A recent Wall Street Journal article touts French parents as having superior parenting skills to Americans. The French don't constantly cater to their little ones as Americans do, and they feel no guilt about it, either. They don't ignore their children; they somehow find the right balance to strike so that they don't bring up demanding little hell raisers but cultivate charming, well-rounded kids instead. Apparently, I raised my third child the French way without even realizing it. I did it by necessity. I was too busy to cater to her. After all, I was still catering to my first two.
American Moms Find Child Raising Unpleasant
My husband and I had our third child seven years after our first two. It took me that long to get the nerve up to do it again. This, it turns out, is pure American thinking. The WSJ article points to two studies that indicate that American moms find it twice as unpleasant to raise kids as French moms. Some working moms are quoted as saying they prefer doing housework to raising a child. The reason is that American moms typically do not set boundaries on time spent with their children and tend to be over-involved in every aspect of their kids' lives, unlike French moms.
Small Children Can Play Alone
My third is now a young teen. Looking back on the early years, I used to wonder why as a baby she could play quietly on the floor for an hour (yes, she incredibly did that!) while I was busy helping the others with homework or whatever. By sometimes directing my attention elsewhere, I allowed my daughter to learn to play by herself, something the French consciously cultivate. When the French have friends over in the evenings, for example, their kids can play quietly in another room. That never happened when my older two were little. My husband and I needed to get a babysitter, even if we were entertaining at home!
Children Learn to Be Self-Sufficient
I raised my third as the French do without even knowing it, and there is a marked difference in her early teen years compared with her older sister's. My third child acts as if she is, dare I say it, French. Everyone always called her an "old soul" or a mini-adult when she was in preschool. And everyone was right. One day, my little 4-year-old came up to me and started reading from one of her books. I never did get around to doing the flashcards with her, so I was mystified. "How did you learn to read," I asked her, feeling extremely guilty. "From 'Sesame Street'," was her answer. So far, I have never had to nag her to do her homework (as I forever and constantly did with the others). I guess that early lesson taught my daughter how resourceful she could be.
Children Can Develop a Sense of Responsibility
Even today, my teenager is more of an adult than I am much of the time, especially during our shopping outings. She will ask me, for example, why I need another pair of high heels -- a thought that never occurs to me. I mean, who buys high heels because they need them? And during our last shopping trip, she refused my offer to buy her a cute orange cardigan, explaining that she has a perfectly good gray one at home.
Having Children Means Striking the Right Balance
It was amazing to finally realize that my kids did not need me 24/7. Having children does not mean the mom should give up her entire life. Having children means striking the right balance between being involved and being obsessive. The French, I have to admit, are right about this.
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