“Henry should always feel that you’re available to him,” her mother-in-law said. “But he shouldn’t feel entitled to you.”
Ms. Druckerman touched on just that theme. French mothers, she writes, love their children as much as anyone, but don’t see them as their entire life project, to the exclusion of professional satisfaction, adult leisure time and quality time with a spouse.
“If your child is your only goal in life, it’s not good for the child,” one French mother told her. “Guilt is a trap,” another said.
Ms. Druckerman writes about how many French babies, at an extremely young age, sleep through the night, thanks to “La Pause”: Parents wait a bit when the baby fusses. Maybe the baby can sort it out alone.
This helps with more than sleep, Ms. Druckerman said: It’s also a crucial building block to developing patience. “I had always assumed that some kids were good at waiting, and others weren’t,” she said in the interview. “I didn’t realize one could teach a child to wait.”
Similarly, Ms. Druckerman always assumed some children were picky eaters and others weren’t. But the French, she discovered, simply teach their children to appreciate adult tastes, from their first year.
Forget chicken nuggets. The author attended a planning meeting for meals in Paris creches, or day care centers, and it sounded like a morning meeting at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Four-course meals are de rigueur for 3-year-olds, centered on perhaps a fish in dill sauce, a side of organic potatoes “a l’anglaise” and a cheese course, bien sur, before dessert.
But that doesn’t explain why French children, according to Ms. Druckerman, so rarely have tantrums, at least in public. She explained that they’re given a strict cadre — literally, a frame — to guide them. A nonnegotiable: saying “bonjour” and “au revoir.” It’s not mere politeness, but a way of acknowledging the world doesn’t revolve around them.
To one fellow American mother in Paris, it all sounds good, but doesn’t quite work that way.
Elizabeth Brahy, a mom of two who has lived in France for 17 years, said she thinks French children only seem better behaved because their parents are very strict with them — sometimes overly so. But when away from adults, she said, they’re not nearly the same.
“They toe the line when they’re with their parents,” she said, essentially because they are scared of getting in trouble. “But away from them, they’re worse behaved than American kids.”
While Ms. Druckerman admires how French parents stay at the perimeter of the playground while their kids play independently, Ms. Brahy sees something different: “You go to the park, and you see these kids running wild, pushing and shoving and stealing toys, and no one is disciplining them.”
It’s not all negative. “The things that work really work,” Ms. Brahy said. For example: “It’s healthy that parents here have lives apart from being parents. In America, parents put their kids first and live by the kids’ rhythms.”
Ami Salk agrees. A mother of three children who has been in Paris for 23 years and teaches professional writing to corporate employees, she said she feels confident saying something many American moms wouldn’t: “My kids are important, but they’re not more important than me. I also don’t think they’re more important than my relationship.”
Ms. Salk recently brought her three children to the United States for a summer visit. She was appalled at the behavior of some American children she encountered — some who never said “hello” or acknowledged her presence.View Entire Story
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