Monday, 23 January 2012

Do The French Do It Better? Part 1: French Parenting


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!

39 comments:

  1. This series has a lot of potential!

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  2. Thanks, Dathaic...How do you mean?

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  3. Hmmm, who knows if it's down to nationality or just the personality of the parent. My parents brought me up quite strictly or with just the right amount of discipline but one of them was English and the other half-American! (I do think the French funding of time for 'abdominal reeducation' sounds rather hilarious!)

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  4. Ok, open to a lot of debate! But what I feel is that different cultures have different styles of parenting and every culture has good parents and bad parents.

    If you have certain ground rules and that work and you work hard on your kids, you have tried your best. And that might be the trick.

    Here's to lovely parenting - French, British or any else and here's to the series! :)

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  5. Elizabeth Young23 January 2012 09:58

    This is very interesting! I'm almost 55 and just discovering I could have had a life of my own and 'abdominal re-education after I had children... Where were you when I needed you girlfriend? Considered me: shocked!

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  6. Multiple Mummy23 January 2012 10:37

    I think you hit the nail on the head by saying we do the best we can. There is no manual to parenting. we all have set individual morals and values and we hope to instil those in our children. If there is a method to perfect parenting it is clearly staying a secret because no one seems to reveal what works! A very interesting post! :)

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  7. I am what would be called a strict Mom as well. I do not allow my children to rule the house as I think it gives them more structure and makes them better human beings to follow some sort of rules or guidelines if rules is too harsh a word. It's all about respect. Having your children be respectful and teaching that them about respecting others is a top priority for me. I love this post and look forward to the next ones in the series.

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  8. Thanks jennifer. And, are you sure that you are not french? You certainly sound like one -and you are a brunette...

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  9. Nothing seems to work sometimes, which is why I believe that it is important to remain ourselves...

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  10. The abdominal reeducation sounds nice but it is a lot of hard work (all worth it in the end). Don't get me wrong: my life is completely upside down since I have had kids, but I try (very hard) to remain myself (I must admit I still have a few pounds to lose...). Where was I? Well, busy getting my flat tummy back!

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  11. To parenting then! But believe me, it is a tough job and I keep getting it wrong!

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  12. I have written about the differences I see when over there. The French seem to include their children in so much of their lives but they don't seem to hover over them and focus on them. The parents definitely seem to be in charge more than American parents do. I wrote about that here:
    http://www.traveling-through.com/2011/07/shhh-children-crossing.html

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  13. It sounds hilarious but it is hard work. All worth it in the end, of course...And completely free. As for your parents, well, maybe it is down to personality in the end!

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  14. Doreen Cox (Dody)23 January 2012 11:32

    So enjoyed the flair with which you strung these words together! My southern USA mother's mantra was: "You do the best you can, even during the toughest of situations." She was a widow after 6 yrs of marriage with 4 little girls to raise. Mother would have loved reading your post!

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  15. I can't wait to hear more! I think there's a lot to be said for being a disciplined parent and I also dislike when most people I know have kids and let their lives revolve around them (the kids). I don't know if it is a nationality thing or not... I do think different cultures handle parenting differently. Great topic!

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  16. I'm just looking forward to expositions on all areas of French expertise - being Irish I led a very sheltered life and when I was growing up nobody ever told us about ..............................................Meringues!!

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  17. Love your honesty! It's very hard to generalize parenting styles but I suppose that they are somewhat affected by the culture we've been exposed to. At the end of the day, we all try to do the best that we can and hope we learn more as we go along. I've read your daughter's blog and it looks like you've certainly done a fine job of raising her :)

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  18. Keep going with this Muriel. You know I lived in Paris from 6-14, and then 21-25. I think I'm more French than I realized. I had a Danish mother, an English father and lived in France. I am thin today, because I eat more like the French than the Americans where I now live. I might not be as strict with my kids, but I did raise them to understand I have my life with their dad and the world is not all about them. This is why we left for Belize for a year, when other American parents said, "What do your kids say?" I replied, "Who's the boss in your family? You or your kids?"

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  19. Marie from Rock The Kasbah25 January 2012 03:45

    First, I'm so excited about this series! Second, I totally agree that the French really do take a more wholistic view in that you don't cease to be a woman the moment you become a mother. And last, it's vital our kids see us enjoying life and trying new things so they can see us learn and grow too.

