French Parenting Vs. American Parenting

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From the article “Why French Parents Are Superior,” written by Pamela Druckerman originally posted in The Wall Street Journal Online.

 

“Yet 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.” French parents want their kids to be stimulated, but not all the time. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are—by design—toddling around by themselves.

I’m hardly the first to point out that middle-class America has a parenting problem. This problem has been painstakingly diagnosed, critiqued and named: overparenting, hyperparenting, helicopter parenting, and my personal favorite, the kindergarchy. Nobody seems to like the relentless, unhappy pace of American parenting, least of all parents themselves.”

 

“Could it be that teaching children how to delay gratification—as middle-class French parents do—actually makes them calmer and more resilient? Might this partly explain why middle-class American kids, who are in general more used to getting what they want right away, so often fall apart under stress?”

“American parents want their kids to be patient, of course. We encourage our kids to share, to wait their turn, to set the table and to practice the piano. But patience isn’t a skill that we hone quite as assiduously as French parents do. We tend to view whether kids are good at waiting as a matter of temperament. In our view, parents either luck out and get a child who waits well or they don’t.”

 

From “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD,” written by Marilyn Wedge, originally published in Psychology Today.

 

“In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. How come the epidemic of ADHD—which has become firmly established in the United States—has almost completely passed over children in France?

Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder? Surprisingly, the answer to this question depends on whether you live in France or in the United States. In the United States, child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. The preferred treatment is also biological–psycho stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems withdrugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child’s brain.”

 

I considered writing a whole post on these articles about how I would tend to agree with the parenting philosophy of the French. They have a lot of things right and I would even argue that children with stricter and more well defined boundaries are probably more enjoyable to be around. But more than me talking too much, I thought it might be more productive for us to have a conversation. So let me know your thoughts! Have you read these articles? What do you think about French parenting vs. American parenting?

Do you think the French are on to something here?

(I’ll go ahead and get the conversation started in the comments.)

 

Comments

  1. I’ll kick off the conversation with a few of my thoughts. 😉

    I agree that in America we have, over the last twenty or so years, leaned toward permissiveness. As parents, we often center our lives around the children rather than simply allowing the children to become a part of our lives. We entertain them endlessly and wonder why they are so demanding.

    Children aren’t born patient. We have to teach them how to be. In some ways, Lee and I have done a pretty good job at this and in other ways we’ve failed miserably. We’re learning and constantly working with our kids to help them understand that life doesn’t revolve around them. We do not allow them to interject in a conversation. If they want our attention, the rule is to place their hands on our arm and wait without saying a word until we are finished talking and can address them.

    Sometimes they are awesome at this – other times they’re not. We’re working on it. I’m also constantly at war with how much to entertain them. It’s easier to sit them in front of the TV or give out the iPad, but starting very young we saw the benefit in our kids learning to play alone and play together.

    There is so much proof that children who have a predictable routine and who have solid, well known boundaries are much more confident and secure. And security leads to better behavior. In this regard, I think the French totally have it right. In fact, French parenting follows almost exactly what Lee and I learned in the Growing Kids God’s Way class.

    I obviously don’t know everything about how the French operate in their homes, but based on these articles, I must say I stand in agreement with the French on this topic.

    What are your thoughts?

  2. Matt says, I don’t think this is unique to the French. Nearly all cultures have a leg up on us in this regard. This is not so much about the French being superior, this is more about the American culture’s preoccupation with immediate gratification.

    • I agree with Matt. I don’t know that the problem is totally unique to America, but rather to most affluent cultures who have the ability to give more. But the overarching theme of American parenting is to let them be kids – unfortunately, this mantra has spiraled into a generation of young people who believe they’re entitled to the things they want. This is a major problem!

  3. I saw these headlines, but hadn’t read the articles. I would have to say I’m mostly in agreement. We try to maintain a slower pace in our home, but that is mostly attained through our ability to homeschool. I think for those homes with 2 working parents, and the pressure to do it all, is harder to fit it all in.

    • While a slower pace definitely helps, I will add that many families that have two working parents still manage to maintain this balance of parenting – especially in older cultures. It has less to do with time, I think, and much more to do with philosophy in how to train children.

  4. Interesting topic. Bringing Up Bebe is my favorite parenting book, and I’ve read a boat load. Since I read it our house has been calmer, my kids have become more independent and I think our family unit has been functioning much smoother. Everybody has a different parenting style, but I really agreed with the practices she outlined.

    • Interesting. I haven’t read Bringing up Bebe, but I’m kind of fascinated now. I will probably have to check it out!

