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 Time.com, 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 http://www.pameladruckerman.com/books/
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.