Life must be wonderfully idyllic for French parents. Aside from supposedly being able to savour their mille-feuille without getting fat, French moms also enjoy kids who go to bed when they are told, remember their table manners at the table, and are thoughtful enough to make themselves scarce when mom and dad need some quality time. At least in Pamela Druckerman’s imagination. In the latest contribution to a genre The Economist has dryly dubbed a devotion “to the failings that French woman don’t possess,” the American mom of three (presumably unruly) tots has penned a book called French Children Don’t Throw Food.
Apparently, she first began noticing the cultural parenting difference when a French friend tsked about her baby-proof, baby-toy-decorated living room. And then Ms. Druckerman realized all the French kids were sitting quietly at the restaurant tables while their parents discussed the contents of an actual newspaper – and didn’t fuss over the green bits in their pasta dish.
How could this be? She concludes that the French parents taught their kids to be patient and didn’t put them first. (We assume this means they do not devote hours to discussing which school might be more enriching for young Amy, or sleeping in the guest room so young Billy could sleep like a starfish in mommy and daddy’s bed, or frantically picking out every speck of spinach so that wee Tommy would cease his glass-shattering shriek while the surly French waiter gave their table the stare-down.)
Her book is really meant to poke self-deprecating fun, though of course it has ruffled some nationalistic feathers in Britain, for instance. “The title alone is guaranteed to get up our noses,” sniffed Judith Woods in the Daily Telegraph. Ms. Woods is quick to point out that discipline is fine, but rules can go too far. (Nursing babies, she states as an example, aren’t exactly welcomed.) The Economist observes further that Ms. Druckerman’s France is derived from mainly bourgeois parents. And of course those over-indulgent North American parents would argue that there’s something to be said for a certain joie de vivre in childhood, and some cuddles over story time.
In the end, of course, it’s all about balance. Ms. Druckerman’s conclusions don’t sound all that different from the current trend in North American parenting books toward firm boundaries and realistic praise. As Plangel2003 wrote in a comment on The Economist’s story: “I'm not an expert on children, though I've seen brats in all places I've been.”
And a few angels too, we dare say. Even here, where the calories in a mille-feuille don’t magically disappear.
The international parenting wars: cliché or culture? Do kids in some countries really behave better? And is fine dining in a fancy restaurant really our best barometer of good behaviour?