French women don’t get fat and apparently they’re also better parents. At least that’s the premise of Pamela Druckerman’s book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.
Druckerman is an American journalist living in France with her British husband and three small children. Her book compares child-rearing between her and French parents mostly while she had one child, who she refers to as Bean. Druckerman wondered why was she the only sleep-deprived mother getting up several times with her baby, why her child was the only one throwing food and not sitting still at a restaurant and why her child the only one throwing tantrums at the playground. These things inspired her to take a deeper look into how the French parent.
What Druckerman concludes is this: French children sleep through the night by three months, eat their veggies and have wonderful table manners and are overall better behaved than American children. Oh, all the moms look great too. You won’t see a French mom wearing a velour lounge suit (or worse pajamas at drop-off) and a ponytail on the French playground.
That all sounds wonderful. What mom doesn’t want a child like that? However despite her “Vive la France” attitude throughout the book, one gets the sense that the French parenting style is not so perfect. But I’m an American mom and biased, so I’ve asked several French parents who live right here in Baristaville their thoughts on the book, French style parenting and American -style parenting.
Is the French way superior?
Anne-Sophie Roure, a Montclair mom of three and instructor at the FIAF, is not your typical French mom. She co-slept with her son and breastfed for over a year, but she is very French when it comes to feeding her children. “I have always followed the French way, three meals a day, breakfast, lunch dinner and a snack at 4 PM (le gouter).” But she struggles with the American influence on her children’s eating habits. “They are greatly influenced by the American way of eating (in school, birthday parties, block partied, playdates, my husband’s family, etc…), It truly is a sore subject, especially that I like to cook, I eat healthy and at times very healthy, I do think like most French people, that good food is VERY important, and also that le gouter is sacred!”
When I asked her if she, like Druckerman, felt that the French way of parenting is superior, she responded, “I don’t feel that the French way of parenting is superior. I feel like some aspects are better, but I have to say that I love the USA, I love Montclair, I love the American Way of life.”
Françoise Hautecler, a Montclair mom of two and also an instructor at FIAF, is more like the mom Druckerman describes in Bringing Up Bébé. Her babies slept through the night very early, because she didn’t rush in when they cried, they follow the French eating schedule, and she got herself in shape pretty quickly after having her babies. When I asked her what the difference was between French and American moms, she replied, “The look? Kidding, but it seems as French moms keep some time for themselves and their presentation as a women when too often American woman don’t care anymore and let themselves go.” Ouch! That hurt.
“If there is one thing I can not relate to as a French mother is the syndrome of ‘perfect mum’ that American women seem to face and struggle with. And if one thing I would agree with the statement that French mothers are more relaxed,” Françoise explains. Still, she has learned one thing from American parents, “to talk more directly to my kids.”
Paul Rougebec, a French dad of three living in Montclair, takes a more sensible approach to the differences. “French parenting is superior if you want more polite and respectful kids, especially toward adults. American style parenting is superior if you would rather have more self-confident and creative children.” His children are good sleepers and eat well too, but he prefers the softer American style when it comes to relating to your children. When asked what he has learned from American parents, he responded, “To be more patient and keep from considering any breach of parental authority as an act of open rebellion.”
There are too many cultural differences that affect our parenting styles. These can’t be changed simply by reading this book and following the French lead. Maybe moms in France look and feel great after having babies because they have a tremendous amount of support. The government subsidizes everything, from medical care to daycare (la crèche) all the way through preschool. The French mom can drop off little Henri at la crèche for quality care while she gets time alone to work on looking and feeling good.
I could sit here and list many of the French parenting styles that I agree and don’t agree with, but I won’t. I refuse to jump on the “I’m a better mother than you” bandwagon filled with Tiger Moms and Panda Dads. No parenting style is perfect and there is no such thing as the perfect parent.
And that is the important lesson we can learn from French mothers. According to the book and the Baristaville parents, the French mom doesn’t understand the American mom’s strive to be perfect. They don’t get “Mommy guilt.”
To that I say, “Oui!“