Monday, February 6, 2012

French Parenting, or, It's Not Just The Wine

It turns out I’m more French than I thought.

Technically, my bloodlines are 50% French. I’ve always been a bit of a Francophile, thanks to the exchange students my parents welcomed into our home during my childhood and the wine, art and beauty of the trips I’ve made there. That’s not where the affinity ends, apparently.

For some reason I couldn't find any of my photo albums on my computer from previous trips to France.
 I did, however, find this. Someone was playing with Photo Booth.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece all about how French parents differ from American parents. Delving into the French parenting style, the writer notes a few things – letting babies cry, saying no, delaying gratification, and other basic principles the French tend to follow- are the key to being a chill, laissez-faire parent.

I wondered, of course, how the French feel about having yet another item on the List of Ways We Are Superior to Americans, just below universal health care and just above champagne.   

But then I realized that when it comes to parenting, I’m more French than I am American. I just thought it was called “ignoring your children.”

When my twins were infants, the county would send a social worker to my home once a month for a few hours to give me parenting tips and to answer my questions (that sounds pretty French, now that I think about it). A typical American may have refused such big-brother-ish services, but I wasn’t typical. I was the wearied, depressed mother of two infants, and I was vaguely interested in making sure I wasn’t doing everything wrong. Mostly, though, I just wanted to talk to a grownup. If the county hadn’t sent someone, I would have invited in someone strolling down my street just to have another adult voice.

During one of the social worker’s visits, I put the babies down for a nap. As was normal behavior, they cried. They screamed. The social worker wanted me to let it go, said they were safe and tired, and that they would certainly run out of steam without my intervention. She practically had to physically restrain me from going in to save them. I didn’t go in. And 22 minutes later, they stopped.

I’m not sure I would have been the kind of parent able to let my kids cry it out on my own. Once I did, I was hooked on trying to make my kids more independent. Especially if it meant I could be more independent.

I noticed over the years that my behavior was unusual. For me, play dates have always been about adult chats occasionally interrupted by smoothing out the occasional child conflict. Other parents, however, would be on the floor, ready to act out an entire scene from Toy Story when requested. Some parents wouldn’t speak an entire sentence to me, for fear Junior would be ignored.

It’s not that I ignore my kids, exactly. But I don’t really play with my kids much, and I never have. I’m just not that kind of mom. When sibling spats break out, I say, “Work it out.” Liberal use of the word “no” happens here. I know what my kids are doing, I just am not the one necessarily doing it with them. It’s not that I won’t play Star Wars with them if they ask. Maybe because they know mom is a selfish, selfish woman, they don’t ask. Or maybe it’s because I’ve instilled in them the idea that they can do it on their own.

Here I thought I was just being a crappy mom. Nope. I’m just French. 

1 comment:

The Hewitts said...

This is a fantastic post. If only you knew a couple of other moms who might want to write a book with you ...