NO to the Kindergarchy!

I read this wonderful article in the Wall Street Journal after seeing it reviewed by another mom blogger.  Called “Why French Parents Are Superior,” author Pamela Druckerman (whose book on the same subject has just come out) looks at the difference between French and American styles of parenting.

As an American woman living in Paris, she got tired of having an uncontrollable toddler who made it impossible to eat in nice restaurants, have uninterrupted conversations with adults, and enjoy each other’s company.  French kids, by comparison, enabled their parents to do all of the above.  Druckerman’s article lists a bunch of different reasons for why this is the case.

I’ll highlight some of my favourite parts of the article here, but I highly recommend you read it for yourselves if you have kids or ever want them!  And while the article talks only about Americans, it applies to Canadian moms as well.

1. Researchers have found that American moms consider it twice as unpleasant to deal with their kids than French moms.  Working moms in Texas said that even housework was more pleasant than child care, so clearly the general approach is radically different.

2. French parents differentiate between kid time and adult time, and are not obsessed with constantly over-stimulating their kids through various extra-curricular activities.  Most important is teaching them to play on their own.

3. The French emphasize delayed gratification.  Kids have to wait for mealtimes (most get one snack a day).  Teaching patience is highly valued.  By contrast, American kids are used to getting what they want whenever they want it, and as a result, fall apart under stress.

4. American moms view whether kids are good at waiting as a matter of temperament, i.e. you get lucky if you have a patient kid.  French moms view this as failing to teach a crucial skill.

5. French parents are authoritative while still being loving.  They say, “It’s me who decides.”  French kids must say hello, goodbye, thank you, and please, in order to learn that they’re not the only ones with feelings and needs, and simply not to be rude!  American parents are just afraid to say no to their kids, afraid to enforce rules, afraid that they’ll no longer be their kid’s ‘friend’, though that isn’t even their role in the first place.

6. “Discipline” is a rarely-used term in France, limited to actual punishment.  Instead, their approach is one of “education” (nothing to do with school), which is being done all the time.  Kids learn patience, respect, sleeping through the night, etc.

These are just a few of the delicious tidbits I gleaned from the article and that I found to be highly satisfying.  I completely believe that North America has a parenting problem, or shall I say, “lack of parenting” problem!  The rather pejorative yet humourous term “kindergarchy” isn’t all that inaccurate, from my own experience!  We’ve all seen those kids who refuse to listen, who scream to get what they want, and whose poor, exhausted parents are unable to actually enjoy their kids, or indeed their own lives, because they themselves have lost control.  Thinking that the problem is unfixable is a very defeatist approach to take.

In dealing with my own kids, I remind myself that I’m not their friend.  I’m their mother, and always will be.  Someday, hopefully, I will be able to become more of a friend and less of a parent, but for now my role is to prepare them, educate them, and teach them how to be courteous, patient, and socially well-adjusted little people.  I have high expectations because I know they’re fully capable of it.

I’d love to hear some other thoughts on this rather controversial topic!  What’s your take on French vs. North American parenting styles?


10 thoughts on “NO to the Kindergarchy!

  1. I guess I’m French parent. Although being with the kids 24/7 is hard, I’d rather hang out with them than do housework. Also, I am NOT their friend. And they are not mine. My job is to make sure they enter the adult world as independent, functioning, compassionate adults. I could give two hoots if my kids get mad at because I didn’t give them what they want. In a world obsessed with our children’s well-being we’ve taken away their right to be singular people. I could go on, but I shall stop myself before this comments winds up being as long as your post.

  2. I have read this article somewhere, too. I agree with some of their parenting style however, I don’t agree with “Why French Parents are SUPERIOR”? Have you heard of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua? Neither Tiger moms nor French moms are perfect. I think there are lots of good North American Parents who are doing a wonderful job and sometimes, good parents have bad children. We can learn from different cultures but there is no better parenting style. We just do the best we can!

    1. “Good parents have bad children”? No… no, they don’t. A child with behavioral problems (not arising from a medical condition) and lack of discipline and respect for others is a result of the parenting – or lack thereof – they have received. To say ‘we do the best we can’ is simply a cop-out.

      “Bad children” are not born; they are made. Made by lazy, self absorbed adults; young parents who thought it would be ‘fun’ to have children, and then realized they hadn’t a clue what they were doing. Parents who think that ‘quantity of time’ makes up for lack of ‘quality of time’ they spend with their children.

      I agree that you can find ‘bad children’ in every culture, although it would be hard to argue that selfishness and self-centered overindulgence is more prevalent in other societies than it is here. And there is a direct corollary between that behavior in adults and the children they raise.

      No, I do not yet have children of my own, but I have worked for several years in daycare and preschool. I have been around children and worked with children who are the (pardon the phrase) ‘products’ of different parenting styles. It is not difficult to see the connections.

    2. Thanks for your comment! I really love getting everyone’s different take on this rather controversial topic. No need to apologize!

      I realized that I didn’t make one thing clear in my article, and it’s exactly what you said, Soyoung: that the French parents don’t have all the answers, and that they’re not perfect. All cultures can teach us a lot about parenting and I’m sure that even French could benefit from our more relaxed North American approach. There are other European and Asian nations, too, who have a lot to teach us.

      I have heard of the Tiger Mom and, though I think she was extreme, that’s more the parenting style I gravitate toward – strict, structured, with high expectations of kids to perform and achieve. My parents were like that with me, and I’ll be the same with my kids. It doesn’t work for everyone; I absolutely know that!

      I fully agree that a ‘best’ style doesn’t exist; it’s what each family feels comfortable with.

      Thanks so much for joining the conversation!

    3. I am the one to apologize, soyoung… you said nothing wrong.

      My remarks were perhaps a bit strident, not over what you said though… this topic is a ‘hot button’ to me and it doesn’t take much for me to climb up on my ‘soapbox’.

      You are right… parenting is difficult, as Tina and I will find out soon enough. As you and Katherine both say… the French don’t have all the answers, and I may find in time, that a ‘mixed approach’ is what works best.

      Fortunately, our child will not have my ‘stubborn’ gene… that alone will make raising her or him much easier, I’m sure! 🙂

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