Do French parents know best?
Unlocking the mystery of France's astonishingly well-behaved children.
It seems as though I can't toss a croissant without hitting another article about Bringing Up Bebe, a book by Pamela Druckerman. The media has been swarming for weeks around her claim that French parents are superior to American parents.
It all started with Druckerman's essay in the Wall Street Journal in which she shared her observations about why French children seem better behaved than American kids. According to her, you rarely see French children throwing temper tantrums, misbehaving at restaurants, or interrupting their parents in the middle of an adult conversation.
So, the exasperated American mother began to do a little investigating and found several key differences in how the two cultures differ in their child rearing philosophies.
For one, middle-class French parents don't give in to their child's demands. This boundary is set in infancy: they allow their children to "cry it out" in the crib and don't always rush to pick up their crying baby. They also typically quit breastfeeding when the baby is around three months old. This magic formula has produced babies who sleep through the night at four months.
Another difference Druckerman discovered is that French children do not graze on food all day but instead eat three meals and only one snack late in the afternoon. So, when they sit down to eat at a restaurant, they are actually hungry and spend their time eating instead of throwing food on the floor or demanding their caregiver's attention.
Not that an un petit enfant could get his parent's attention on whim, even if he tried. Druckerman discovered that French parents firmly protect their "adult time" and expect their children to play independently and respect their time and space. All of these practices seem to produce children who understand delayed gratification and patience. You rarely see a French mom playing with her children on the playground, but you will see the kids playing intently on their own while the moms relax and talk.
I find this concept to be quite a mystery. It is so different from my own parenting practices. After reading Druckerman's observations, it became quite obvious that I am so American, it's almost funny.
I am a longterm breastfeeding, attention giving, snack-wielding mom, and my home is bustling with two rambunctious boys. Both of them were swooped up at the first whimper when they were babies. Nary a tear fell in the middle of the night before I hovered over their cribs, offering a snuggle in the rocking chair.
I am very accessible to my kids. Both of them know that if they need me, they have permission to come find me and slip their hand in mine. It's so nice to feel them lead me to where they need me. I gladly stop what I'm doing to engage in their world, and they are constantly scouting me out to play with them. I can often be found sprawled out in the sandbox, shoveling sand, and I actually enjoy the connection that we have.
Of course, if I'm being honest here, they won't let me talk on the phone for more than two minutes without causing some sort of trouble. They've been known to have bright blue lips from the Popsicles I hand over as a bribe, just to steal a moment of adult conversation.
Perhaps I could learn a thing or two from French mommies, after all.
Do you follow any of the French parenting practices with your children? Do you think that American parents could learn from them? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.