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The French (Parenting) Revolution of 2012

April 10, 2012

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The French (Parenting) Revolution of 2012

By now I’m guessing you’ve heard about Pamela’s Druckerman’s very persuasive book Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting which asserts that Americans should look to France for the answers to our current parenting perplexities. (Note to self and to my publicist: Nothing like calling out an entire nation to get your book some publicity.)

We went from tigers moms to French students so quickly. I can’t wait to see what’s next…

But before you move your family to France (they only have one Disney park, FYI—yawn), let’s note some facts. Then I’d like to share my takeaways from the book and this whole new sensation.

Fact #1: There are good parents all over America and not-so-good parents all over America (i.e., ones that just don’t care to try).

Fact #2: There are good parents all over France and not-so-good parents all over France. (Many French are now coming out with the shocking truth that they have actually witnessed tantrums and disrespectful children in their homeland. Gasp!)

Fact #3: Parenting is hard work.

Okay so given these irrefutable facts, let’s dive right into my takeaways from the whole French phenomenon. Druckerman raises interesting questions and is indeed onto some worthy observations. Much like her, I have been on a mission to decipher what parenting strategies are successful and which ones fall short. Unlike her, I don’t think the answers have anything to do with where you live.

Discipline=Teaching
By far Druckerman’s best “discovery,” which I was also able to discern in the San Francisco Bay Area, is the fact that discipline should be more about teaching/education and less about punishment. But this one goes back to Dr. Sears, and even further back to the 14th century Latin meaning of the word. If today’s parents can make just this one conceptual shift, they would find parenting an entirely more manageable undertaking.

Anytime your children encounters frustration or a challenge, first help them articulate the issue. Young children need a lot of help and encouragement with this step. Then, decipher the lessons (just narrate a bit) and look to solutions together. That, my friend, is called “discipline” and will be much, much more effective than punishment. (Ironically, most parents’ attempts at punishment are serving to reinforce the very behaviors they are trying to curb).

As I explain in my book, “When you treat each pitfall as a chance for your child to grow stronger and wiser, then each test is a means to strengthen your bond with your child and for her to ultimately succeed.”

Virtuous Indeed
Teaching children patience is another concept Druckerman claims they do better in France. Hello! Our entire nation is and has always been about bigger and faster. To think our children would not mirror and embody this would be ridiculously naive. Indeed we should all make more efforts to teach our children to be more patient and learn how to wait. Still, there are plenty parents in the good ole’ USA that practice and preach patience daily. It starts with us all being more aware of our own impatience and modeling and asking patience from our children—patiently. (If only there were an app for that… Oh wait, the whole idea behind apps is to make everything quicker!)

I think it’s all about living in the moment and enjoying the journey. In the final chapter of my book, titled “Live and Enjoy,” I highlight the value of this practice in the context of parenting by applying quotes from some of the greatest coaches of all time. I think Mike Tomlin, Super Bowl winning coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, says it most succinctly: “Be where you’re at.”

Confidence is Contagious
Druckerman points out that French parents guide their children in a way that is “both very polite and very firm.” Amen. I’ve seen plenty of confident and direct parents right here in the U.S. We needn’t venture to Cannes to witness such spectacles. (Wait, maybe I could write that off somehow… Nah, scratch that.)

Confidence and sincerity are indeed key. But why take it from me when you can take it from Vince Lombardi? “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” Keep that in mind the next time you’re imparting wisdom to your child.

Over/Under
Druckerman says Americans are “overparenting.” I think that generalization misses the mark. Sure some Americans do this, but just as many are “underparenting.”

What’s the common denominator? If you ask me, it’s that we’re all stressed out over here. We react to it in different ways. It’s a bad mix with the demands of parenting.


Enjoy Your Child
That brings me to the ultimate parenting conclusion—the one I came to from all my research and experience as a parenting coach. The one that Dr. Sears, Pamela Druckerman, the French, and the Americans can all agree on: We all need to relax and be more conscious of the energy we’re bringing to this whole parenting journey. I said it. I’m not judging—I said “we.” Let’s all slow down, breathe, and try to get through this thing called life. From this space, the solutions will be much easier to detect. Heck, we may even enjoy our children. Call me crazy, but I’m thinking if we start there, our kids might just mellow out a bit too.

Merci beaucoup.

Tom Limbert is a Parent Coach in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found online at parentcoachtom.com. Tom has been working with families of young children since 1992. He has a Master’s degree in education with an emphasis in early childhood development. He is the author of the upcoming book, Dad’s Playbook: Wisdom for Fathers from the Greatest Coaches of All Time.

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