Tiger Mother, Make Way for the Mere Francaise

Since the furor over the Chinese Tiger Mother parenting tactics has died down, it was only a matter of time until another parenting stereotype come under scrutiny. Thanks to Pamela Druckerman’s book Bringing Up Bebe, it turns out the new target is to be the French mother.

The French, after all, are fun to hate. They’re skinny. They’re snobby. They’re fashionable. And now they claim to be superior parents.

I haven’t read Bringing Up Bebe yet, but the commentary in the Wall Street Journal book review and the Wall Street Journal Sunday Essay by Pamela Druckerman read true.

I grew up in France, raised by a French mother and an American father. I can’t comment on French parenting today, but reflecting on my own upbringing is certainly consistent with some of Druckerman’s observations:

  • Our snacking was limited to 4 o’clock, after school.
  • We were drilled in table manners from a long list of rules ranging from not putting elbows on the table and not eating with your mouth open to not cutting the head of the cheese or using a knife to cut our lettuce.
  • Not only were we expected to stay at the table for the entire meal, but beginning before our mother had sat down was inconceivable. Our dinners were long, always four courses, including a salad and a cheese course before dessert.
  • We had friends who were so formal and respectful of their parents that they addressed them with the formal “vous”. We used the more casual “tu” but still were expected to be very deferential. In my teenage years, I often got in trouble for speaking to my mother as though she was a friend, and not a parent.

Kids eating crepesAnyone who has met me and my children will tell you that we seem like a typical American family, especially when we travel in France. We eat crepes while walking in the street. You’ll hear my kids from far away, and you’ll most likely witness me repeating my directions more than once to children who seem to be deaf. But I do have that deep non-negotiable “non” that Druckerman was coached to discover within herself by her French friends. It usually has to do with respect. As far as I am concerned, not doing the following is simply “pas possible”:

  • Forgetting to say please and thank you.
  • Speaking disrespectfully to adults.
  • Refusing to taste new foods.
  • Eating in front of the television.
  • Eating with an open mouth.
  • Speaking with a full mouth.
  • Walking into a store without acknowledging the storekeeper.

And every Saturday night, my husband and I escape our children to have an adult night. Skipping date night is pas possible.

Our family rules are our own blend of French and American customs. My kids complain that I am much stricter than any of their friends’ parents. Still I am sure that I am much more laissez faire than most French parents. Parenting is a long history of chosen battles, moments we simply could not let slide by, unaddressed. Each family has their own rules, their own versions of what is unacceptable and rude.

I worry about attaching any labels to it all, about making statements like saying that French parenting is superior. The backlash tends to be severe. The last time France came under wide criticism in the US, Freedom Fries and Freedom toast were born. What incorrectly attributed foods will be renamed this time? Every country is different, unique in its culture, championing one parenting style over another is pointless. The only certainty is that the croissants and baguettes in France are far superior.

This article was published first on Technorati Women which I edit.

7 Responses to Tiger Mother, Make Way for the Mere Francaise

  1. I was just reading that WSJ article aloud to my husband this morning – a lot of it read familiar to us too (neither of us are French). I think it has a lot to do with respect – respecting your kids and teaching them how to respect others. Now if I can just figure out how to be skinny and effortlessly stylish… 🙂

  2. Your kids look like mine! I have a girl (7) Boy (5) and girl (2) I love your rule and I must add Saying “hello to Shop Owner” to my list for my kids!

  3. I’m not French, but my parenting styles lean in that direction. I’ve found that new disciplines that I introduce to my son are usually fun for him. Asking “May I please be excused?” after eating has become a game.

  4. I stopped by to gauge your perspective on this and was am disappointed (thank you!) I was raised by Eastern European-born parents with similar rules — especially at the dinner table.

    I’m raising my children to be just as respectful, however, I am also much more lenient than my parents were in other regards.

    Not better, not worse, just different.

    You think, in this day and age, we’d be done attaching labels on parenting? It’s just all so disheartening.

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