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On Sunday, I was happily raising my American children when my friend Marinka sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal about a new book that claims French children are far better behaved than American children.

At this point, you are probably familiar with the book, “Bringing up Bebe” since it’s gotten a lot of press. Unless of course you are my mother who over the weekend told me, “I want to see the Super Bowl halftime show so I can check out this Madonna.” My mother, who claims to have never seen a photo or a TV appearance of this up and comer, thought she was really impressive.

Back to the French. Apparently, French children don’t have tantrums at playgrounds. No, they play happily in the sandbox while their parents sip espressos and converse with their friends. They don’t throw food. Instead, they sit patiently at restaurants while their parents dine.  They don’t snack all day. They have one snack at 4 pm. They play happily alone. They respect their parents. They are polite. They are born knowing how to play the violin (I may have made that part up).

How do French parents raise such angels? They set limits. They are not afraid to say no. They aren’t helicopter parents like those animal Americans who snack all day and demand everything at once. AT ONCE!!

I couldn’t help but immediately want a French child. But the adoption process is so long.

So I decided to turn my kids into French children this week.

I immediately stopped giving 21-month old Chase and Harlowe so many snacks. They would get one morning snack (okay two) and one afternoon snack (maybe even a croissant to make it super French).   The twins were a bit cranky about not being able to eat non-stop and I think I heard Harlowe humming the Star Spangled Banner at one point.

Chase happens to be a big food thrower. So I set the ground rules. I told him, “You do not throw food. You eat your snack happily like a good little French boy. Your mère will be over here reading The New York Post.”

I’ll be honest – it didn’t work out that well.

(My apologies to my French friends for that accent.)

I also decided I would just let my kids play on their own! No more following them around like this numnut who actually crawls through giant play gyms after her children….

But I sort of returned to the role of the helicopter parent after Chase ended up face first in the dirt at the bottom of a tunnel slide.

Still, I wasn’t giving up. My older girls were in trouble with me because they had stayed up way too late talking one night even though I had given them repeated warnings. Finally, I told them, “You have lost dessert tomorrow!” The following day, I wanted to give them a chance to “earn back their dessert” but they continued with their naughty American behavior.

I knew what the French would do. I remained firm and told Rick, “The girls don’t get any dessert tonight” and then I headed out the door to meet friends for drinks and dinner.

I’m sure the French are excellent delegators too.

In the end, I think I am too American to be French but I’m going to keep trying. Because I do think there is merit to sticking to limits, demanding respect and teaching patience and manners.  It’s at least something to think about while I eat my freedom fries.

Note: This post contains an Amazon Affiliate link.

27 Responses to my french children

  • Shanna says:

    “I couldn’t help but immediately want a French child. But the adoption process is so long.”
    I also read that article. And by that I mean I watched her interview with the guy from the Washington Post. So I feel like I’ve read the book now. And it made me want to be French. Also, the author’s French accent when pronouncing French words was sublime.

  • Jenn says:

    Oh please… nothing beats South African children – ours are well behaved, play nicely together (unless they’re related) and are friendly and polite to boot!
    Nou Ja!

  • Ha ha! I am an American maman of 5 who moved to France 6 months ago, and I thought that article was RIDICULOUS. I hope it’s OK for me to drop a link to the response I put on my own blog (if not, then please delete!): http://toddlerism.blogspot.com.....brats.html. I’ve seen more than a few ill-behaved children here, but mostly what I thought was ridic was the author’s complete ignorance of how much easier it is to raise children here. (I get to say that, right? Because it is–for everything I don’t love about living here, it is, on the whole, a very family-friendly place.)

  • E says:

    I teach parents most of that (consistency, limits, boundaries about things like throwing food) but I have never see a French parent demonstrate them. I have not been to France in over a decade but I recall shockingly indulgent parenting. The picture of you in the tube is priceless!

  • Julia says:

    I happen to live in Belgium (which is culturally, for the french-speaking part, the same as living in France) with my french husband, and we were both surprised by that article. First, I have the impression they shout more, not less than any other parents I know. Secondly, tantrums? this is tantrum-paradise! or hell, depends on your perspective. and finally, I personally see quite a number of advantages in raising children who dare to develop an opinion before the age of 25

  • Sarka says:

    I read that article too, and checked Madonna´s super bowl show on youtube days ago. The same things are important in my and your world 🙂

  • annie says:

    Since my parenting style primarily consists of telling my children “just a minute” then promptly forgetting what they wanted until hours later, I read this article with great relief!

  • Steph says:

    What a fun post! Harlowe and Chase are beyond cute in the video and you look amazing in the tube. Please tell me your skin care regimen.

  • Aunt Marcia (Guess Whose?) says:

    Another amazing accomplishment French parents can brag about is that before their children are even three years old; they actually can speak in the French language, with no accent. Something American children have to go to school to learn, for years and years and still have an accent.

  • Cara says:

    I must agree with most comments. I have lived in France for 12 years now (originally from KY) and have 2 kids. I also read several articles about this book. Certain things are true – especially the eating habits BUT no tantrums, are you kidding? Yes, moms are more fashion conscious and fit in general but it may be that they have more time to take care of themselves. A full time job here is between 35 – 38 hours here and most work part time (4 days per week) to have Wednesdays with their kids as they don’t have school on Wednesdays. It is family friendly to live here… but kids are kids. To reassure you, I have dragged my son screaming from the park more than once : ) and he was not the only one!

  • So funny. My husband read the article first and then passed it to me to read. He then decided that we should institute all the ideas in it. I think he really just liked the idea of having more adult time – which does sound good.

  • Sandrine says:

    I love this now I can take credit for all my kids good behavior and blame my American husband for the bad ones! But seriously like Cara says French kids do have tantrums, kids are kids, and yes most French kids are very polite and can sit at a diner table for hours while their parents and friends are drinking and talking forever but trust me it’s TORTURE. The French are stricter with their kids and less child centered than the American but I also think that French kids grow less self-confident as a result. So a little bit of both world may work, I’m not sure, it’s all so linked to the lifestyle and the culture. In the US people think my kids are pretty well behaved and when we go to France we are always the loudest family anywhere we go!

  • anymommy says:

    Now I know why I hate snack time so much! I’m part French! I adore that photo of you in the play equipment. That captures how I feel everytime I see a playground with a tube.

  • Riss says:

    Ah, yes. I too, saw this article and even ordered the book from the library. I was intrigued by the part (in the article) that said French families dont have to worry about health insurance and that many get stipends. I think this would lower the overall stress levels and make everyone happier, which has got to have a trickle down effect…I am hoping that when I get her book she will also have some thoughts about the drawbacks of french parenting. I also liked how she talked about the kids playing well on their own and being patient. I realized that my twins are built in patience makers… Do you find that your twins will easily play together?

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kelcey kintner