Sunday, February 5, 2012

Rooster parenting?

Last year we had the Tiger mother and the Lemur father. For this year's instalment, we turn to France and an article published in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Why French parents are superior?" (clearly cashing on the similar title for Chinese parents last year). The difference is that this time the article is not written by a superior parent but by a sceptical, yet ultimately admiring one. 

So let's play the national characteristics translated into stereotyped parenting style game: what is it that French parents do? For starters, let's look at the results. 
Soon it became clear to me that quietly and en masse, French parents were achieving outcomes that created a whole different atmosphere for family life. When American families visited our home, the parents usually spent much of the visit refereeing their kids' spats, helping their toddlers do laps around the kitchen island, or getting down on the floor to build Lego villages. When French friends visited, by contrast, the grownups had coffee and the children played happily by themselves.
Basically, French parents do not have to worry about their children's public behaviour. They play to themselves, don't interrupt adults talking and have learned to wait. Suffice it to say, you read this and you think: this is just great. Indeed, I'm pretty sure that is exactly what the parents in our household are trying to achieve.

But how do they do it? The word we would use here is "discipline" but according to the article the more appropriate French word is "education." When a French parent is saying "no" this is a route to educating the child as to what they should be doing and not an admonishment or punishment. There don't appear to be elaborate economic incentives -- carrots or sticks -- just a resolution that this is the way of the world and children should expect it. 

The article's author, American Pamela Druckerman, tries to find the dark side of all this but ultimately fails. She can only half heartedly attempt to do so by turning her nose up at the adults.
Rest assured, I certainly don't suffer from a pro-France bias. Au contraire, I'm not even sure that I like living here. I certainly don't want my kids growing up to become sniffy Parisians.
In reality, whether we ascribe it to French people or just a parenting style, the article does point to lessons: a large part about what we get in children's behaviour is about what we as parents expect. Want to have a more independent parenting style, then act like that is your right. Your children will get the picture and it is far from clear they will be worse to wear for it. Read the article. At least for a day, I suspect your children will get a little less attention.