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French Model for American Parents


One item in the annals of American exceptionalism is how exceptionally badly behaved American children are. We who hang around international airports often marvel at how European toddlers wait calmly while their American cohorts run down the halls or lie sprawled on the floor in a screaming tantrum.

This is a generality, of course, but you know it's a solid one.

Journalist Pamela Druckerman has experienced the difference as an American mother of a toddler living in Paris. She discusses French parents' seemingly miraculous ability to civilize their young children in her new book, "Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting."

What makes the story appealing is the author's own humble story of doing her best to discipline her toddler but obviously getting something very wrong. At a French seaport restaurant, Druckerman wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "Bean would take a brief interest in the food, but within a few minutes she was spilling salt shakers and tearing apart sugar packets. Then she demanded to be sprung from her high chair so she could dash around the restaurant and bolt dangerously toward the docks."

Every meal became torture, as the pint-sized tyrant wrecked her parents' vacation. Druckerman found it "weird" that the French families seemed be having a good time. "French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables," she wrote. "There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables."

Clearly, toddlers are not uncontrollable savages. Nor did French parents beat them into submission. But they knew the insanity of trying to "negotiate" with tiny ones.

The secret sprung from a very different mindset about raising children. The objective wasn't disciplining them but educating them.

French parents established early on that they were not the children's servants and that "no" meant "no."

The last point is most interesting, because American parents seem quite able to say "no." The problem is they don't do it with conviction. They shout "no, no, no, no" rather than saying "no" once at a normal volume but like they mean it.

French children learned early on that they are not the center of the universe. They must adjust to family mealtime schedules. Meanwhile, the parents feel entitled to adult time, during which the children are expected to play quietly — and do.

I'm amazed to call friends who, when their children demand attention, put me on hold, not them. One mother lets her teenage offspring interrupt phone conversations. (I try to stifle my contempt.)

We're not talking about that gruesome "tiger mom" stuff, whereby the children are insulted, threatened and hounded into performing feats of brilliance — academic or otherwise — for the glory of the parents. The French, however, do spend much time reading to their children and showing them things.

These principles are familiar to fans of John Rosemond, the child-rearing expert especially beloved by American conservatives. And consistent with Rosemond's views, child-centered homes breed less happy parents. In a Princeton study comparing child care experiences of mothers in Columbus, Ohio, and Rennes, France, American mothers found child-rearing twice as unpleasant as their French sisters.

But what conservatives should also consider is their government's potential role in making parenthood less stressful. The French government provides paid maternity leave, well-run day care and preschool. Probably nothing would boost America's middle-class birthrate like a modicum of help for working parents.

But I digress. With much of American family life fallen into chaos, we would do well to look elsewhere for guidance on ways to do things. America is not the best at everything.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




6 Comments | Post Comment
"With much of American family life fallen into chaos, we would do well to look elsewhere for guidance on ways to do things>"

Liberals said we weren't doing things right back in the 60's. Everybody changed trying to accomodate liberals. Sexual revolution. Husbands and fathers an option. Baby On Board bumper stickers so everyone knew the mini-van was special. Self esteem, boy we had a big dose of that. Education that students can relate to, rendering them incapable of relating to anything outside themselves. Sorry, I don't think I can become French to accomodate the whims of a person who really doesn't like children anyway. The grass is always greener if you are a liberal, so Froma should take her grass over to France and start telling them how to live even better. We'll all be grateful, I'm sure.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Tom
Tue Feb 14, 2012 5:06 AM
So in the end it's the French government we should thank because of state founded day-care? There's plenty of books on parenting, but to say more government involvement sounds like "ism" to me. Brothers and Sisters, Don't drink the "ism" this Froma is selling.
Comment: #2
Posted by: BFAM
Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:59 AM
BFAM - Froma lives in ism prison. It's her home address. I'm not thirsty, but at least 47% and counting are.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Tom
Tue Feb 14, 2012 9:42 AM
Great article, but in fairness it's not just the French, it's most of the world! American kids are spoiled brats and their parents too lazy to EDUCATE them. The problem is that it's a behavior that will follow them for the rest of their libes. I cringe when I see our grand kids (raised by conservative parents) not ceding their seats to their sick grand pa or not showing the basic respect of a "hello" or a "good bye"...
Comment: #4
Posted by: Blue
Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:50 AM
Reading the former posts it is hilarious to see how arrogant we became! "We are so perfect, nothing could be wrong!" (with us ...or our country) typical residual of the amreican spoiled brat described in the article...LOL!!!
Comment: #5
Posted by: Blue
Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:57 AM
"... typical residual of the amreican spoiled brat described in the article...LOL!!!"
How about the typical blame America first crowd? LOL! I have worked with children for over 20 years. Blue finds nothing redeeming in them, but I will tell you they are smart and sensitive and rise beyond the level expected if those levels are set high enoughl and are fair and attainable. With children you get treated the way you deserve, so if your grandkids treat you like sh** it is probably because you act like one. Expecting others to read your mind is the ultimate selfishness, why don't you kindly ask them to move for grandpa's benefit, make sure you say Hello and Goodby nicely and see if it sticks after a while. In my experience example is the very best teacher. I don't think someone who can't figure out how to get a desired response from a child has any business criticizing a whole generation or all of American children. As for the rest of the world when reading about a terrorist act do you ever wonder "Golly, I wonder who raised that nut?' No one said we are perfect, that is an idea you rely upon for your own mental comfort, makes you feel smart, but it is really a sophomoric way to view the world. For an open-minded liberal you sure make a lot of rotten assumptions about people you don't agree with, and you sure have large swaths of people you don't like. LOL you big hearted liberal, you. And I thought the Grinch was green.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Tom
Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:02 AM
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