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What French Parents Are Getting Right and I’m Not

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We know the French nail it in certain categories. Offhand, I’d say they’re the undisputed champs in fashion, cheese, and probably wine. But French parenting? Is that even a thing? Turns out it is, and it seems I could learn a lot from it.

Our attention on this side of the Atlantic turned to French mothers with the release of an attention-getting book about parenting. The author gave birth to a child while living in Paris and couldn’t help but notice some significant contrasts between Parisian moms and their stressed-out, harried American counterparts. Parisian moms were able to sip coffee with friends while their children played nearby, without needing to constantly settle disputes and provide attention. The French children could sit politely through a meal and enjoy a greater variety of foods (not a chicken nugget in sight!). And French babies tend to sleep through the night far sooner than American babies.

So how were these French moms achieving such favorable outcomes and enjoying the journey? As it turns out, they start with a different philosophy altogether about what a child is, what a child needs, and how clear parental authority benefits everyone—most of all the child. Read on for 5 things we can learn from French parenting—one of these tips from “across the pond” might be just what you need!

1. French moms are comfortable being the boss.

Druckerman noticed that her French friends were completely at ease with telling their children no with conviction and felt no pressure to apologize to the child about it (Not sure how to say no to your kids and mean it? Here’s how!). They felt no guilt about setting firm boundaries and enforcing them. As a result, their children seemed less inclined to question or challenge those boundaries. Additionally, when French children misbehave, their parents are quick to give a firm look of disapproval, often negating the need to even say no. Bottom line: French parents see their role as an authority figure as what is best for everyone and are comfortable acting accordingly.

2. French parents are heavily restrictive in key areas and very permissive in others.

They call it the cadre or framework. In fundamental areas of life, the rules are absolute and not to be questioned, especially by children. Meals are at three set times each day and a small snack is served around 4 p.m. Children who are hungry in-between must learn to wait until the next mealtime. Bedtime is set at a particular time and not open to negotiation. But how the children entertain themselves in their free time is often completely up to them. They spend more time toddling around the home independently, learning to make their own fun.

3. French parents insist that their children learn the art of waiting.

One of Druckerman’s key observations was that, while American parents value teaching “patience”, we also believe that whether or not a child ultimately acquires it is more a matter of temperament. By contrast, French parents insist that every person must master the art of delaying gratification and that children are no exception. One mom shared with Druckerman that, if she stopped with one of her children during a morning of shopping to purchase candy, the child would be required to wait until snack time to enjoy it—several hours later. They don’t just encourage patience in cases where it would be ideal; they intentionally create scenarios in which it’s required. This philosophy comes into play big time when it comes to babies learning to sleep well in their cribs, sitting patiently through a meal at home or elsewhere, and allowing adults to carry on conversations or finish tasks without interruption. The French generally demand these things from their children and the children—miraculously—concede.

4. French parents know that courtesy and firmness aren’t mutually exclusive.

Druckerman recalled one specific instance in which a French child tried to gain the attention of her mother, Delphine, while she and Druckerman were talking. She writes: “When Pauline tried to interrupt our conversation, Delphine said, ‘Just wait two minutes, my little one. I’m in the middle of talking.’ It was both very polite and very firm. I was struck both by how sweetly Delphine said it and by how certain she seemed that Pauline would obey her.” It seems that when children know that adults are completely in command, losing your cool to correct them isn’t necessary.

5. French parenting places a high priority on training children to be independent.

While French mothers are very loving and affectionate toward their children, they don’t hover and smother as much as American moms. For them, the mark of a good mother is one whose child can play happily alone, or with a few playmates, without the need of constant adult intervention. For this reason, they encourage lots of independent play and are much less likely than American parents to swoop in and provide entertainment or fix problems immediately.

Want to help your kids cultivate some of the manners that seem to come naturally to the French? Take a look at our 10 Social Manners for Kids and 10 Table Manners for Kids printables!

So, in what ways do you parent like a French mom?

Here’s the book I referred to for this article.

Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.


Do you think it’s good for parents to be in charge? Why?

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