I have stumbled on myself. Now, this could be entirely circumstantial, a personality thing, or just plain good luck, but compared to my first child my second is practically raising herself.
Thanks to an increase in my work load and the existence of a busy and demanding older sibling, my 20 month old gets substantially less of my attention than her brother did as an infant. I don’t sit on the floor and play with her for hours on end and we don’t attend every child friendly activity available within a 20km radius, all for her advancement and stimulation. We hang out a lot, we laugh a lot and she amuses herself a lot while I get stuff done.
To be honest, I had been feeling slightly guilty about this (because that’s what us mothers do) until a friend pointed out how silly I was being. ‘Look at her’ she said, as Poppy toddled off in the playground, oblivious to whether I was following her. ‘She is completely self assured because she knows you’re here if she needs you, but she doesn’t require you to constantly hover over her. That’s a good thing.’
And you know what, she’s right. My son needs more of my attention at nearly 6 than Poppy does at 1. Because he has always had so much of it. So while she is happy to play by herself, he needs constant company, stimulation, attention. Subsequently, she rarely fusses, cries, or throws a tantrum and he is still capable of doing all those things!
Again, maybe this is just their personalities. But maybe there’s something in it.
There were other examples in the article were I found a similarity. French parents don't pick up their babies the second they start crying, in order to allow the babies to learn how to self settle. This was definitely my experience with my second baby and she was a much better sleeper because of it.
French parents also place a strong emphasis on teaching their children patience and delayed gratification, and if an adult is speaking they are expected to wait their turn. This is an interesting one, as studies has shown that children who are able to delay gratification are better at concentrating and reasoning, and don't "tend to go to pieces under stress." This is also an area where Aussie kids are struggling more and more, as their parents do exactly the same. I know my ability to delay gratification is pretty non-existent now, with everything I could want or need just a few keyboard taps away. So how can we be surprised that our children are the same?
Finally, the writer decided the biggest difference was that in France adults are most definitely in charge, whereas in America (Britain and Australia) that is questionable. She summarized that we lack the authority with our children that French parents have mastered, and that we suffer because of it.
That’s a tricky one for me. I definitely want to have authority, but I don’t want my children to be seen and not heard like French kids often are. And I don’t mind a bit of child lead chaos and mess if everyone is having fun.
But I do think there is a lot to be said with chilling out a bit as parents, letting go of all this helicopter hovering, flashcard waving, extra curricular racing, perfection attempting exhaustion. Remembering that we were here first and that our lives don't have to be completely centred around our kids. Maintaining control while being slightly more laissez-faire.
At least that’s what I’m going to aim for. So, croissants and cheese for dinner?!
Do you think there's merit to the French style of parenting? Have you parented your subsequent children differently and what parenting philosophy do you follow? Go to Amity's Blog.
Amity Dry is a writer, composer, singer and mum of two. She blogs for Essential Baby and is the writer and composer of ‘Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life,’ a new musical that takes a raw and honest look at marriage and motherhood. Follow Amity on Twitter.
French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables.