American/French parenting, from a French expat perspective

French parenting. What a fancy way to relate to kids manners. Pamela Druckerman certainly brought it up with her famous book: Bringing Up Bébé, published in 2012.

But what does a French expatriate think of it?

First and foremost, I arrived in the US on December 2010. I loved it, I still love it, I would not leave the country for anything. Even if the culture is not as close as we can think it is. One of the biggest contrast, along with food would probably be kids behavior. I always noticed a difference but I started getting more curious about it when I was pregnant. The only way for me to understand the disparity was to read Bringing Up Bébé.  I was not disappointed. Druckerman did a great job pointing out what was the most normal things for French, the most unrealistic for Americans.

French parents teach young ones proper rules (understand “guidelines” if rules is too strong), as early as possible so it becomes a basic as they grow. Each and everyone of the guidelines have an impact on the following. It is like a snowball effect. Let’s take food for example. If you feed your kid with Mac & Cheese, Cheerios, meatballs and Gold Fish (it is an extreme case of course), you cannot expect him/her to eat vegetables at 5,6 or  7 years old because you decided to. It is best to start early and continue, so fruits and veggies are as normal as Mac & Cheese or fries.

My observation is that American babies and toddlers tend to take control more than their  French cousins . Why is that?

Here is Bringing Up Bébé’s writer thought: “The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and a Frenchwoman I had never previously heard of named Françoise Dolto. They’re the two great influences on French parenting. […] He imagined a child who is free to explore and discover the world and let his senses gradually “awaken” and “discover.” […] French kids were still expected to be well behaved and to control themselves. But gradually after 1968 they were encouraged to express themselves, too. […] Into this generational upheaval walked Françoise Dolto.”.

Druckerman is right, Rousseau and Dolto are two precursors in French parenting. But not the founders.

I assume French parenting roots come from their history. It carried “savoir vivre”. What is it exactly? It is the “Knowledge of the world and the ways or usages of polite society, familiarity with the customs of good society, politesse, courtesy”. Generally associated with savoir-faire and joie-de-vivre.81.10

The savoir-vivre rules our everyday life, this is where the rigor comes from.   

“joie -de-vivre” spices this rigorous aspect of life.

If your life is surrounded by social rules, everybody is on the same page. You are all even in respecting each others.

We once discussed this topic with some of our american friends. One of the guests said: “I am not a chit-chat person. I am terrible at intervening with others and hate it”. When in reality It was not abnormal for this person ignore our presence (not even greeting us) the first few times we met. And this is not an isolated behavior. I have been in this situation quite a few times.

First, I felt terrible and could not stop thinking “what am I doing wrong?”, or “Am I being unfriendly?”. Little by little I understood. It was not me nor them. It is simply a culture contrast.

In France, if someone does not follow the greeting rule, you can be offended. When it can be tolerated in the US.

The most popular and envied French concept is how do we get babies to sleep through the night so early in age? Well, it does not come by magic. Sleeping, as much as eating, greeting, respecting, speaking, or playing is performed following a code.

Though, it is losing its power lately. French and European kids are becoming what we call “child kings”. It has been going on for a few decades now. Capitalism and this famous French writer F. Dolto have their part of responsibility.

The evolution of capitalism led to new consumption habits. Parents could buy anything they wanted to their beloved children. Dolto, advised on listening to kids, letting express themselves. It was new and huge back then. She was broadcasted everywhere, and was in every parents’ mind. She still is. Her books are still sold every day in France. She was a pediatric psychoanalyst genius . Unfortunately, too many parents misunderstood her message and interpreted “let the kid lead”. Parents lost their authority.

My husband and I are pursuing what seems “normal” to us. Today, our daughter is 7 months and 2 weeks.

She has been sleeping through the night since she was 8 weeks. We never co-slept.

She loves all kind of food we let her try. She follows our eating schedule. Eats fruits, vegetables, meats and cereals at certain times of the day in a certain order. There is no toy or distraction around her when she eats.

She naps in her crib with a throw and her two security toys (that never leave the crib), curtains open. She sleeps at night in a sleeping bag (so there is a difference with napping). The pacifier is only meant to help her sleep. No more (except unusual situation like in a plane). If I do not make her understand she can have it at another time, she would not ask for it. And she does not.

She started screaming lately (at a painful level for our ears). We are guiding her not to. Laugh, talk, express loudly she can and is encouraged to of course. but screaming and wining are not welcome in our home. It takes time and patience. But I would rather lose patience managing her being too loud rather than losing it and teaching myself how to endure it.

We, are lucky parents to have such a calm baby too. All babies are not equal. I do not credit our method for everything . But it helps.

I will go deeper in a few major concepts (like sleeping, eating, etc…) soon if you are interested.

I am not saying that French parenting is the best. it comes naturally for us because we were raised this way.

Yes it is popular but not made for everyone. Do what you feel like is best for you, your baby and your family.

With love,

E

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