French parenting expectations part 1: do they make French kids superior?

MyFrenchLife™ - - French parenting expectations - Strolling along with the children

As Francophiles, one of our greatest joys is the insight we gain into cultural differences. Our cultures are so similar and yet so different – it’s remarkable, isn’t it? Let’s have a look at one of the most fascinating differences: parenting norms. What can we learn from the much-hyped French parenting expectations?

The question of the “French way of parenting” flared up a few years ago. But what do the French themselves think? To really understand the French parenting debate, we should go back to the beginning…

French Children Don’t Throw FoodMyFrenchLife™ - - French parenting expectations - Angry Child

In 2012, Pamela Druckerman, a US expat writer living in Paris, published a piece in the Wall Street Journal, soon followed by a book, entitled ‘Bringing Up Bébé’ in the US and ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ in the UK. She spoke about the “secrets” to raising the seemingly angelic French kids she saw around her.

Druckerman claimed French parents simply do it better. Although the French parenting style seems to “vacillate between being extremely strict and shockingly permissive,” they impose a framework of rigorous expectations, stressing patience and concern for parents’ needs.

Druckerman’s tidy lessons from the French drew a lot of criticism, such as this blog post by a fellow US expat, Liz Garrigan, in which she claims the French “ignore their children”. However, many also sided with Druckerman including an Irish Times piece explaining that French kids learn about delayed gratification from the start.

French parenting expectations: what do the French say?

These voices share at least one feature with Druckerman herself: none of them are French. The French reaction to the French parenting expectations controversy has been just as varied.

MyFrenchLife™ - - French parenting expectations - Quality Time

Some responses, such as this one from The Connexion, largely agree with Bringing up Bébé. On the other hand, Le Parisien published a piece that seems to gently mock Druckerman, while Atlantico questions the idea of the French woman’s “qualité de mère modèle.” And French parent Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry pulls no punches in this Atlantic article, where he jokingly declares:

I am considering setting myself on fire rather than put [my daughter] in French schools.

From this debate, we can see French parents don’t agree all that clearly with the supposed French parenting expectations and the notion that French kids are superior. And as Alain Mabanckou beautifully points out; la Francophonie is more diverse than many think. The Atlantico article implies – by noting that Druckerman interacted with middle-class mothers in the inner city and not the poorer families living in the banlieues – that her theory is only based on a selective community and does not represent France as a whole.

MyFrenchLife™ - - French parenting expectations - Mother & Child What can the French way of parenting teach us?

All this variation doesn’t mean there aren’t takeaways. The main ‘themes’ of French parenting expectations have been well covered, but as for converting these ideas into advice, several points stand out.

Delayed gratification, a crucial French parenting expectation, may seem impossible to instil in young kids, but working mum Jennifer Chung argues it’s easy! Similarly, the Matador Network has compiled a list of French parenting tips, emphasizing teaching your kids independence and responsibility. The Guardian notes French kids’ obedience, quoting one French mother as saying:

The bottom line is my child can have his own opinion, but it’s me who decides.

So, which parenting approach is best?

Do the French really have a monopoly on well-behaved kids? As this topic is ultimately based on individual opinions, the answer depends on your personal parenting priorities. So, the debate may be endless, but for us Francophiles, nothing beats listening to les voix françaises!

Do these French parenting expectations seem like positive ones to you? Let us know in the comments, and share this article with the Francophiles and parents in your own life!

Image credits:
1. ‘Strolling’ via flickr
2. ‘Angry Child’ via flickr
3. ‘Quality Time’ via flickr
4. ‘A Mother & Childs embrace’ via unsplash

About the Contributor

Alex Ray

Salut! I'm Alex. I'm from St. John, US Virgin Islands & I'm in my second year at Bennington College, Vermont, US. I've loved French language and culture for years. Besides French, I study politics, anthropology, & linguistics, and I'm thrilled to write articles related to my interests!

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  1. Sophia Marci-Anderson Jan 26, 2017 at 9:17 PM - Reply

    Great post Alex! Having worked with children in both countries, I’ve noticed definite differences in behaviour. Some good, some bad!

  2. aga marchewka Jan 27, 2017 at 3:33 AM - Reply

    I am not a parent yet but I am quite a good ‘observer…’ of the French lifestyle. I have also noticed French people has a different to Polish for example way of bringing up kids. This and few more things I noticed about the French and here I have wrote about it:

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