This is a new series, and there will be 4 or 5 posts on different aspects of what “being French” entails. I will post on Sundays or on Mondays –depending on how busy the week-end is. Feel free to make any suggestions, comment, share on Twitter, etc…
It is the latest craze in town and I am sure that you can’t have missed it: apparently, the French are better at parenting than the British or the Americans. That’s what the American Journalist Pamela Druckerman wrote in her new book (already a bestseller in the UK, see here) : “French Children Don't Throw Food”. She has three children and lives in Paris. She believes that French children are better-behaved, sleep through the night at a younger age and are less fussy with food.
How come I hadn’t noticed? Why hadn’t anyone told me?
Let me be blunt here: I am not sure that the French have "parenting secrets”- we are all doing what we can. As an example, my younger daughter is still waking up at 6 o’clock every morning despite her French passport and I am very grateful to whoever invented the DVD.
A Strict Mum
That said, I think that we French tend to be more direct and I am not trying to be diplomatic with my daughters. Maybe I am a bit "old-fashioned" in terms of discipline: I tell my children off when they behave badly, and maybe, according to British standards, I am a bit strict. As an example, my daughters are not allowed to swear or they are sent to their bedroom. We try to stick to a weekly routine so that they can organise themselves around it with homework and after-school activities. In short, my kids are not in charge of the household, we are.
But don't repeat it: the secret -if there is one- is that French women have a life that doesn't revolve around kids. I have seen many women who simply lost themselves when they became mothers. They put on a lot of weight that they never try to lose –no time!- and their whole life is about bringing up their offspring as best as they can, sometimes to try to make up for their own mistakes and choices. In France, the State pays for what we call “abdominal re-education” (in short, getting your flat tummy back) and the paid maternity leave is only 16 weeks long (10 weeks before the birth, 16 weeks after – you have to cheat on the due date if you want to spend more time with your baby – don’t ask).
But is there such a thing as French parenting? I am not sure. At the end of the day, it is all about finding out what your priorities are, and doing as best as you can!