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  20. Very interesting topic Muriel. Well if that's the 'French Way' then I must have been French in another life because that's the way I did it. I'm only sorry I wasn't in France at the time to take advantage of the 'abdominal re-education'

    Surely the only way to raise children is with consistently strong boundaries and consequences for ignoring them while at the same time showing them that you have a life as a woman/man thereby providing them with a role mode for life.

    I can only speak for the UK and there I see too many parents who appear unwilling to discipline their children which is a sad state of affairs.

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  21. Very interesting topic Muriel, I don't think you are 'old-fashioned' at all.
    Is there any other way to raise children than with consistently strong boundaries and consequences for ignoring them? It's a rhetorical question. I see far too many parents in UK who appear unwilling to discipline their children and I don't understand why.
    Khalil Gibran gave very good advice to partners in marriage, saying you shouldn't collapse yourself into the relationship but keep your sense of self and a certain independence. I believe that is very good advice for parents too as children need their parents to be role models for life.

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  22. I totally agree. You sound very french, Maggie. Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog and please do come back to let me know what you think of the series!

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  23. Thanks a lot for your support Marie - I am glad that you agree with my views. I think that a happy mum, even if busy, is an asset to the family...That said, I would like to be less busy sometimes -it never stops!

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  24. You are an international citizen Sonia! I am French too but I must have missed a trick because I am not skinny (I am not fat, but somewhere in the middle). You will have to explain to me how you do it!!!
    As for kids, I believe that letting them rule the household is a mistake that will eventually backfire badly. That said, I am sometimes tired of having to impose some rules. Tough to be a Mom!

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  25. Thank you ! She is indeed very confident and I am very proud of her. That being said, I have made my own share of mistakes, and, as you say, I am still learning as I go along...

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  26. Handling parenting, as you say, is one of the most difficult things! You are right, different cultures handle it differently. Maybe different personalities handle it differently!

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  27. Wow! How did she do it? Sometimes, when you have no choice, you just have to get on with things. That said, she certainly knew a thing or two on parenting!

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  28. Unfortunately, I have no real roots anywhere, plus I'm not skinny. You look very thin to me, just like most French women.

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  29. I agree, as a mother who has raised three American children to adulthood. Nationality isn't what makes the difference. It is setting guidelines and limits, and expecting the best from your children. They will only work to meet the standards you set, so set the bar high I say, because this old world is a tough place to live in, and getting tougher every year. Good post Muriel.

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  30. It is indeed a tough world. I hope that I am giving everything to my daughters so that one day they can fly with their own wings...Congrats for bringing up 3 kids (How did you do it? I am exhausted with 2!)

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  31. You are unbelievable!

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  32. Sorry you didn't take advantage of the abdominal re-education (that said, it was hard work)...Lots of parents (French and British) seem to be overwhelmed when they have kids. They can't cope with having to work in a office, then at home, then having to discipline the kids. It is a hard job, and I had to accept that I was not going to be perfect.
    I am sill learning. thanks for visiting, please come back again!

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  33. How nice, already love this series, thought I am a week late to read!
    I don't have children, but looking around, I don't think French have a better way to educate their children. It more depends on the family. I think children need boundaries, to know what they can do and what they can't. Parents have a hard task to perform nowadays, looking at the world outside.
    If some think you are "old-fashioned" don't mind them, what you teach your daughters is precious.
    Take care Muriel!

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  34. Thanks Marie, I am glad that you agree with me. That said, at the end of the day, we are all doing what we can...sometimes with limited success. And I decide, a long tim ago, not to bother about what people think of me! It makes my life a lot easier!

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  35. Hello Julie! You are such a francophile! That said, i wish that we french had some parenting secrets but I am afraid we don't!

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  36. Great to see so many comments on your post. Its such a hot topic at the moment! Just come across your blog and I love it! I am the opposite to you an an English mum living in France.

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  37. How funny! How do you find living in France? I admire you, I am not sure that I could go back there...Take care.

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  38. Very interesting post. I've not read Pamela Druckerman's book but I have read this article of hers a couple of days ago and whilst she made good points the title had me frothing at the mouth. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204740904577196931457473816.html?mod=WSJ_article_comments#articleTabs%3Darticle

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  39. Thanks for sharing the link. It is a very interesting article but I think that some of it is a bit far-fetched. After all, we are all doing what we can!

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