  5. Spring says:

    I agree with you, Kelli. American parents seem to revolve around their children, which leads to a need for instant gratification and the idea that nothing is of worth if it doesn’t profit them, individually. I think teaching them limitations (waiting for their turn in the conversation and such) helps them be better people in the long run. I love your idea to have them put their hands on your arm and wait without saying a word. I’m going to implement that with my own kids. 🙂

    • It has been awesome with our kiddos. It’s so much more respectful than tugging or hitting one us. 🙂

  6. Michaela says:

    I warn you: This is only part I 🙂

    First of all greetings from over the Atlantic – due to funny Internet I stumbled into this discussion. And please don’t mind if my sentences seem to be a little weird: my German is way better 🙂
    In my opinion it’s a problem with many layers. Two generations before it was no problem to let your children play in the street and we had a TV program that was a joke. It began in the late afternoon and there were only three broadcasting stations. So you had to engage yourself what wasn’t very difficult, because all your friends where around. But the parents wanted their children to live a better live and gave them everything they wanted and more. Parents experienced the lack of something not as a normal situation but as something you have to avoid. They loved their children and thought that things would be a good sign of showing their love – especially because they had not much things themselves. In the meantime they had to work harder to afford all the things they wanted to buy. Which lead to a sense of guilt because they couldn’t care for their children in the same time, it had become rather shorter.

    Time went on and crisis came. Today it’s a struggle to satisfy your boss and your family. I can’t judge the American parents but I know pretty much Germans. And I recognise that they (ok, maybe some) SLOWLY come from that track and try to find a better way. It’s often only fearing their children haven’t an adequate future that moves them. But they slowly register that they have to stop the ride because nobody can bear the distress any more (not to speak about the money). I have three children and if there is a decision to make, my husband and I have a simple matrix of two questions: “Is it important?” And if the answer is yes, “is it important now?” If the answer is two times yes (at a pinch sleeping over it), go through with it without hassling. That breaks life down. It’s not always satisfying for all involved but, hey, that’s life. As my grandma said : “you will die from anything anyhow”. In other words, don’t mind to long about things you can’t change.

    Interestingly the world moves on, even if my daughter is in bad mood because I didn’t fulfill all of her wishes. My aim is to find a balance between so many mobile factors: making your children fit for a further life, giving them contribution, not feeling distressed to much (and it can be distressing to endure the moaning of your children as we all know) and finding out my most important merits. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

  7. Michaela says:

    Part II (I warned you)

    To come back to French parents: we all here have an eye on our neighbours. They have more children than the average German family and it surely has to do with a better day care, so mothers are able to work without struggling to find somebody caring while they are at work. In these days breaks an old discussion open again: how much time needs a child with his family/mother. And here you need to see that every nation has it’s own history. In France it was always tradition to give your children as soon as possible into the loving hands of someone else. Even today the “mère-poule” (clucking hen) is a cuss for mothers who decide to stay at home. Just the other way around it was (and partially is) in Germany: long time a mother who decided to work (even part time) was a “Rabenmutter” (literally a raven mother which is not fair towards the ravens…). This was caused in our history, beginning in the thirties of 19th century and the developments after WW II. I think it’s time to find a new way for all of us. I know French mothers who envy German mothers being protected by law to give their children more time than only a few weeks after birth and then return to work again. French mothers often see their children only a few hours a day because they start their day early bringing them to school or day care and picking them up in the late afternoon or early evening. If you then think about “the evening is parent time” you can imagine how much time the average mother has with her child. I myself wished long time we had the French model with day care everywhere, not hustling all the time for a loving day care that takes nearly the whole money I earn. I hope that someday it is easier for all parents to decide how they want to live with their children without being blamed for anything, as long as nobody gets harmed. As the Rolling Stones once sang “you can’t always get what you want”. A truth I try to teach my children (and me).

    I have a Danish friend and she (and all Scandinavians I know) are truly relaxed. They don’t believe in the idea that parents are the only factor that makes a child’s future successful because there are so many other stations on the road to become an adult. That has become my imagination, too. As an African spoken word says “it needs a whole village to raise a child”. They learn from everybody they meet and in the end our children do what we do, not what we want them to do. I try to show them the difference between need and want (and fail sometimes myself) and remember the education maxim of my friend with seven children: do it with loving disregard. And I try not always to think about the deficit (what aren’t they still NOT able to) but to enjoy their efforts and progresses. And I want to get away from always judging other parents and their children. All families are different. If they aren’t lucky and they ask me I tell my opinion. Otherwise no mean comments or lifting eyebrows. When I have friends of my children as guests I tell them I love to have them around and the rules of our family. They are free to act different at home but this isn’t home. All of them are wonderful children, acting sometimes completely different at home but following my direction when with us. And they all come back with a smile. When my children are with their friend they have to follow the other family’s rules. By doing so they learn that being a family has many different faces and they become able to find their own way.

