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?