Are French Parents Superior? Not More So Than My Dominican Ones.
The Wall Street Journal has published yet another article pointing out why American parents are pretty much doing it all wrong. First we had the whole Tiger Mom feature which highlighted American parents’ inability to enforce commitment, hard work and ambition of any kind in our children. And this weekend, we got to read how French parents are doing it so well that they are in fact superior.
It seems that French children don’t throw tantrums, ever, anywhere. It also seems that French homes with kids show no signs of children living in them. “Why hadn't their living rooms been taken over by teepees and toy kitchens, the way ours had?” asks the author Pamela Druckerman, in a way so seemingly insecure and frustrated, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
Who doesn’t love the sign of children in their homes? Are we seriously feeling bad about this?
In reading reactions to the article, American mothers seemed impressed - in awe really - and ready to learn from the French, ready to perfect their imperfections as parents. They seem ready to toss every single toy in sight and control the urgency to appease their child’s every whim in order to teach them the art of patience and good manners.
I can’t understand what the big deal is in how the French are doing it because it was very much how my own Dominican parents did it as well. I don’t see any articles stating their superiority.
Granted, my mother wasn’t spending hours at a time in the playground with me because as a single mom she had to work to support us and pay the rent, so I can’t really say what our behavior would’ve been like at the park. But we learned early on to be grateful for everything we got, whenever we got it because we understood the value of a dollar and felt the impact of the many hours our mother had to work.
We never spoke out of turn. We understood and accepted our place in a room full of adults. Though I remember being loved and nurtured by my mother and know she cared for us deeply, I don’t recall her ever sitting down to play with us or help us do our homework. My siblings and I would have never dared to throw a tantrum in a restaurant or anywhere, and if we did, once was all it took.
Now, my own children? Well, it’s not quite the same story, but it’s pretty close. I don’t cater to my children’s every whim and I don’t go to playgrounds. I don’t tolerate disrespect, and I reject inappropriate behavior, tone, and talk back as a form of “self-expression” or “emotional freedom”. I am intolerant of ill-mannered behavior of any kind and though I know children need to learn and will push boundaries as they go along, I own my role as the adult, the parent in control, the mother in charge.
It is how I was raised, in part because of our culture, but in greater part because of our socio economic needs.
And maybe that is really the problem. Maybe instead of looking at the French, or anyone else, and labeling them better, we should just rid ourselves of this ridiculous guilt and constant need to badger ourselves as parents and adults. Because, from where I stand, the only difference between the French – and Dominican – way of parenting, is that Americans are riddled with emotional guilt. So much guilt that we look to our children for guidance in how to raise them and give them what they need to be happy and fulfilled.
We feel bad about everything we can’t control, so we try to control everything. The emotional burden we impose on ourselves as parents makes it a hardship and an unpleasant experience. Add an improvement in our socio economic status and suddenly we feel responsible for making sure our children never experience hardships or struggles of any kind.
If we can afford it we would never dare put our children in an environment where they would have to work hard to stand out, but instead would pay dearly in order to have our children placed in a position where they are easily noticed right away.
We feel that we’ve worked too hard for them to struggle, so we don’t let them. We survived our own parents. We survived being seen but not heard. We survived spankings, lonely playtimes, and the sad longing for that toy we never got. Why would we want our children to suffer the same?
But it is in the “suffering” where the character is built. It is from the being left out, being rejected, and not always winning that respect and appreciation is born. One of the most commonly used phrase with my children is, “Now you know” as in “I told you, you didn’t listen, now you know…now go shake it off, figure it out, or fix it.”
Granted, even I have strayed a bit from many of the harsher ways of my parents, and my children will probably never experience what it is like to be poor or hungry the way I did. But, I will let them fall sometimes. I won’t always hold their hands or have their backs. Sometimes, they will walk into situations and find that I am not there to help them out. I am raising them with a clear understanding of this. Of course, as a mother, any pain my children go through is felt ten-folds in me, but I won’t fail my children by giving them all I have, whether it be in attention, time or material possessions.
I trust that they will be better people, more compassionate humans and stronger men because of it. Through it all however, they will never doubt that I love them and maybe understand just how much because of it.
So, are the French superior at parenting? I don’t believe the hype. I’ve seen enough grown French men through tantrums so vile and intense that it seems to make up for all the bottled up angst they kept surprised as children. (Believe me, it isn’t pretty. I would take my 5 year old’s melt downs anytime over that hot mess.)
In my opinion the solution to figuring out and improving our own weaknesses as parents isn’t in glorifying how others do it, or feeling bad on how we are not, but rather in seeking ways that work for our own family unit, personalities, and beliefs.
Don’t fall prey to the “they do it better than you” hype in parenting topics – and maybe stop reading so many How-To parenting books. A little less guilt and insecurity goes a long way. Especially when it comes to raising our kids, whether French, Dominican or anything in between.