It's hard being a parent these days.
Apparently, it's not enough just to feed your kids, get them
dressed every day and figure out how to fill the hours between wake
up and bed time. Long before your baby is born, you're expected to
decide what type of parent you plan to be. Attachment? Schedule?
Disciplinarian? Sling wearing or stroller pushing? Veggies before
fruits? Public or private schooling? Just to name a few.
And now, you can thank Pamela Druckerman for adding another
parenting quandary to the list: French or American style
The former Wall Street Journal reporter who grew up in the
United States but moved with her British husband to Paris shortly
before having three children (a single followed by twin boys), has
written Bringing Up Bébé, which compares the vastly different
parenting styles between the two countries.
It's not simply a comparison between the two styles. It's an
In the book, Druckerman applauds French parents for raising such
disciplined, orderly, independent children while thumbing her nose
at American children, who apparently tend to be picky-eating,
control-seeking, attention-craving little buggers.
Druckerman explains that infants in France sleep through the
night by the time they're 8 weeks old, thanks simply to waiting
five minutes before attending to the crying babies to see if
they're whimpering because they're in the middle of a sleep cycle
or crying because they're hungry. Instead of snacking on Cheerios
all day, children in France have three solid meals plus one snack
daily at set times-and these times are set at infanthood, when the
babies are only offered milk four times a day.
And if they do decide to take their children to the playground
(a much rarer occurrence there than here), French moms sit off to
the side and relax while their children play by themselves. Playing
at an American playground can be called many things, but relaxing
tends not to be one of them.
It all comes down to discipline and teaching your child
independence, and the French seem to be doing a better job of this,
according to Druckerman.
In Chicago, where many French parents reside, the book has
brought up a lot of issues that hit home.
"I don't think that I could say there is one set of parents that
are superior," says Alain Weber, head of Lycée Français.
But, he says, they do follow the French traditions at Lycée
Français, where a majority of the teachers and parents are
That means that every night starting in Grade 1, there is
homework-and that homework is expected to be polished, prompt and
absent of a parent's touch.
Lunchtime at Lycée Français is quiet, calm and polite.
"Even the little ones sit at the table and they wait until
everybody has been served to start to eat," Weber says. "That's
something that you learn to respect others. It's a rule of
And after school, the children are not loaded with music
lessons, Mandarin lessons and ballet lessons. Instead, they have
time to play at home, independently.
"We cannot prescribe all the time what the child is to do. You
learn by playing and playing with other children. If every moment
of the day is prescribed by an adult, then where is the child going
to learn about the world around him?" Weber asks.
American parenting experts in Chicago also see the value of many
of the French parenting tenets.
Janeen Hayward, licensed clinical mental health counselor and
president and founder of Swellbeing, a Chicago-based parenting
consultancy for issues ranging from sleep to potty training to
positive discipline, says that while she doesn't believe that most
2-month-old babies are ready to sleep through the night, nor that
parents always need to sit on the sidelines at the park, she
appreciates the French view toward picky eaters.
In the United States, she says, we tend to cater toward
children's food whims and desires, which can lead to narrow food
"They should say, 'This is what's for dinner.' Put out one new
food a day. There are a lot of family meals in France, and there's
not a power struggle," says Hayward, who has a 5-year-old and a
2-year-old. "There are expectations that are known, and they don't
feel like they have to make two lunches and two dinners."
Hayward tries to instill her favorite parts of French parenting
in her American values.
Dona Nishi, a former teacher and Chicago mother of two girls,
agrees. While she tends to lean on the side of attachment
parenting-Nishi carried her first child everywhere since she only
slept when she was being held, she doesn't approve of the
cry-it-out method of sleeping, and she goes out of her way to make
sure that preservatives don't enter her kids' mouths-even she sees
some value in being a French disciplinarian.
"It's OK to be the adult in the relationship with your
children," Nishi says. "Your kids don't have to like you, but they
do have to love you. This takes a certain amount of maturity and is
something that isn't taught when we pursue our education or
While many are in awe of how disciplined French children appear
to be, not everyone thinks it's appropriate.
Stephanie Hettrich was born and raised in France by American
parents and she moved to the United States for college. She
remained here and now lives in the South Loop with her husband and
two girls, ages 1 and 3.
When she was living in France, she only played with French
children and went to French schools. Her parents loved the French
education system, but they didn't embrace the strict discipline
style at home.
"The French system is more about turning kids into little
soldiers," Hettrich says. "There's no French noun for 'fun.' It's
really reflective about how the French society is."
When she was little, Hettrich's home became the place where
other children wanted to play since they were allowed to do
whatever they wanted. Plus, there wasn't spanking in Hettrich's
home, despite French children commonly being spanked until they
"Children in France are little soldiers, and you're enforcing an
adult life onto your child at a very young age, which is why a lot
of French children aren't very happy," she says.
But there is one aspect of French parenting that Hettrich loves:
"I abhor the American notion of snacking all day," she says.
Instead, Hettrich tries to feed her children three meals plus
one snack each day. Dinner is the most important.
"The notion of sitting at a table and eating together as a
family is what I value the most about the French way of raising
children. It's almost a quasi-religious act. There's no TV near the
dining room table ever," she says.
Hettrich managed to take a little French plus a little American
and blend them until she found what she believes to be the perfect
mishmash. And while she was successful, it's the constant comparing
and judging of other parenting styles that can make parents feel as
if nothing they do is good enough for their children.
"I've learned that comparing ourselves is one of the reasons we
American parents-or more accurately our kids-struggle so much with
stress and anxiety," says Jennifer Mangan, a certified parenting
coach in Wheaton. "There is no perfect parent or perfect parenting
style, nor will there ever be."
Danielle Braff is a freelance writer and Chicago mom of two
beautiful little girls.
Danielle Braff lives with her two daughters and husband in downtown Chicago.
See more of Danielle's stories here.
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