If you’re even a tepid follower of this blog, you’ll recall that we have approached parenting with a French twist (har har) and I was going to detail our experiences along the way. My point in doing so was to see if those who have experienced French parenting firsthand–expats, spouses of French people, families who have lived in France but aren’t French–and lived to write about it could create second-generation French parenting disciples: People who are only going on what others have written and done to guide them toward a similar outcome. People like us.
And then you’ll notice that after a few posts about eating and bedtimes, I haven’t written anything else about the Red, white, and nouveau experiment. Here’s why: Very quickly we realized that “French parenting” is just a label that sums up “how we would do things anyway” so our Red, white and nouveau experiment has turned out not to be so much an experiment as daily life. And who blogs about that? 😉
Allow me then to answer the “is it possible to create French parenting disciples?” question: Yes.
Allow me next to outline a few of the high points of French parenting that we have found to be particularly resonant in our lives and a few aspects of the French frame of mind (le frame du mind?) that we have willingly tossed:
1. KEEP: Variety in food exposure.
The little oyster eats just about anything you put in front of her (or the dog…) She’s always happy to try new foods and that’s the point of food exposure, giving things a fair shake. She’ll try anything, most things please her, and I get misty with pride every time. If she never meets a kids’ menu, I’ll consider my work here done.
2. TOSS: Expecting small people to behave like large people.
The French emphasis on training children to fit into an adult world is a worthy one. But let’s get real: The impulse control on little kids is nil and we can either pretend they are mini-adults and treat them as such to universal frustration, or we can realize that they are small people who are still developing and cut them some slack. This is her home, too, and it’s not fair to make her feel like a guest or a criminal when she’s living life the way she knows how. No sense in making everyone sad and miserable when an heirloom shatters in the name of unfair expectations.
3. KEEP: Sleep expectations.
The oyster is a great sleeper. Sleep is a skill. Skills must be taught. We taught her this skill. The oyster is a great sleeper.
4. TOSS: Conformity.
I’d love it if my daughter was the cool kid who was also the nice kid who was also the talented kid who was also the smart kid. Who can sing folk. The French system is focused on building–or, if we’re being cynical, wrestling into submission–good citizens. Fine for them. But that’s not the American way and this is one of those times I’ll beat the drum of the American way. I don’t know yet what my daughter is good at or what her interests are but I’m not about to cut her off at the knees before she can find out. No state-based preschools for us, thanks, and if my child prefers to do her art project with finger paint and some dental floss instead of a neat-and-tidy glue stick and paint brush, so be it.
5. KEEP: Our marriage as our priority.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard about a couple having a kid and the mom turning into a she-beast to the point that her husband sleeps in another room because Junior is now her main, only, and all-consuming priority, I would have bought the domain for this blog by now. The husband and I made vows to one another, not to our children, and we have decided that our marriage comes first. When our marriage is the priority, everyone in the house benefits.
6. TOSS: Curtailed praise.
This is kind of a gray area for us. While I totally agree and practice the French bent toward not throwing a party when your kid uses a fork (for the fortieth time), I do find that cheering her on while she’s learning something new and while she’s getting used to using a new skill doesn’t cost me anything, helps her out, and no, I don’t think it will make her a “praise addict” in the future. Plus, if you’ve seen the length of my daughter’s legs, you’d know that stepping up stairs is no mean feat and worthy of some cheering.
7. KEEP: The cold shoulder.
Actually I don’t think this is what the French call it, but it’s the same principle. Now and then the little oyster will shriek obnoxiously about something for no good reason and I ignore her, especially if we’re at home. Why? Because she doesn’t need anything from me and learning early that attention can and should be gained in other ways is priceless.
Kids are kids and as such shouldn’t rule the world or our lives but as such, can’t be reasonably expected to act like grown ups with any amount of success. One job of a parent is to prepare another person for the adult world, and we are finding that the best way to do that is by helping her develop skills she’s ready for now and can use always.
And so we end our Red, white and nouveau parenting experiment. Like I said, this is pretty much how we’re doing it anyway, but calling it French parenting every now and then lets me recommend with gusto one of my favorite books, Bringing Up Bebe. Read it, enjoy it, and then raise your kids in a way that jives with your personalities and household. But seriously, try eschewing the kids’ menu next time you’re out, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.