Monday, February 6, 2012

The Smug Mummy Evaluates: Why French Parents are Better (?)

In a surprising turn of events this weekend, I learned I'm apparently both French & an awesome parent:

Photo Credit (less the expertly drawn berets): Ziem Photography

Let me explain - this article, which has been peppering my Facebook feed with mommyblogger gusto, claims that the French have figured out certain aspects of raising young children which pose a struggle for Americans. Specifically, it claims the French have mastered the art of parenting well without doing so too closely - avoiding the "helicopter" parent phenomenon - by allowing kids to have independent play time and setting firm behavior boundaries.

Once I got over my immediate need to roll my eyes - "Sweet sandwiches, we need ANOTHER article telling us how we're terrible parents? First the French are better dressed than us, now they get to be better moms & dads too?" I sighed - I actually read the article and found myself nodding at much of it. Don't get me wrong - I'm not one of those Francophiles who thinks Paris is the center of the universe either, much as I've adored my tourist time there - but it struck me that there may be something to this.

I let my wee CEO have time to safely play independently - never mind that some of that is motivated by my desire to make the occasional restroom trip unaccompanied, but . . . doesn't everyone, French or otherwise? How else will he learn to make decisions, to create and play, by himself? 

I also believe that calm-but-firm & consistent limits are something parents and children want and benefit from - within reason, of course. I'm just trying to imagine implementing the example given in that article, where a French parent suggests not chasing a child around the playground but instead calmly giving orders from a comfortable bench perch, and the inevitable ER trip that would result. Maybe it's due to his young age, but when it comes to preventing Master P from making a leap off the nearest playscape, call me a helicopter parent. Again, though, isn't everyone on board with some limits, regardless of nationality?

What may prove most controversial is the idea that children are to form themselves around the adults' lives, versus the perceived American method of doing the reverse The author cites articles saying that, thanks to the American bending over backwards to suit our kids' whims, we're less satisfied with parenting - actually preferring housework (!) in many cases - than our French counterparts.

I'm not sure where I stand on this except to say - if at any point scrubbing toilets seems more enjoyable than raising my wee CEO, or anything at all, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. That being said, why have the kids if you don't intend to change your lives, and happily so, a bit for them?

Though I'm highly skeptical of any claims that there is One Right Way to Parent - having liberated myself from those facist baby books, I've no inclination to indoctrinate myself again - I may check out the book this article is based on. A lot of this seems not exclusively French but mere common sense, and that's something in which even especially this Smug Mummy can use a refresher course.

What do you think - is this article something that makes sense to you, or is it more of the same eye-rolling stuff designed to sell books & make parents feel bad? And how awesome do Master P & I look in those literally & figuratively sketchy berets?

Stay tuned for a supercalifashionista giveaway of much fab this Wednesday . . . 


Mrs. Type A said...

Some of this makes sense to me (obviously, the sans-child expert, ahem). In terms of the "child forming themselves around adults lives" I can kind of see how this is good, albeit not to an extreme. It's gotten to the point that I can't have a conversation with my sister in law because if her 4 year old son interrupts, our conversation is over. I came from a house where my parents would say "Mommy is having a conversation right now, hold on." This means that all dinners with their family are 100% centered on the children, with no adult talk. It's hard. I hope to not be like that when I have kids, but again-- what do I know? I don't have any yet, so I'm obviously an expert now! ha :)

BCuenin said...

Ah, oui! I too, immediately thought, "Ok, the French are better at parenting now?" Give me a break! American indulgence now overflows into parenting? For some, sure! However, the parenting the author describes, and, as you coin, is "common sense" or "traditional." Doesn't every child have independent play time, adult time, and learning time (ideally, and I hope so) - regardless of national origin? I just don't buy into this (insert blank) country "parents better" "eats better" etc. There are well-behaved and well-adjusted children in every country. There are also mischief making children, everywhere!
To pull on one author's (although well worded) experience and study does not quite make the generalization it wants to be, in my opinion!


Europafox said...

To be fair, the French probably are very good at parenting (in the general sense) - they probably have more SATMs because they have excellent maternity care, free child care and at home help. They even get sent to spas to help with 'muscle tone' after birth for goodness sake - no wonder they are more calm. Also France will have a lower crime rate, a good climate and they tend to live near extended families. Ok, I've sold myself - moving to Provence. It's hard for a Brit to say it (we never admit the French are better than us), but, they have an awful lot right when its comes to society - I have done a ton of French exchanges when at school, and the children are very well rounded - they may drink and smoke early sometimes, but everything is in moderation - compared to us striving, insecure, competitive, over-scheduling, always achieving Anglo Saxons,. Phew, award for longest ever blog post?

Brandy said...

Honestly, while those parenting tips sound good (free time, boundaries)--I too am working at freeing myself from the exhausting amount of parenting input from everybody. It seems like everybody has an opinion and everybody thinks theirs is best, of course. I'm more of a "roll with whatever" mommy. It's too much pressure to try do everything perfectly.

