Diaries Magazine

Parenting Like the Parisians - a Contributor Post

Posted on the 13 December 2013 by Elena @croppedstories
I've written about French parents before. So it's not too much of a secret when I tell you that I am a Cuban American parent who j'adores French parenting (whew)! That's a whole lot of culture in that one sentence. Maybe that's because in the world of parenting, my style seems to fit in with that of Parisian parents.   Let me explain...   My ideas of being a mom, when I had my first bébé, didn't seem to fit what I had always seen. It didn’t seem very American. Much of what I knew about parenting in the states included sacrifice and identity loss. Many conversations I heard revolved around how much of yourself you had to give up, when you have kids, in order to be a good parent. I spent all of my 20's being focused on me. When I got pregnant, I believed this changed.  To completely focus on another would happen naturally when I gave birth. Like I would deliver a baby, a placenta, and a complete selfless attitude in one push. That didn't happen. Rats. By these standards, I was not a good parent.   I couldn't verbalize it at the time because I felt like a terrible mother to even think like this. I didn't want to say that I wanted more out of life than just motherhood.  Wouldn’t that seem like I loved my kid less than other mothers loved theirs? I was supposed to be enjoying every moment of motherhood. But I wasn't, and I wanted more. I wanted to feel fuller.   When I discussed this with my employer and friend at the time, a woman I admired for being as good of a mom as she was at her distinguished career, she suggested I read Bringing Up Bébé, a book written by an American Mom about French Parenting. "It'll help you see other ways of doing this", she gently nudged.   Until I picked up Pamela Druckerman's book, I convinced myself that I was the worst parent this side of the Atlantic. I realize now that I thought this not because I was a bad parent, but because my ideas about parenting seemed to fall outside of the parenting style I had always known in the States. Turns out I wasn't being a bad American parent, I was being a good French one. I seemed to be working within the French cadre (frame) of parenting without knowing it.   Once I was able to combine my French, American, and Cuban fusion of parenting knowledge, having bébé was much less stressful because a thought was born.... I could be any kind of parent I wanted to be.   Since reading Bringing Up Bébé, I have read other books on all types of global parenting. No one way is right. No one place has it all figured out. Like everything else in life, where you grow up and what you are surrounded by is what you think is Gospel, or standard. But it's not. It's just location. French parenting isn't perfect, and I'm sure not every French parent parents the same, but overall they have some secrets that work.    And these are some of my favorites...
Parenting like the Parisians via Cropped Stories

French kids have a healthy appetite that includes more than chicken fingers, fries, and pizza. They eat Camembert cheese, fish in beurre blanc sauce, roasted cauliflower, and beet salad. What?! That in it of itself is spectacular, but this is a big category for the French, and so there are a few concepts about the French's ideas on children eating that really stuck out to me.

Eating is a special time...
1. The table is set with real silverware and glasses. The mood is created; the meal is prepared. Meals aren't eaten "to go" or in a rush. They also aren't eaten in front of the TV (to avoid overeating). Eating is a special time. Specialness is created not just around the food, but around having a meal together as a family.

1a. Since the offering of sweets is rare, French kids look forward to them on special occasions or on weekends only, but they do not beg their parents for candy, cake, or other sugary things.

Veggies first...
2. Here's a super practical idea that seems so simple but that I had never thought of before. Before the main dish comes out, the vegetable dish is brought out. Sort of like an appetizer, but the appetizer is sautéed broccoli or roasted brussel sprouts. This way, you and your family get full on the vegetable plate, and your kids don't have to choose between their veggies and some of the tastier foods on their plate.

2a. In combination with bringing out the vegetable first, their unspoken rule of "no snacking" ensures that their children are hungry and eating at actual meal times.

Liking it...
3. Just because your child doesn't like raw carrots doesn't mean they won't like roasted carrots, carrot puree, or carrot lasagna, or... I think you get the idea. Try the same foods in different ways and on different days. I've seen this with my own child who one day likes shrimp and other days does not. Just because they don't like it once doesn't mean they'll never eat it, unless you never offer it again in which case, then yeah, they'll never eat it again.

