french parenting lessons

Last week I discovered the Wall Street Journal article “Why French Parents are Superior,” by American expat, journalist and author Pamela Druckerman. It wasn’t more than two paragraphs down when my head began shaking up and down uncontrollably – like a marionette doll at the Luxembourg Gardens – in agreement and recollection from my time abroad.  The article discussed her book released last week,”Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.”

Druckerman, raising her children in Paris, describes the French parent’s ability to achieve outcomes so many American parents seem to have such difficulty with. Like teaching our children to sleep through the night, eat and sit nicely at meals (no ginormous bags of pirate booty and pretzels every half hour might just help, dontcha think?), properly and politely greet adults, avoid interrupting and play on their own. The French practices of teaching respect, patience, self-control and delayed gratification – with easy, calm authority (“big eyes” she calls them), and being involved with the family without being obsessive are key points, according to Druckerman, and hard to come by in my parts these days.

Our baby was under a year old when we returned  to the States, yet I still got a small taste of the parenting style in Northern Italy. And I do say Druckerman’s observations are not just a French thing.  I encountered some similar characteristics with many families there. At  birthday parties, children played happily together while parents sat on chairs – not down on the floor  – and enjoyed a glass of wine. Down the hill from our house was a part playground/part outdoor cafe (Awesome Idea. Why has it not caught on here?). Moms chatted and drank coffee – guilt-free- while the children played. At pick-up time at the local Italian preschool, parents were not even allowed in the playground area. The kids were having so much fun together they hardly noticed. Finally, the children knew they were expected to greet adults. As Judith Warner writes this week in  “Why American Kids are Brats” for, saying hello and goodbye helps them to learn that they aren’t the only ones with feelings.

Parenting styles will come and go. I’ve tried them all. I’ll admit it, after reading one book when I was desperate, I even followed the advice to roar (yes, roar) with my toddler as she melted down – giving voice, I guess, to the temper tantrum. Some experts say feed their ego or they’ll grow up with no confidence. Others say don’t feed their ego – if you do, they won’t be prepared for life’s hard lessons. Be their best friend. Be not their best friend – show who is boss! But the article suggests that amidst helicopter and other kinds of current popular  parenting styles, some core, common sense lessons have gone lost and forgotten – like setting boundaries and teaching manners, good behavior and respect for who’s in control.

Even though she makes the point that French parents aren’t perfect, I imagine this book, like all others on parenting, could ignite a heated debate. But it makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe I’m an example of a new kind of American mom, who went to too many Positive Parenting workshops early in my mom career, and years later, hear myself telling my kids “No means no because I said so!”  Then realizing this is exactly the message I want to send them.

To read more about Pamela Druckerman and her new book,  “Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting,” visit

UPDATE: “Teaching Self-Control, the American Way” is a fantastic NY Times editorial that came out in response to the attention this book has been getting.


12 responses to “french parenting lessons

  1. I think this might be a good read, thanks for sharing 🙂

    • thanks for stopping by – it is funny how parenting houses so many cultures and schools of thought. It’s fun to pick and choose what works for you. I don’t believe you are in the states – but I’m sure the book will be coming your way too!

  2. And no one parenting style will work for all children (at least that’s what my mom says). Which is to say that, one child might react differently to certain methods than the next. Do you remember the parenting article that came out a couple of years ago, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”? It sparked a lot of controversy, and the mother was thought to have been too strict with her young daughters. Ah, parenting is such a sensitive and multidimensional subject. I’m not a parent, but I enjoy reading parenting articles at The Stir and at the Huffington Post, and this book sounds like a good read!

    • I agree! Though, from my experience, most children benefit from set boundaries and calm authority (the word authority sounds so negative, but i mean it in a good sense!) and this generation of moms -myself included- seem to be spend a lot of time I believe being overly generous with our kids’ behavior (oh, he just can’t/won’t sit still or lower his voice, oh, she’s just not the outgoing type so she can’t say hello – that would be my daughter !- , and long discussions negotiating with your children demands,etc) – when in fact, the article/book suggests you can still teach some of the basics of manners, good behavior no matter what kind of kid you have, For me, that’s where this article hit home. YOU will be an awesome mom when it’s your time !! (mini michis?)!

      • Set boundaries and calm authority totally make sense to me. And like you, (now that you say it) I do believe you can teach the basics of manners and good behavior no matter what kind of child you have. But I feel it’s easier said than done! You know? Those moments where you know better but you just can’t help but lose your cool!
        No parenting anytime soon (I hope)! D-Man and I were both very naughty children (each of a different kind – he was silent, mischievous, and enjoyed throwing his grandmother’s jewelry out the window, whereas I was rambunctious, demanding, and a screamer) so we’re not overly curious to see what we’re going to get yet, heheh. Though both D-Man and my mom think I’ll be strict. I guess we’ll see!! 🙂

  3. Great post, Monique! It is nice to know how other parents raised their kids and pick out the best way. Kids are growing under a different environment nowadays compared to ours a generation ago. In my case, there is not just the generation gap but also the cultural difference of east and west. My daughter is 4 so she’s also learning to make herself heard. The Dutch upbringing is about letting children expressed themselves openly while mine in the Philippines has that strong element of repression. I’m navigating this seemingly conflicting terrain and finding the right balance. 😉

    • my mother is german and father was mexican-american and they too had to navigate two very different parenting styles! which, by the way, your children are very lucky to grow up with two difft cultures. I feel very fortunate.

    • I enjoyed reading your post point of view on the book review. I remember living in Italy and wanting to debunk the stereotypes of life there (the food is always good, the people always happy!) While you make the excellent point that every parent is difft, no matter what country they are from, for me, being back in the states has made me realize that we could learn a thing or two from what I saw living in other countries. There are generalizations to be made, but I believe generalizations often come with a kernel of truth. thanks for stopping by my blog!

  4. I will definitely have to check this out (and I have heard about this book from my mom and a few other people but wasn’t sure if it was worth my time to think about parenting from yet another perspective!). I think American parents these days are feeling guilty for the hyper-individualism that existed in our parents’ generation and when we were growing up. We are making up for our parents mistakes. Such huge differences from when I was a child. My parents certainly never got down on the floor with me and my little friends! I love the idea of a cafe at the playground!

    • I agree Jenna. I think our generation is making up for the latch-key, TV dinner, divorced parents – and/or other parenting scenarios that seemed more common then. Wonder what our kids will think when they are older – and how they as parents will react to the obsessiveness and helicopter parenting that seems to be characterizing today’s parenting.

  5. Pingback: on my bookshelf | bringing travel home

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