    I am sure we all want to be wonderful and loving parents. It’s good to look beyond your own nose and see what others do. In the end it’s Paulus’ words “prove all things, hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). Good luck to us all and a long breath 🙂

  8. Michaela,

    I loved both of your comments so much! Thank you for sharing your perspective and the cultural differences you see. You shared so much wisdom, but you also showed me that we actually aren’t all that different, us moms. We are all doing our best and if we are willing to admit we don’t know what we’re doing and will lean on each other and learn from each other, we will be making huge strides in raising our kids. We may be an ocean apart, but it sounds like we are in a very similar place. Thanks for showing me that and thanks for taking the time to comment. I really, really appreciate it.

    • Michaela says:

      Kelli, Lee,

      thank you so much for your encouragement and kind words. Yes, I totally agree and believe most parents are the same: we want to raise our children in a stable world and make them loving and lovable people. I am reminded of Plato’ s parable about manhood sitting in a cave. They can’t move because they are enchained, looking at the wall, the exit behind them. There is a fire in the cave and all people can see are the shadows on the wall from people acting behind them. That’s what they take for real. (Please read it at Wikipedia, if you didn’t know yet – very, very interesting.) And if I take a look on my, my Mom’s or my Mom-in-law’s work I can say you’re truly right, we don’t really know what we are doing but surely hoping the best. The difference between me and my previous generations seems that they didn’t bother that much about what they did. They had a clear system of merits and view of the world and wanted to fit their children into those coordinates.

      Today we have more possibilities and most of the time a better education. But no Eden without snake – we have to decide more. The blessing of being able to chose a completely other life than our parents lived can be a burden when you get overwhelmed by a stimulus satiation. Living in a city? Moving to the country? Eating from scratch? Exceed it and live completely organic? Become a vegetarian or, even more, a vegan? How much TV are the children allowed? Should they join Facebook? Which education is best? What capabilities are a must – cooking, typing, playing an instrument? Which sports? Should I drive them as a taxi everywhere or should they go by bike, foot, bus, train?
      My parents didn’t need to decide, they quite simply hadn’t the money to afford a lot of things. But if honestly thinking about: it didn’t kill me that I never got the pony I wanted for birthday (even not the riding lessons…). Yes, it hurt me back then but the skill to handle with frustration is something you need to learn as well. The point is that my parents weren’t cruel or selfish, they just had to buy more important things. But I was loved and on the other hand there were always guests in my mother’s open house. My parents taught me generosity and that hosting and entertaining guests is a privilege. The other privilege given from my family is the love to have (not only) a look at other countries. My grand Granny was Swedish, the cousin of my grandfather married to France, a remote relative of my mother went to the US (no contact, sigh), my grand aunt married after WW II an English soldier and, since Europe must act on Americans like a crowded village, I visited France, England and Wales, Poland, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Spain, Greece and (this summer) Croatia. If you are able to look open minded on the life of others it can be inspirational, at least exciting. In the worst case you know what you’ve got and can cling to it.

  9. Lee Stuart says:

    Michaela,

    GREAT WORDS OF WISDOM. It really was a great pleasure to read your comments. Its a great reminder that no matter what country we are from, what language we speak, our goal is the same. We want to see our children grow up to be loving people, who care about others, learn to contribute to make this world better and utilize the gifts God has given them. Sounds like you are doing that with your children. I wish you many blessings. It would be great for Kelli and I to meet you someday.

    Lee (husband of Kelli Stuart)

  10. Michaela says:

    I’d like to learn more about how American parents grow their children (or is it “are growing”? English tenses are hard for Germans; you transport so many different and hidden meanings with it!) Reading the coloured world of blogs I find a lot on home teaching (which isn’t allowed here), frugality and keeping up life during the economical crisis (which seem to have hit many of you much harder than us). Some things appear curious to me – not objectively wrong, only different. Remember that I have never visited you country, I am an explorer in a new world. For example I don’t know a family that eats a out at least two or three times a week (but even that is a subjective thing, I can’t speak for all Germans 🙂 ). Cooking from scratch is usual to me, nothing remarkable. But on the other hand ten years ago pancake mixes arrived at the supermarket shelf. My friend says they taste “chemical”, but I can’t find the reason to try it if I can mix some eggs, milk, sugar and flour. Paying credit card debts is completely unusual because non-cash money is transferred via ec-card to the shops (means from your account to them. If you’re not balanced and you haven’t got an overdraft facility, no money will be transferred and you can’t take your shoppings home). Credit card loans are paid in one amount every month. If you didn’t pay, your card will be blocked. That is less liberal but more secure and you have to think before you spend. On the other hand young adults are not that sure in money things anymore because they have more possibilities to spend money. And another difference: a lot less student loans. The educational landscape seems to be completely different.

