French mom

After The Tiger Mom, maintenant, voici la mere Napoleon. French parenting, according to an American writer who witnessed the effects at first hand, produces toddlers who don’t throw food around and turn dining out into nightmare for the whole restaurant. How? Maman says Non! and means it.

Pamela Druckerman, mother of three, has written a book about it called French Children Don’t Throw Food: Parenting Secrets From Paris. (To be published in America in February as “Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting”)

The finer print, according to The Economist:

With a dollop of research and a big helping of anecdotes gleaned from friends, Ms Druckerman identifies two elements to French parenting that set it apart from what she calls the “Anglophone” version. One is that the French teach their children to be patient. Babies are not picked up at the first snuffle from their cots; children are expected to wait until parents have finished a conversation before getting their attention. This, she concludes, stems from a less child-centred approach, in which the adult’s needs remain at least as important as those of the child. Parenting is just one part of a French mother’s life, alongside stilettos and a briefcase, not the high- investment, all-consuming project it has become to over-anxious parents in New York or London.

The other element is that French parents impose a strict cadre, or framework, on their children. While her English-speaking friends tiptoe around their infants’ sensitivities—“do you think that was nice, darling, to throw sand into Ruby’s face?”—their French counterparts are unapologetic about saying non, or ça suffit (that’s enough). Ms Druckerman argues that this framework allows them to give their children more space. She finds herself stunned to watch parents in New York fretfully following their toddlers around the apparatus in a fenced playground; French mothers just sit on a bench and let them get on with it.

As The Economist notes, it’s all a bit too good to be true. “Ms Druckerman’s France is a particularly narrow slice of bourgeois Paris.” It’s not like that in the banlieus, for example.

Also one might beg to differ with the suggestion that being less child-centred is the key to good behaviour either in public or private. The idea that “parenting is just one part of a French mother’s life, alongside stilettos and a briefcase” does not sound like a good recipe for child-rearing.

To teach a child patience and to give them boundaries is to focus on what’s best for the child, not just on making adult lives easier.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet