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Are French parents really more superior?

March 18, 2012

A few weeks ago, I read this Wall Street article called ‘Why French Parents are Superior’ and couldn’t help but be intrigued. The article is basically written by an American mother who lived in France and observed that French kids were generally better behaved.

She couldn’t understand why her (American) kids were screeching, throwing food and running laps around the table whilst the French kids were sitting contently in their high chairs and even eating their vegetables.

Now she has written a book to describe what French parents are doing differently. She concludes that French parents aren’t obsessive with over-stimulating their children. Kids have to learn patience and rather than screaming to get what they want, they learn how to play on their own.

The author asks if this ‘delayed gratification’ is the reason why American children can’t understand or cope with not getting what they want straight away because they haven’t had as much opportunity to learn self-control and how to entertain themselves.

I remember travelling around France (and Europe for that matter) and noticing how children were at ‘adult-friendly’ cafes (and dogs too!) without their PSPs or colouring books and found it remarkable that I never heard a peep from them unlike restaurants back home in Australia. Naively I said to DH that I wanted our kids to be like them.

Fast forward to today and now as a parent of a toddler I admit I struggle with enjoying a nice meal and joining in on an intelligent conversation when Lily is screaming for more food – which I don’t have by the way as she has thrown it all on the floor! I then end up playing a game of tug and war with her over my iPhone and by the end of the meal (which I have yet again scored a Guinness Book record for stuffing it down my throat in a matter of minutes), the whole table is covered with every single toy but even that is not enough to keep Lily happy.

It’s probably easier to not go to these nice ‘adult-friendly’ cafes anymore especially since I feel that I’m responsible for everyone else’s misery anyway. But I’m still holding on to the what I saw in Europe and hoping I’ll still be able to take Lily out with me and enjoy a nice meal and a decent intelligent conversation again.

And to give Lily credit, she isn’t bad all of the time…

I’m sure this author’s observation can be seen as a huge generalisation and who says the French are perfect anyway? And not dissimilar to the Chinese Tiger mothering approach, is this just another example of middle-class Americans (or Australians) suffering from their own insecurities on parenting? Or another example of us non-Europeans romanticising with the idea because it’s French – and with all of their culture and sophistication they would certainly know what they are doing…etc etc.

Do you think French parents are superior?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2012 2:13 am

    I don’t think Eve is overstimulated we don’t do TV and she has to wait for certain things, but make her wait for food and she becomes a howling banshee. I’d love to be able to take her out for food but it ruins my meal because I have to keep shoveling food into her mouth! I think we mostly do the best we can within our means and knowledge.

  2. March 18, 2012 4:59 am

    I haven’t read the book yet, but concerning the topic you discussed in your post about kids being patient at restaurants and cafes, I think a lot of it has to do with prepping the kid. If you go at a time when he’s about to eat (but isn’t starving) and you can point out things in the restaurant to amuse him, then I think it’ll be okay.

    My two year old is pretty behaved in restaurants, and if he’s not, it’s not the restaurant itself but his general mood. When he is hysterical or unruly, we take him out, simple as that. More often than not, he actually really does enjoy eating at restaurants. We don’t leave him out of the conversation; we tell him what’s on the menu, and what things say on the wall, or what the waiter or the chefs are doing.

  3. March 18, 2012 7:24 am

    It’s funny how views from before having a baby completely change afterwards! We’ve only slowly been going out with Logan and usually he’s pretty good, it’s been really handy having a cafe right around the corner from our inlaws so we can go straight after a feed.

  4. March 18, 2012 7:59 am

    What a great way to sell books, make everyone else feel inferior! I should try it 🙂

    Sarcasm aside, this may be true, I have no experience with natively french adults with parents.

  5. March 18, 2012 12:32 pm

    I saw an article about that book on Essential Baby a while back. I don’t agree with generalised statements like French parents are better but, having lived in the Uk and spent a bit of time in Europe, I do favour the way they live. Their attitude to alcohol and food, for example, is relaxed and traditional. I think Americans and Australians tend to over-analyse things including parenthood. And thereby over-complicate them. I figure people have been raising kids for thousands of years, if it were so hard we would have died out already. That’s not to say we shouldnt question the way we do things in the view of self-improvement, I just think a lot of parenting is going with your instincts and trusting your own judgement.

  6. March 18, 2012 12:50 pm

    I’ve heard about this book.. interesting!
    I do think there is something to be said for teaching children that sometimes they have to be patient. I use the keyword and sign for ‘wait’ when I need Bay to give me a few minutes to get her dressed, clean up her highchair, waiting in the checkout etc, which sometimes works, sometimes not! Going out for meals we have the same battles that you describe.. From a childs point of view I think sitting in a cafe would be pretty boring. But I’ve never been to France or seen these french toddlers in action, so very keen to hear if any of the ideas in the book work on Aussie children!

  7. March 18, 2012 6:03 pm

    I’m super intrigued about this book- I heard about it on Cup of Jo!

    I think cafe culture is a part of the european way of life and I think there isn’t specific ‘family friendly cafes’ there are just cafes so the kids have to adapt to their way of living. In Perth I often hear the words ‘family friendly or child friendly’ bandied about and kind of hate it as those aren’t really the places I (adult Renee) want to go to and spend my money haha!

    We’ve taken Lula out for breakfast/lunch/dinner since she was born and sometimes she is awesome and sits there and hangs out and other times we spend half our time running after her but I’m not going to stop going because I hope one day she will be content colouring in whilst I enjoy an amazing meal.

    When Tallulah was really little I was walking back from Hyde Park along Beaufort St and I peered into Must Bar and there was this amazingly cool mum with her daughter who would have been have been about 4 and they were sharing lunch. It was super cool and restored my views on dining out with kids and I so hope I can do this with my little lady one day!

  8. March 19, 2012 9:48 pm

    We’ve been talking about this book! I hope my local library gets it so I can read it. I lived in France and Europe for a few years and didn’t note the kids behaviour however when I returned I certainly noticed how much more “unruly” Aussie kids were. Having said that I love the “free-ness” (not sure if this is a word but you get the gist) of Aussie kids have and several of our friends who have visited have remarked how happy Aussie kids are and how happy their own kids are here – lots of sunshine and room to run around in. We have quite a few French friends and they too think French parents are usually more authoritative in their parenting style. Being a teacher, I am by nature quite strict with Sienna… she appears to be very chilled and we go out to eat together a lot but I choose my days and times wisely! I have a feeling those days are coming to an end for a while, miss s just wants to move around being 13 months old!

  9. March 20, 2012 11:56 am

    Thanks for all you comments as I’ve picked up a few tips too! It really shows that mums are trying their best (based on what works for them) regardless of what country they are from. It’s always interesting to find what other mothers are doing elsewhere around the world but maybe Superluminous is right…maybe we do over-analyse a bit too much!

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