In France, parenting is very different. The differences range from table manners to temper tantrums and social lives to children’s responsibility. Although in every country you will find some children that behave wonderfully and others that are monsters, I find that more often than not, French parenting styles works. Here’s why…
Having personally spent a lot of time working with children and families in France, some differences are very clear, and in my opinion, work a lot better. Here are a few examples..
Who’s in charge?
In the US temper tantrums are not uncommon. I understand that sometimes your child with kick off in a supermarket and you will be completely embarrassed because he’d behaved himself all day until you were out in public! I’m not judging you, tantrums are a part of our life. In France, however, tantrums are rare occurrence. This is because the parenting style is authoritative. This means that the children know that their parents are in charge, it is important to set boundaries and you will very rarely see a kid that runs the roost. Similarly, mum or dad’s word is final, the kids might try to negotiate a little, but the parents have the final say.
Firstly, you won’t see a child with chicken nuggets or ‘alphabetti spaghetti’ on their plate. Children’s menus only exist in extremely touristy places, as French children eat exactly the same meal as their parents (which is often very healthy) and the only children’s version is a smaller serving. What’s more, they will usually finish their plates! If the child is fussing the parents won’t spend hours convincing them to eat their vegetables, they will just take their plate away, because I find that most children causing a fuss at dinner time want attention, it’s not because they really don’t like the food.
When I first lived with a French family, the children all hated courgettes. This is because the oldest sibling really didn’t like them and the younger ones copied her. Instead of forcing them to eat them, they would simply be given every other vegetable in the world and not focus on the lack of courgettes in their diets. Children will eat almost anything you put in front of them, unless you make it seem like a big deal. In France, children eat smelly blue cheese and real, strong camembert and other pungent cheeses, and strong herbs and spices from a young age, so there is no daily battle to make the child finish their plate as they are more adventurous eaters than American children.
Learning to be responsible
French children aren’t molly-coddled like children in the US. They are treated much more like adults than our children in the US. For example, where I first lived the children all took the bus to school which picked them up on their street and then drove through the village to the school, from the age of 3 if their parents worked and couldn’t take them or pick them up.
Older siblings will often help the younger ones or look after them when they are still at an age Americans would consider too young to be responsible for someone else (9 or 10 years old). Many French children have tasks and chores to complete and instead of seeing it as a bore, they want the responsibility and will take on challenges such as gardening, loading the dishwasher and setting the table from as soon as they are able. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not Cinderella’s little helpers, they won’t always tidy up if they’re playing and they’re certainly not perfect, but they do as they’re asked without being rewarded or threatened by punishment.
Not just a parent
French parents have social lives which don’t revolve around play dates and other moms. They go out with their friends, have regular dinner parties and have date nights quite often. This doesn’t mean that they love their children any less than we do, but they recognize the need to continue to be yourself and not lose a huge part of your life when you have children. French parents know that they have their own personalities and lives, and children can’t take that away from them. Furthermore, if parents need to go shopping or have a lunch date with friends and they don’t have anyone to look after the kids, they will take them along, again with no threats or bribery, the children are just expected to behave themselves and be patient, and more often than not they behave themselves and don’t moan that they’re bored. Also, at a restaurant or anywhere that a child might get bored, they’re encouraged to play with each other or draw or take a coloring book or toys, not an iPad or other form of technology.
As parents, we know how hard it is to establish a routine, whether it’s putting a baby to sleep in their own room, toddler bedtime or children getting ready for school, routines are extremely hard to stick to. In France, the family has a routine that rarely gets broken. Children wake up at the same time every day, they eat, snack, shower and go to bed at the same time, and they don’t wake up in the middle of the night! The routine may seem strict to you, but they don’t follow it as if it’s the law, they simply do the same things at the same times which with repetition becomes a habit and therefore a routine. Admittedly, in France, like their southern neighbors in Italy and Spain, they eat very late, between 8 and 9pm, which for our children would be extremely late, but the children go straight to bed after without complaint, and it’s just part of their lifestyle. Having a set routine allows parents to live an easier life because you don’t have to nag a child to do something, it’s just part of their daily routine.
Buying a gift for a child just because they saw something they wanted is a no-go in France. The same as praising good behaviour with a toy or gift, it shouldn’t be done. At the gift-giving times of year like birthdays and Christmas, children will only receive one present from their parents. Children don’t need hundreds of toys! I know you’re picturing a French child’s bedroom as bare and empty with just a couple of toys but this really isn’t the case. Children receive gifts from other family members, and when they have too many they will give them away to charity or sell them at a “brocante” which is the French equivalent of a garage sale, held a couple of times a year in the village. Like I said, these children aren’t perfect, they might get upset at the thought of giving away their precious toys, but if they haven’t used them for a while or they’ve grown out of them, just like their old clothes, they have to be given away. French people really believe “waste not, want not”. Waste is uncommon in French households. Clothes must be mended, toys must be repaired and food must be eaten, because throwing things away, no matter how wealthy or poor the family is, is frowned upon. I can give the example of me throwing away underwear when the three year old had pooped her pants and the mum took the underwear out of the trash to clean them up, despite being a wealthy family.
There are many things I love about the French lifestyle, and while the culture is very similar to that of Anglophone countries, there are certainly a lot of differences between the way in which we go about our lives. Click on the link below to see some books about France that I love for many different reasons!