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Feb 6 2012

How to Say “Non!” Like a French Parent

By at 12:44 pm

why french parents are superiorIt was just one year ago that the Wall Street Journal printed a book excerpt by Yale professor Amy Chua called “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” Chua argued that a Chinese breed of tiger moms–moms who lay down hard and fast laws for their kids, both socially and academically–raise “better” children. Apparently, the Journal has had a change of heart and nationality-focus, running a book excerpt this past weekend entitled, “Why French Parents are Superior.”

The new tome of the moment, Bringing Up Bebe (sigh) by Pamela Druckerman, focuses on why French kids can sit down during meals and listen to their parents, and why American kids can’t/don’t. Apparently, in France, children do not have tantrums on playgrounds, come into their parents’ beds, or eat cupcake batter. The root of this magique? French parents don’t yell, but rather act authoritatively and focus on themselves rather than their kids, implicitly and explicitly teaching their kids delayed gratification.

Obviously, this book will be a hit, just like Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was the parenting tome of 2011.  And what both books, or at least their excerpts, have in common is that both talk down to most American parents, pointing out with varying degrees of delicacy all the things that we, collectively, are doing “wrong.”

Well, how about this for a new book: Why Are American Parents So Convinced They Are Inferior? The popularity of stories like those run by the Journal testifies not to superiority of one nationality or another, but rather to a deep vein of insecurity in American parents, who, at least in print, seem to be fretting all the time about what we’re doing wrong. We American moms anxiously crowdsource our parenting via BabyCenter message boards, blogs (oh, hey!) and Facebook, asking endless questions about food, BPAs, sleep… the list goes on and on. I’m pretty sure French and Chinese moms aren’t getting together in endless book groups to discuss why Chilean or Norwegian moms are the best on earth.

So here is the true question: what’s our problem? Well, the real problem is that we’re so convinced that we have a problem, and so convinced that others have the answer, that we’re ready to listen to any Chua, Jacques, or Harry about how to do our job rather than listening to ourselves.

I’m not arguing that American kids are perfect. But French kids aren’t “superior,” and neither are Chinese kids. There is no one nationality that is “superior” in terms of parenting. Fine: French babies are better dressed than their American compatriots, that much, I’ll give you. (Let’s pause to note that it is just weird that my travel patterns seem to correspond almost directly to these book excerpts: went to China in 2011 and France avec baby G just before this book came out. Coincidence? Or am I just the vanguard of superior parenting? Or BOTH?)

But that French kid across the aisle from me on my plane from Paris to NY–you remember, the one who was screaming his head off because he was being ignored by his parents who were happily watching movies and reading the Steve Jobs biography? He didn’t seem so perfect to me. The fact of the matter is that each kid is unique, and each set of parents is capable of being amazing or awful in their own special way, regardless of to whom they pay taxes.

Sad to say, the secret of parenting is that there is only one “quick fix” to child-rearing issues. The secret of parenting is one that is true no matter what country you’re from, and I’ll tell it to you right now. If you, as the parent, are secure and happy with who you are and what you are doing, you will raise confident and secure children.

That will be $26, please.

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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