Motherhood

How to Raise Kids Like a French Woman

Have you heard these rules of French parenting? I’m dying to discuss…

The much-buzzed-about book Bringing Up Bebe just came out. The author Pamela Druckerman, an American mother of three, moved to Paris and said she learned how to better raise her kids by watching French parents. My copy of the book is still in the mail (I can’t wait to get it), but I read an excerpt in the Wall Street Journal this week. The fascinating article was a little patronizing (not all Americans are bumbling fools, harrumph!), but here are four basic points I loved (and agree with)…

1. You can have a grown-up life, even if you have kids. Pamela writes: “The French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this. ‘For me, the evenings are for the parents,’ one Parisian mother told me. ‘My daughter can be with us if she wants, but it’s adult time.’ “

2. You can teach your child the act of learning to wait. Pamela writes: “It is why the French babies I meet mostly sleep through the night…Their parents don’t pick them up the second they start crying, allowing the babies to learn how to fall back asleep. It is also why French toddlers will sit happily at a restaurant. Rather than snacking all day like American children, they mostly have to wait until mealtime to eat. (French kids consistently have three meals a day and one snack around 4 p.m.) A [French mother] Delphine said that she sometimes bought her daughter Pauline candy. (Bonbons are on display in most bakeries.) But Pauline wasn’t allowed to eat the candy until that day’s snack, even if it meant waiting many hours.”

3. Kids can spend time playing by themselves, and that’s a good thing. Pamela writes: “French parents want their kids to be stimulated, but not all the time…French kids are—by design—toddling around by themselves….’The most important thing is that he learns to be happy by himself,’ [a French mother] said of her son….In a 2004 study…the American moms said that encouraging one’s child to play alone was of average importance. But the French moms said it was very important.”

4. Believe it when you tell your child “No.” Pamela writes: “Authority is one of the most impressive parts of French parenting—and perhaps the toughest one to master. Many French parents I meet have an easy, calm authority with their children that I can only envy. When Pauline [a French toddler] tried to interrupt our conversation, Delphine [her French mother] said, “Just wait two minutes, my little one. I’m in the middle of talking.” It was both very polite and very firm. I was struck both by how sweetly Delphine said it and by how certain she seemed that Pauline would obey her…I gradually felt my “nos” coming from a more convincing place. They weren’t louder, but they were more self-assured.”

Toby is still a pretty little dude (so who knows what will happen!), but thus far, we’ve basically followed (or tried to follow) similar parenting philosophies. They seem more like common sense than particularly French, although I think one real difference is that American women can feel (or be made to feel) guilty for carving out time for themselves or letting their babies play on their own. It’s all about finding a balance that works best for you, your baby and your family.

I’m really curious: Do you agree with these parenting approaches? Do you disagree? Do you think these approaches are French, American, or universal? Were your parents strict, and are you? What parts of parenthood do you find trickiest? Are you inspired by any of these points? (I’m going to curb Toby’s snacks.) Will you read the book? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts!!!

P.S. Remember this marshmallow test for children?

(Top photo by The Sartorialist)

  1. Tracy says...

    I have always found that in comparison to US and even Canadian Children, European Children have had this “self confidence” and assertiveness. They know their place, they are polite and they learn to do for themselves in many ways that US Kids aren’t. In The US Kids ask for lunch to be made where European Kids make their own. They learn how fun cooking can be and help to set the table, they learn in public it’s not Mama’s job to give them what they want at anytime they want.

    When I was a Kid I read alot of Books by European Authors from Snip, Snap & Snur, Ricka Dicka & Flicka, Lillian, & Pippi Longstocking and Lillian all written by Swedish Authors and it amazed me how “confident” they were. From giving a Friend a makeover, making Mama a Chair Footstool, or even dealing with Mama going back to work, they did it all. Very admirable

  2. Julia Weiner says...

    I grew up in Ukraine and part of the time in Russia. Two ways parents treated their kids that are similar with the French that I remember were these: kids respect adults when they are in conversation with other adults, and there is usually no special kid menu at home – children eat what grown-ups eat. Also, I remember playing a lot with my sister instead of our parents. It is not to say that my mom or dad never played with us – they did – but independent kids play was common.

  3. Parenting is Natural instinct, French, American, European or African is all the same! ‘parenting’ the method and belief is just not the same, but let’s not beat ourselves up too much we’re parents doing a great Job, according to the Bible it says let there be Order so try put some time and boundaries with encouragement and prayer which leaves you and the children happy&peaceful and things will surely fall into pleasant places.