Mrs. Lovely said...

"A lot of this seems not exclusively French but mere common sense" <--This exactly. I couldn't make it through the first few paragraphs without several eye rolls, but I think there is something to be said for your children not completely taking over your life. I think its about the changes that you are willing to make vs those that you aren't. For instance, I don't mind having toys in my living room. It makes more sense for my family instead spending all day upstairs with the toys in the baby's room. In fact, I enjoy seeing the reminders of playtime with my daughter on the living room floor. On the other hand - I have Sirius/XM in my car because I enjoy music. I'm not going to listen to "The Wheels on the Bus" on repeat just because I have a child. C'est la vie.

Sara said...

I guess I have a bit of French in me as well because I really don't have any desire to learn how to go to the bathroom while holding my baby. I will put her down and let her fuss a minute or two in order to do my business. I do find it interesting how the generation of children right now aren't taught not to interrupt or two wait. I think we could all adopt the habit of waiting for meal times as well. :)

Kate said...

I will probably read the book because I love hearing new perspectives on child rearing and I have the time now.

I agree that much is just common sense. But I also see some awful parenting at restaurants (kids climbing the heat lamp things, running around, throwing food). Even more upsetting are the small toddlers sitting with an ipad or iphone. I can't get on board with that! What about crayons or a book? I do think many kids now need constant stimulation from an adult (instead of being able to play alone or entertain him or herself).

I do disagree with the author about hovering at the park. I would never just sit on a bench! I am paranoid that H will fall off while climbing!

Emily said...

I kept trying to imagine how weak the mommy must have sounded when she told the child to quit attempting to open the gate the first 5 times. Maybe it's just the firstborn in him or maybe I'm just really firm, but my wee one cries at the first sign of NO.

I found it to be common sense and in no way uniquely French. I mean, seriously?

Blue-Eyed Bride said...

I enjoyed the WSJ article because it's a lot of what we already do in our home. I was working on a little post about it myself, but I think I'll just direct the peeps to you!

I didn't think any of it seemed unique to the French and was surprised that this American Mom in Paris wasn't already doing these things? My grandfather always said "children should be seen and not heard."

But at the same time, I want a kid-friendly home. I want to do kid things. I want to be younger because of my kids. I want to enjoy them and the things they enjoy while they'll still allow me to be around them before they become secretive teenagers! :)

But I'm all about independent play and self-soothing and all those fun buzz words.

I agree with you-- why would you want to bring kids into your life if you don't want them to change your life? While I'm all for a little lesson in self-soothing, I'm not going to take a full hour to shower and blow out my hair and apply full makeup while my kids cry and cry as the wait for me to finish. ha! (Just an example on how my life HAS changed-- lots of days with dirty hair)

Amy @ Forever 29 said...

Ha! Those are some awesome berets! Plenty of good points in this article...I'll be adding "It's me who decides" to my arsenal. Personally it has been hard to pull the trigger and send N to a time out in his room...but it seems like once I do he really snaps back into listening/obeying mode. Not really sure how to transfer that to public outings yet though.

The Lee Family Happenings said...

Haha I love what you have to say about this! I think I too need to liberate myself from facist baby books.

New follower :)

andrea brionne said...

such a cute blog! i'm excited to read more. found you through the daybook. :)

Tippy said...

Eh, I read the article and nearly sprained my eyeballs from the eyerolls. I stand on the playground at school and there are French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, German, and Brit mums all around me and what I notice is we're (mostly) all doing the best we can. The European parents (save the Brits) do tend to stand apart more and not intervene in squabbles. Sometimes I think it's enlightened and sometimes I think it borders on negligent. The Brits and Americans tend to get involved a little more. The Swiss kids my children have come into contact with are usually bullies or downright rude but their mothers are standing 50 yrds away, having a smoke.

You hit the nail on the head with the "common sense" approach.

I do know that claiming the French are better parents or Asian moms push their kids more successfully is a great way to sell books.

frifri63 said...

I am a bit perplexed...I am French and I assure you, it's more about common sense than actually being French? I get to see a lot of different parents through my work in France and I assure you, there are different ways of parenting, disregarding your nationality...If I take my kids to the playground, I will be next to the ladder or swing just in case my kid gets hurt, it's just instinctive and many french do it too.
Oh, I just joined your blog, anew follower and I love what I read:)

Perfectly Imperfect said...

I'm not so sure I'm convinced this is a French thing... In this house, we do most of these things because while we get that E is a child, we also want her to be a pleasant part of society. We are able to go to restaurants and just sit and eat while she people watches and colors and sometimes snacks. We're able to put her in her room and tell her to play for a bit, while we clean the kitchen or use the bathroom or watch a quick tv show. We're a bit more "hands off" when she's figuring out how to share or if there's a small tiff between another toddler. Now if there's hitting or something, well we're on that like white on rice. The husband and I were both raised in "children should be seen and not heard" households and I think a lot of that has carried over to how we raise E.

Good article. Definitely got me thinking.

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