By Charlotte Hilton Anderson, REDBOOK
Another day, another book criticizing American parents. When I saw the early reviews of Bringing Up Bebe by Paula Druckerman, a book about what one American mom learned about parenting from living in France, I was all set to hate this book. I rode the Tiger Mom roller coaster with everyone else last year, experiencing the highs of moral superiority when Amy Chua berated her young daughters and then the lows of realizing my kids were never going to play in Carnegie Hall. So swap out Chinese for French and it's the same old story of how American moms don't push hard enough, coddle too much and let their kids run their lives, right?
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Yes, actually. And Druckerman may have a point. In her essay for the Wall Street Journal provocatively titled "Why French Parents are Superior" Druckerman shares many anecdotes about French parenting but they all boil down to this: French parents believe that children are born into their world and their job is to educate them (not discipline them) on how to survive it. It's the adults' world and the kids just live in it. This means they forbid them from snacking, wait to have treats, respect rules, be obedient to adults and be all-around far more patient than most of typically think children of being capable of. (Duly noted by Druckerman: generalizations like "all American parents" are just that-generalizations.)
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At first glance it reads, well, mean. But then Druckerman points out an interesting statistic: In a "2009 study, led by economists at Princeton, comparing the child-care experiences of similarly situated mothers in Columbus, Ohio, and Rennes, France. The researchers found that American moms considered it more than twice as unpleasant to deal with their kids. In a different study by the same economists, working mothers in Texas said that even housework was more pleasant than child care."
While I wouldn't put it in such stark terms, I do understand the sentiment. And I wish I didn't. I don't want to feel like being with my kids is work. In the past I've thought that the solution was to make myself more like them, get on their level and so forth but maybe Druckerman is right in that the key to enjoying our kids is educating them on how to be more enjoyable.
Honestly this type of parenting comes more naturally to me. For instance, I knew from the get-go that I could not be a good mom on inadequate sleep so I was determined to teach my infants to sleep through the night. I didn't have a method per se but I discovered very quickly with my first that if I let him be for a few minutes he would often settle himself back down. Yes he might cry a bit but that subsided quickly and he became a champion sleeper. When I tell people that all of my kids slept through the night by 3-4 months they tell me I'm lucky. If I'm brave enough to tell them how I did it-I've learned to never say "cry it out"-many respond, "I could never be that mean!"
I don't think Druckerman's point is that French parents are perfect and American parents are awful but rather that we could learn a few things from them to help us enjoy our own kids more. Lesson #1: firm boundaries aren't mean. In fact, they're one of the most loving things we can do for our kids.
Do you consider yourself a "mean" parent? Are you tired of hearing how everyone else is superior to American parents or is there something yet to be learned from them?
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