  4. Kaitlin says...

    I really appreciated this book and your blog post chiefly because this is how I have been raising my kids and have been ridiculed a lot for it. I think mostly because coddling and handing out undeserved golden stars to your child has been the preferred method of resting in America. And I never liked that. Every time their toddler whines or cries they cute the injustice done to their toddler by giving them whatever they want. They say no but say yes after the kid begs. They don’t have discipline or schedule. I hated it. For the most part I am hands off but I do not budge when I say no. Ever. But I also only say no when it is not in my kids best interest. I never say no solely because I don’t want to do something for them or I don’t want to Deal with helping them get what I said yes to. Also, right after I had my son I just told myself yes to a new shirt. I told myself yes to staying an extra hour with friends at dinner, I told myself yes to having adult conversation and letting him play by himself. I think most post partom depression comes from feeling likes you’ve lost yourself and I didn’t and don’t want my children to be my identity because I feel it’s unhealthy. I feel that if I do that I will lose myself and in turn vicariously live through them and not let them grow at their own pace and move on in life without me. Anywho! So I’m glad that this rearing style has gotten some tread.

    • Kaitlin says...

      Ooh little addition to my comment. By people ridiculing me I mean people were saying I was neglectful because I told my son no. I was selfish because I said no. I was bla bla bla because I didn’t dote over him. I mean don’t get me wrong I absolutely adore him, omg, could NOT live without him, but i don’t feel it’s at all healthy to coddle or dote.

  5. Mmathapelo says...

    I am a black South African woman and must say that parents who raised my generation and those who came before me the same as the French, so it’s normal for me.The younger generation whoever, is being raised more like you describe American kids. I am definitely interested in the book and methods…

  6. Sassy mommy says...

    It is “just common sense” (or should be!) but unfortunately we live in a society that is everyday inching towards stripping parents of all authority.

  7. crysdawn says...

    I feel we have a far too child centered approach here yet at the same time not child centered enough. I kid cant go to the store with out strangers talking to or playing with the our kids perticularly if they are being naughty. Commits like whats wrong sweety and would you like a sucker or oh isnt he cute ect… Only undermind the parental authority to a point young kids think they can do what they want and if you tell them no or worse yet give them a consequence, all they have to do is throw a fit or pretend you are hurting them and a well meaning stranger will come a running !!! I have never been to france but maybe that is why they can hold a quiet self assured authority because they dont have busy bodies over steping and parents who dont do there jobs letting there kids run wild while the parent is too obserbed in there own wants such as text, twitter, electronic games ect..to control their kids. Im all for kids playing on there own dont get me wrong but with this should come behavior limets. My 3 year old nephew is staying with me for a few months in my small studio cabin.He wakes at 6:45 or 7:15 at the latest. He is expected to watch cartoons quietly and let me doze lightly or have time to myself until 8 am. He isnt allowed to play during this time or get food, drinks ect.. This is quite time he may watch tv only. His day starts at 8 am period. He plays with indoor set down toys (legos,playdoh,his art suplies, or education games on my phone) while I make breakfast because there isnt room for him to run around in my house, then he goes outside to play with his cars and stuff like that after breakfast l, while I read a book in a lawn chair, do outside chores or other outdoor activity were I can supervise his playtime.He knows which toys he may play with were and what behavior is expected of him. He plays by himself most the time and checks in for a hug or a few minutes attention. This is the expectation and the rule at my house but in public he is completely out of control and feeds on the atention he gets for misbehaving by well meaning strangers.Unfortunately behavior problems in public are the norm here and public tantrums are well rewarded. Id love to see the diffrence in france and how they deal with such behavior.

  8. Cat says...

    Yes, I’d say this is how I parent as well. But I do have to say, my family spent several weeks living in France this summer [myself, husband, and our three kids and my sister and her two] and I was pretty appalled at how the French adults treat children. [and by living, I mean we rented a villa so we could experience living there…grocery shopping, etc, not hotel style]. If my boys even looked at the toys – placed on the BOTTOM row of a rack – the store employee would YELL at them NOT TO TOUCH. The kids received terrible treatment everywhere we went – if they skipped down the sidewalk, people would tell them to MOVE [even if the kids weren’t in the way!], adults wouldn’t hold the door for my littlest ones – 4 and 15 mos at the time] if they happen to be coming right after them. My husband and I firmly believe and practice what is written above, but we were pretty shocked at how adult strangers treated our well-behaved, well-traveled kids in France. Even at some restaurants, where there were clearly plenty of tables, they would eye our party with 5 kids and say they were “full.” More evident of the disregard for children was the fact that even the “family” restaurants which had children’s menus did not have high chairs. What a nuisance! It was disappointing, and the difference was much noticed as we traveled on to Italy next, where people hugged the kids on the street and there were high chairs everywhere, changing tables, etc.

    • Tanya says...

      Loved reading your comment!!! Thank you for sharing your experience!

    • Torcuata says...

      I’m married to a French man and what I have seen and hated everytime I visit France is how young adults treat their parents. They yell at their parents and tell them horrible things. I haven’t read the book and I won’t because they make people believe they do everything perfect but they fail as everybody else. I get really upset when people talk about French women as if they’re the only ones who don’t put on wait when they’re pregnant, etc. The only advice that I give to myself every morning is: love your child and be authentic. No matter what people say.