    If I look at the news I see America as an overwhelming, whirling land of a thousand different lives. It’s not homogeneous because it’s so big: so much more space than here, but also a lot more people. I SLOWLY learn about how different it is to come from New Jersey, Idaho, California, Texas or South Virginia. I am a wondering child in a new world: all the time new input. Is there a standard? What skills are most important to you?

    • Spring says:

      Michaela,
      I love to see a German’s prespective here! I was lucky enough to live in Germany for a little over a year, and I just loved the people there.

      Americans “raise” their children. (I’m not trying to pick on you; I was always grateful when someone would help me speak the language better, and you asked. 🙂

      You are so right about different parts of the US being different, and in each city, each area is different. For one thing, if the average American family is eating out 3-4 times a week, there must be some families eating out every night to cancel out my family. We eat out once a month, maybe, if we’ve got something to celebrate. I’d rather cook at home. BUT I’m not an organic fanatic, either, I will still break out frozen chicken nuggets for lunch.

      As for skills to teach our children, I want to teach mine to be good people, to teach them to follow Christ, and to learn to be happy with what they have (whether that is a little or a lot). If I can do that, I’ll consider myself a success.

      Schoene Gruesse!
      Spring

      • Michaela and Spring,

        Great thoughts and conversation. Lee and I actually do use the phrase “growing kids.” We got it from a biblical based Bible study in raising children and I like the connotation behind it. To grow something takes time. You have to plant and nurture. You have to water and prune and sometimes even dig up and replant. It takes years to grow something to maturity and isn’t that what we desire to do with our children? We want to grow them into young men and women who love others above themselves. If you are a Christ follower you want to point them toward God so that they will continue to grow and be grown even in their adulthood when they’re out of our “garden” so to speak. We really are growing kids aren’t we?

        It is so interesting to me to hear your cultural perspective on cooking and credit cards. We have something similar to your Ec-cards, they’re called debit cards and like you, they take money directly from the bank so if you don’t have the funds, you don’t pay. Unfortunately credit cards are too readily available and too easy to use. We avoided them for a long time because we know how quick and easy it is to build up debt that is tough to pay off. It’s a tough balance and I wouldn’t mind stricter regulations on credits spending, but alas…we love our freedoms in America, even when they’re detrimental. 😉

        As for cooking from scratch. Well…I wish I could say I enjoyed that, but I don’t really. I’m rather used to chemical pancakes. Ha! 🙂

        Truly, we love Germany. It is one of our favorite places to visit. We would move there in a heartbeat, or to Austria or Italy, or England. We just really love different cultures and the landscape and history of Europe. It’s awesome! 🙂

  11. Michaela says:

    Spring, Kelli,

    I nearly peed my pants – after I researched my favourite dictionary site http://www.leo.org in reverse for “grow”. Another German meaning could be “wuchern” which is the English “to run riot”. That could happen when my youngest son is ten years older and works himself like a machine down my fridge. He’s a good eater yet and I remember my little brother in his puberty…

    I use credit cards myself, e.g. when I need fuel. That gives me in one amount our fuel usage for this month and I can imagine if we are in our limit. Today it’s a little better because gas prices are a little less than in the beginning of the year. And when I hop from one blog to another I notice that they mirror the opinions of their writers, they don’t speak for all. But it seems as if certain themes are in the air. I hope that we all come back to a more down to earth life, not always peering on what the Jones do. Not feeling incomplete if we don’t own what possibly all others have, finding – and keeping – inner strength. As long as we all are sure in what we are and what we do we can operate from this base. And I really, really admire all who share their situation with us. It’s sometimes heartbreaking when they tell how they feed their families or lost their children by accidents or sudden infant death. My impression is that some have to struggle hard because they or their spouse lost employment and they don’t want to be sucked into debts and maybe poverty. Is there something like unemployment insurance or do all families have to care for themselves?

    AND (whsipering): don’t tell, but I have canned raviolis in my pantry. Only in case my husband has to feed the children and Super Mom is rescuing the world and couldn’t cook a highly nutritious, organic, earth loving meal. Or the train was late. Or I needed no discussions with my elder son about food. (Two quotes? “I can’t eat yellow, Mama.” – looking at some corn in the casserole. “Nice, Mama, it doesn’t taste as icky as it looks.” A true, loving and sincere compliment from my then five years old son.)

    • Spring says:

      Haha! I’ve gotten the “Wow Mom, this looks really bad, but it tastes great!” too. 🙂