3a. When introducing foods to your baby, your baby may not like the taste at first. Add a bit of salt to make it taste better, and then slowly reduce the amount.

3b. Sometimes, allowing kids to help in preparing the food helps make them feel responsible for the food and more likely to eat it. Maybe something to consider trying if your little one is a picky eater.

3c. The French stick to the rule: you don't have to like it, but you have to try it.

Sometimes as parents, we think we can protect our kids from getting hurt. I know I feel like that often. But here's a not so big secret... we can't. No such luck. They're going to get hurt.

Druckerman jokes that she knew who the American parents were at the playground and who the French parents were because the French parents were the ones enjoying their time at the park chatting instead of "helicopter parenting" and following their kids around in a Madden play by play, "Johnny is going up the slide. Johnny is coming down the slide. Wee! Yay! Good job, Johnny." Playground time is kid time. And they manage playground time in the same way they manage other aspects of their life, they "have managed to be involved [with their families] without becoming obsessive."

So lay back a bit. It's hard. I found it hard at first, but eventually it pays off. We all enjoy the park more when mom isn't telling us what to do or what to play with.

And speaking of laying back...
French parents, just as American parents, want their children to be the best they can be, but they also believe that down time is essential. Over stimulating kids with Mandarin classes, soccer practice, dance school, and art lessons can sometimes be overload for kids as well as parents. Additionally, while American parents found independent play to be of average importance, French parents found this to be very important.

Just as it is important for kids to have down time, it is equally important to have parental down time. Very important. Vital even. They believe that time to be with adults and their spouse is as crucial as time with their kids.

Us Time...
French parents believe that evenings are for parents. Kids aren't banned from being with their parents, but it is adult time; whatever you'd like that to mean.

Speaking of "us" time, its not unusual for parents to go out without their kids. When I hear American parents talk about this, it's a treat in that it doesn’t happen often. For French parents, this is routine. It is also not unusual for French parents to take a yearly vacation together without their children. They believe that the bond of marriage is a building block for a healthy family.

Lights out...
Some French parents set a room time before bed time for their kids. This allows two things: adult time and independent time. So kids might be told they have to be in their rooms by 8:00pm, but do not have to go to sleep. In doing this, they are allotted time to unwind independently in their rooms. Once in their room, the choice is theirs on how to use their time.  They may choose to read, write, play, draw, or do another parent approved activity, and in the meantime, the parents are able to unwind as well.

The idea is to set an “in bed” time and not a "bed time". For example, a parent may tell the child they have to be in bed at a certain time, but they do not have to go to sleep. Reading or some other activity while in bed allows the child to settle down and fall asleep naturally and independently.

French parents don't stop going to restaurants because they had children. They don't stop drinking coffee. They don't even stop talking on the phone. They simply teach their kids to eat at restaurants and to be patient. Patience is not luck of the draw. Patience will be built. And you will continue being the person you always were... just with kids.

Can I take your order...
Because French kids have such a healthy relationship with food, because it is taught at home AND school, going to restaurants isn't as terrifying for French parents as it sometimes can be for American parents.

I'll be with you shortly...
French parents assume their kids will be able to understand patience. So when kids interrupt mommy on the phone, they kindly tell them to wait. The idea of rushing off the phone because their child cannot be patient does not work for them.

And for the one French idea that singlehandedly saved my la vie.

Be Your Own Woman...
Becoming a mom doesn't mean you are no longer a woman, a wife, a friend, a sex symbol. French women believe you can have it all. You can be an amazing mother, a loving wife, a distinguished career woman, and just as sexy as when you were single. They don't fathom that life doesn't involve all of these parts. A life lived being identified as just as just one of these things is no life at all to many French women.

And for me, that's all I needed to hear.

Jennifer from Drinking the whole Bottle - Contributor to Cropped Stories

If you missed our previous post, Felt Pinwheel Flower Tutorial (great for the holidays), feel free to check it out!  They are great to use as gift embellishments and ornaments!  The supplies needed are few, and they are easy to make!

Speaking of gifts, have you downloaded your free customizable photo gift tags yet?  They are a great and fun way to personalize your gift wrapping! 

Happy Friday, and have a great weekend!

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