  9. B says...

    This is how I parent naturally, didn’t need to read any books to figure it out, it’s pretty much common sense. I’m not French either, all American . I don’t think it should even be an ethnicity issue. Parents all parent differently, there is no right / wrong way to parent because each one of us is different and unique. As long as there is lots of love you cannot go wrong. Parents need to stop comparing themselves to one another and take a moment to pat themselves on the back and trust in their own ways and instincts .

    • Tiffany says...

      Yesss! Was thinking the exact same thing…

    • Nina says...

      Although I feel I parent similar to what is detailed in this post. I agree with you as well, as parents we need less judgement and more support of each other. No one person is the same and same goes for parenting styes.

    • Karlie says...

      Agreed. The other interesting point people don’t think about is how these children behave past the toddler years. Having spent time in France as a college student I can say that there are lots of teenage/adult behaviors that are considered normal I hope my children don’t take part in. Love and pray and do your best. Don’t always look outward for answers that innately found inside.

    • AGREED. I am a Mother of six and all of my children were so different I parented each of them differently. I never had anyone complain “You love Him/Her more than me!” whoever comments “You treat Him/Her different than me.” I can appreciate their observation and reply” I certainly hope so….they are different people” It also gives us an opening to impart a little wisdom, insight, and a different perspective to one (or more) of the most important people in our lives.

  10. Ashley says...

    I believe these to be universal. Unfortunately, many American parents have lost common sense but their grandparents had it and raised their children in a fashion similar to the French. My husband and I approach things very much the same way with our children. We have a 12 year old boy, an 11 year old boy, a 1 year old girl and a baby on the way. If they were not all made to learn to wait then my husband and I would be at their beck and call every moment of the day. All of our children began sleeping 6-7 hours a night by the time they were 9 weeks old and we dealt with RSV and Jaundice in the early weeks after their birth. Our youngest sleeps roughly 10 hours a night with 2 naps during the day. She is calm and can play on her own for quite some time. All of our children have been easy to take to restaurants and our two boys understand what it is like to live in an adult world. We tell them that we are raising them to be adults, not children and pray that they will become Godly men.

    • Paulina says...

      I agree with you.

  11. Natalie says...

    This way of parenting does sound very interesting. The only thing that bugs me is letting a baby cry it out. It is harmful to a baby under 12 months to be left “crying it out” in any cercumstance. This is because they are learning, at this stage of life, how to trust people and the world. If a baby under 12 months experiences neglect he or she will have many issues.

    • Lauren says...

      The book talks about letting the child cry it out for a few minutes at a time, mainly focusing on not jumping up to hold them everytime they make a noise in their sleep. It’s not neglect, it’s a choice people make. Many times, the child is not fully awake, and someone picking them up actually does wake them. If you choose not to do it, that is your right as a parent. There is just as much research showing that crying it out for a few moments, in certain circumstances, is beneficial.

    • Anni says...

      I’m a bit of a hippy mum and co-sleep with my little ones, so there’s no real rushing to attend them or letting them cry it out, but I’ve noticed something interesting. For both my little boy (now 7 years) and my daughter (now 6 months), there’s a stage around about 6 months where they decide they don’t want to co-sleep with me all the time anymore, and they sometimes want their own space. Whilst I’ll usually rest with them when they nap, playing quietly with my phone, listening to music, or watching TV, they’re deciding around 6 months that sometimes that distracts them and they want to be left alone. Or they want me in the next room, or gone all together. Similarly in the night (or during the day when they’re playing alone), sometimes they cry for attention, sure…and sometimes they give a quick shout of “are you still there, mum?” which can be soothed with a hushed word or a call of “still here, baby,” from the next room. Sometimes (especially in my son’s case) they’re talking in their sleep, and sometimes they’re just making sleep-noises due to gas. It’s not so much about leaving them to cry it out or rushing to pick them up, in my experience – it’s about learning the nuances of your child and responding accordingly to each cry. You wouldn’t feed your baby when it needed a clean nappy, so why pick it up when it needs sleep, or ignore it when it needs a hug?

  12. we are american and we do all of these, except sometimes I hard time sticking to NO.
    i’m jealous of the parents who play contents with their kids. we don’t. night time is for me and my husband and my kids are there.

    makes me feel better about parenting to know others do what i do as all of my friends, don’t.

  13. Kris says...

    I guess I never realized this was a “French” way to parent… but I’ve always done #3 and #4. I guess with the babies crying at night, I haven’t done so well- but I have never let my kids snack all day so they won’t be hungry for meals. It’s no wonder there’s so many picky American kids when it comes to eating!! They get fruit snacks, crackers, juice and who knows what else in between meals!! If my kids are genuinely hungry and we won’t be eating for some time, they get a wholesome snack- like carrots and ranch dip, or a slice of cheese, NOT fruit snacks. And I think them playing on their own is a valuable lesson- they cannot and SHOULD not always be entertained- the less screen time and more real, life time, the better!! :)

  14. Jelli says...

    I read this book a few months ago and loved it. Most of the advice I agreed with and planned to implement with my 3 littles.

  15. I agree with most of the parenting styles mentioned from the book. I’m looking forward to reading the book.