(Note to the 18 of you who do not know me personally: Occasionally I stop thinking about eating for a few seconds, and decide to type out a screed on other topics. This is one of those times. If you are not into screeds, no worries. Your regularly scheduled programming will be returning shortly.)
I have long resented the French, mostly because of their breakfast radishes. These little guys come in my CSA with some regularity and continually mock me with their suggestion that breakfast might possibly be experienced as something that you sit down and savor, rather than hastily shoveled in while standing at the counter and informing my daughter that if she doesn’t go upstairs right now and get dressed she absolutely will be late for school, and following my son to the potty to, uh, give assistance. Every time I look in my fridge, I am confronted with a vegetable that seems to be whispering “French people are better at this than you.”
And now this. I’m guessing that everyone has seen this article, which is making the rounds on Facebook and the like, but if you haven’t, I’ll give you the gist: French people are better parents than we are. Bien sur. It makes sense – they apparently eat better and handle relationships better too. Parenting is just the latest realm in which we discover that the French win.
Presumably the book gives more detailed parenting advice than the article, but based on the WSJ’s account, it looks as if the main difference between French and American parents is that French parents say no with more authority, make children wait for food and treats, and don’t always make their kids the center of attention. This is hardly groundbreaking stuff.
One of the real challenges of parenting is that often times, the thing that starts out being right eventually turns into something wrong. Take feeding schedules for example: when you have an infant, you feed them on demand. In the first few weeks, you feed as much as possible to get your milk supply in, and then, you gradually work toward a schedule of maybe once every two hours (or not – I know plenty of moms who breast fed on demand basically forever). Eventually you start to introduce solids, and hopefully something approaching a normal human’s eating routine. But kids go through ravenous phases when they have growth spurts or other developmental milestones, and it’s really tricky to know when to give in to their desires, and when to tow the staying on a schedule line. You can see how on-demand feeding could easily become the norm rather than the exception for parents who are just confused about how to best meet their child’s developmental needs. Especially for overworked American parents who do not have the benefits of 35 hour work weeks, or any guaranteed paid maternity leave (not to mention personal trainers thrown in for good measure). The point is that it’s a lot easier to navigate the trickier developmental issues in an environment that helps you do so.
I think it is extremely hard to divorce good parenting outcomes from social circumstances, and there is no question that the French parents have a few advantages in that department. How much easier is it to figure out how to best manage a child’s challenging and changing behavior when you have more time and resources to devote to the task? How much better do you feel about parenting when you have a whole social web constructed to help you manage things from preschool right on down to your abs and kegels? How much more important does parenting seem when you are literally being paid to do it?
I am just about done with the French perfection meme, because I honestly do not see how it helps me to consider it while living in America. Our circumstances are just very different. As for the damn radishes, at least I can dispose of them with a knife and a salad. I have a bad feeling that mommies and mommy bloggers will be talking about Bringing up Bebe for a while longer though.