Thursday, January 26, 2012

French Parenting vs. American Parenting

There are definitely differences in parenting between France and the US. Recently, one of my blogger-friends (Momjovi) tweeted me a link to an interesting blog post about it: Is Maman Mean or Magnificent?, and today, a friend of mine shared this article on Facebook. While I have thought about the subject for a long time, I had some reservations about writing anything about it here, because I was afraid of offending some of my friends. As a disclaimer, I don't think my friends raise their kids exactly the way the book and article describe, but I know there is some truth to them. Obviously, we all chose our own parenting paths, and I don't mean to judge others', just as I hope my friends don't judge mine too harshly... But after reading multiple posts and articles on the issue, I decided to add my two cents anyway.

The latest article talks about a new book that will be released in February, called “Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.” It's written by Pamela Druckermann, an American who lives in Paris. I haven't read the book, but according to the article, it tells  us how the French, by being strict and not child-centered, raise better-behaved, more independent kids.
In my view, that theory is a bit restrictive. As I look at it, I think there are pluses and minuses in both cultures and there is a time to be "more American" and a time to be "more French". Am I more French or more American when it comes to parenting? let's see...

For full disclosure, I may have been raised in Paris, but I definitely come from a child-centric family, where concerns for my healthy development, happiness, and well-being came first. My mom's priority, being a single mom, was obviously to spend time with me. However, being polite was also a top priority, and I am pretty sure I was one of the best behaved children you have ever met, even though my mom NEVER used harsh discipline with me.

Regarding Discipline:

- I think it's a matter of age. I do not believe in being too strict with your children earlier on. Of course they need boundaries, but redirecting, instead of yelling (or even slapping, which was pretty common place in France when I was growing up.. not sure if it's still as popular now) has been proven to be more effective in the long run. I think that for the infant-toddler years, that strict "french method" is not the best. In my opinion, it negates the child's personality, and what these articles fail to mention, is the  lack of confidence many French people suffer from. Americans have many failings, but I am always amazed at their self-confidence (sometimes to a fault). That's what makes them creative and daring, which leads them to be great entrepreneurs. However, there are behaviors that are acceptable coming from a two-year-old, that are not from a seven-year-old. I have to say that in that regard, some American parents need to become a bit more forceful at some point...


I think it's more a problem of priorities than discipline. If some American children are sometimes rude, it's probably because manners aren't very high on their parents' priority list. I don't want to sound judgemental, but it is true that many Americans  (grown-up, that is) lack basic manners. How can you expect the children to have manners if their parents don't? So I disagree with the book's premise that it's harsh discipline that leads to well-behaved children.


- I do agree with the French that you should trust your child and let him/her spread his/her wings. I'm all for sleepovers, going on vacations with other families, going on school trips... at a certain age. Americans do have a tendency to baby their kids for too long. I think the layout of American cities is partly to blame for it, because it's hard to become independent when you always depend on your parents to shuttle you around, even to go to the movies when you are a teenager.
But, I don't think that leaving your kids to go on vacation for weeks when they are little helps with that "autonomy". Again, if I refer to my mother, she pretty much never left me for the first few years (except when she HAD to, like for work), but was fine with me going to spend six weeks with a family in California when I was 10 1/2. She didn't leave me, because she didn't feel like leaving me. I think that if parents want to do that, that's fine, but when people (mostly french) tell me I SHOULD go away somewhere "for myself", I just want to say "myself" doesn't feel like being away from my child when he is that young, there will be plenty of time for that later. Of course we all need time for ourselves and our couple, but I think the time I take to work, and a few nights out with my husband or with friends is plenty at the moment.

I also don't agree with the French perception that breastfeeding interferes with your independence. Honestly, if being "independent" from your infant child is more important to you than providing them with something that is clearly best for them, then maybe you shouldn't have children. (of course I understand that breastfeeding is not for everybody, I just don't think "independence" is a valid reason).

On another note, I also don't think letting young kids do whatever they please in the sandbox is a great idea, and I absolutely embrace the "American" idea of intervening, because if I didn't, my kid would probably have beaten up all of your kids by now, and I don't think that's OK (and you probably wouldn't either). My conversation with the other moms does not come ahead of telling my child that "it's not OK to kick people".

As for children behaving in restaurants, the truth is, most Parisians do not take their kids to restaurants when they are little. Actually, French restaurants often welcome dogs, but look at you funny if you bring your toddler. I think it's really nice the way American restaurants are family-friendly, I like to bring my son to restaurants, he's even learning to use chopsticks!

The bottom line:

I would like to hope I mix the best of both worlds in my parenting. I embrace most American views on toddlerhood and attachment parenting, but I also value good manners. A is still a bit rough around the edges for some stuff, but he knows to thank people (baby steps). I hope what I do now will lead to a happy, confident grown-up later on.
I do plan on encouraging his autonomy, when the time is right. So maybe, more American for the early years, more French for later...

Do you think one culture has it right? Are there things you like/don't like in the different approaches?

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