Parlez-vous parenthood?

A few months ago, right after the husband and I found out the oyster is in the oven, we both found and read this article separately, then sent it to one another.

Why French Parents Are Superior

While Americans fret over modern parenthood, the French are raising happy, well-behaved children without all the anxiety. Pamela Druckerman on the Gallic secrets for avoiding tantrums, teaching patience and saying ‘non’ with authority. (WSJ, Feb. 4, 2012)

Although the title is misleading (that French parents are superior is not the author’s argument), the article was fascinating and on a date this week to Barnes and Noble, I stumbled across the book from which the article was adapted, Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, and bought it.

The book’s subtitle, One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, is far more representative of the author’s point and the book is fascinating and useful, particularly to someone who struggles with doing things simply because everyone else is doing them or “that’s just how it is.”

Bedtime story for maman.

Before the siren call of politics lured him away, the husband was a teacher. Thanks largely to his experience attending home school, public school, community college, then private college, and then teaching in public, public charter, and an alternative school or two, his view of education was and is remarkably holistic. Students are unique, individual human beings and treating them first as growing people with different needs and gifts and second as students with test scores is far more beneficial to the person, the student, the class, and society. (Try telling that to the unions.)

This holistic thinking, plus a strong libertarian streak in both of us, has shaped a lot of our early parenting decisions and is a worldview we expect to raise our kids in. Whether or not they adopt it is up to them (see? libertarian) but we will be parenting, building a family, and modeling a marriage that reflect a Biblical and balanced environment for developing.

Kids need boundaries, and we will set them, but they won’t be arbitrary and they won’t be insulated in themselves, they will be intended to set the child up for a healthy, balanced role in the family and in other relationships. From the WSJ article:

“Middle-class French parents (I didn’t follow the very rich or poor) have values that look familiar to me. They are zealous about talking to their kids, showing them nature and reading them lots of books. They take them to tennis lessons, painting classes and interactive science museums.

Yet the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this. “For me, the evenings are for the parents,” one Parisian mother told me. “My daughter can be with us if she wants, but it’s adult time.” French parents want their kids to be stimulated, but not all the time. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are—by design—toddling around by themselves.”

The first two lines of the second paragraph are something of a thesis, for the book and for the kind parenting we want to do.

Yet the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this.

The little oyster is a gift, a gift the size of my hand at the moment, and we love it. We want what is best for it and we believe that what is best for it is not allowing it to be the boss in the family, explicitly or implicitly.

Of course it will have needs that need to be addressed before our own for a few weeks and of course it will have more and different needs than we have for even months and years beyond that. But according to Druckerman’s observations, the sleep-deprived American parent, the mom-to-be who panics when she has fish for dinner, the parents who buy stock in the Baby Einstein kingdom so their kids get a leg up (on what?) are largely doing it to themselves. Being peers with these parents, I think she’s on to something.

If my generation was serious about giving decisions a good hard think, we wouldn’t carry credit card debt, we would provide solid marriages and futures for our children and we would vote. But my generation buys into a lot of crap, and over-stimulated, over-purchased, over-read and over-whelmed parenting is one of those things.

So count us out. Do the French have a corner on good parenting? Not necessarily, but if their kids are sleeping through the night at two months and maman et papa are enjoying one another, the family, and a glass of wine after le well-adjusted bebe is in bed, then I say there’s something worth emulating there.

Maybe it’s not French parenting, but it’s thoughtful, holistic parenting for sure, which they happen to do across the (middle-class) board in France. And that’s what we’re after.


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