Is Maman Mean or Magnificent?

January 12, 2012

This article about French mothers has me thinking about the ways different cultures parent. Things like, the French are wonderful about teaching table manners. Jordan told us she was in awe when she visited a Paris pre-school and saw 2 year olds eating bananas — they peeled them without assistance, carefully sliced them with knives and forks, then ate each slice, also with their forks. At age 2!

Or how about Sweden, where there’s a focus on children spending time outside. I was blown away when I learned there are preschools held entirely out-of-doors! Then of course, there are my English friends, who talk about how commonplace the idea of boarding school is. But I don’t personally know a single American family that sends their kids to boarding school. My brain can hardly wrap itself around the concept. : )

Another example has been on my mind all week. Our daughter Olive, age 10, is on a school field trip. She left on Saturday morning, and won’t be back until Friday night. A one-week school trip! They are at a ski resort 9 hours away. Can you imagine? Our other kids have never done anything like this at her age, but here, no one seems to think it’s extraordinary at all.

We miss Olive like crazy, and as usual, the house just doesn’t feel quite right because someone is missing. But we get daily reports that everything is going swimmingly and I’m sure Olive is having the time of her life.

Please share. What parenting styles/techniques from other cultures would you like to copy? Have you ever changed your parenting style when you moved to a new state, or to another country?

P.S. — The article also has me irritated because it makes French mothers sound so mean. I’ve spent time around lots of French mothers this past year and have seen nothing but the typical, compassionate, in-love-with-my-kids mothering that you can find the world over.  Also, the images of the very well-mannered Baby June were taken by Wendy.

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{ 110 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gabriele Burgess January 12, 2012 at 9:59 am

I am German but raised in the states and my Mama never allowed talking at the dinner table. I did not enforce this rule with my children but sometimes I wish my grandchildren would settle down to eat.


2 Vandegee January 12, 2012 at 10:07 am

My kids go to a French dual language school here in the states – half the families are French. I think in general they are far more at ease with sleepovers and extended stays away from home than Americans. They start at a very early age (even as early as 4!) Can’t comment much about table manners though – I think because many Grench ex-pats, they’ve left France to get away from that strict sense of traditionalism, so that kind of thing doesn’t carry through in their lives here.

I live the idea of eating a banana with a fork !


3 Cortnie January 12, 2012 at 10:10 am

Can’t wait to read this article! I’m hoping there’s some good advice gems to teach me how to teach my 2.5 yr twin boys some civilized table manners – sounds too good to be true! :)



4 Megan Flowers January 12, 2012 at 10:13 am

I was recently talking to a mother who had just moved back from Paris. She is a Los Angeles native but had married a french man. She said that the french mothers seemed very detached from there babies. She said things like baby wearing and breast feeding were looked down upon. She said that the reason is that the babies would be dependent on their mothers. She also said that babies were put into childcare as soon as 3 months.


5 Brittany January 20, 2012 at 9:24 pm

You will find that many cultural traditions in big cities are quite different than in other parts of a given country. You can compare New York to tiny town, Iowa and find life quite different. We gave birth to our first daughter in North Western France in 2008 and the hospitals and community were very pro nursing. I didn’t notice baby wearing as much so that may be true there. But I saw many nursing mothers and it was common and encouraged.


6 Amanda January 12, 2012 at 10:18 am

2 year olds eating bananas? And so politely? It’s so hard to believe! I just completed an internship in a kindergarten class (4 and 5 year olds) and I constantly had to peel, open, cut, and clean up food for them! Maybe we baby them too much?

And I have never heard of a school trip that long for kids that age. I’m trying to imagine me that age and I don’t know if I could have done it. Amazing!


7 Amanda January 12, 2012 at 10:18 am

That should have read: “2 year olds eating bananas by themselves?” because obviously 2 year olds can eat bananas :)


8 Jessica January 12, 2012 at 10:25 am

I loved this article :) I plan to homeschool my kids and this reminded me of some important reasons WHY!

I Remember having ONE class (besides gym) outside ever. One day in an art class.
I was in middle school when I had an overnight field trip.

I want to make sure my kids get a better experience than I did – traditional (I guess I should clarify American) schooling did NOT work for me.


9 hikooky January 12, 2012 at 10:25 am

I think that there is, like anything, a healthy balance, and I think that many mothers the world over find it. Of course, there is plenty of out-of-balance too, individually and culturally. That’s why we must turn on our brains and think for ourselves – look around and challenge the status quo in an effort to find what is best. :) Very interesting post!


10 Shannon @ A Mom's Year January 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Amen to that, sister. :-)


11 Frieda January 12, 2012 at 10:28 am

Wow, that article is mean! I’m German, but my aunt is French – she was a very typical “mademoiselle francaise” before she married my uncle – and she’s really loving and affectionate with my cousins, to an extend that my (German) grandma accused her of being too much of a mother hen :)


12 Lynne January 12, 2012 at 10:33 am

It sounds like independence and autonomy is highly-valued in French culture, cultivating it in children and maintaining it in parents! I think the French outlook on parenting is just different, but not bad or mean. Some of the examples in the article were extreme, and probably not the norm, just like a lot of the things we read about in the U.S. are not the norm. Now, regarding the mention made of children going to daycare at 3 months…I had the standard, minimum maternity leave, and had to return to work when my baby was 6-weeks old! I’m willing to bet that the French daycare “infrastructure” is set up to more adequately accomodate the needs of mothers returning to work after their maternity leave. Gabrielle, I would love to know more about this aspect of French culture. It’s not easy being a working parent in America…


13 hyzen January 25, 2012 at 8:24 am

Ditto to this! Except, my employer provides a “generous” policy for the US, so I went back to work full time when my first baby was 10 weeks, and my second baby was 16 weeks (because I had saved vacation time to add to my maternity leave). But I know many, many working moms, including those in professional careers like medical doctors and those in middle to lower working class like vet techs or grocery store employees who have to go back at 6 weeks. It is the US that is extreme in this respect, I think.


14 Tara January 12, 2012 at 10:34 am

This is interesting, indeed! I’m not sure the shock about mothers putting their babies into childcare at 3 months is warranted; American mothers do the same. Perhaps there’s a difference in whether or not it’s a choice to do so, I’m not sure. I also thought the article made French mothers out to be mean, but I didn’t think that many of the examples were all that harsh; rather, it was the author’s interpretation and aghast-ness that made the examples seem “mean.” In any case, it’s always a matter of interpretation. Even within the US, moms who allow their children to cry it out are pitted against attachment mothers. I’m sure you’ll find the spectrum of mothers in any culture, and you’ll also find a spectrum of children (from well-behaved to not -so-well-behaved)!


15 Bea_OT January 12, 2012 at 10:34 am

I’m multi-cultural so I’ve seen 3 different cultural standards for parenting. I can honestly say that there are always good intentions and differences in opinion, but loving your children is the same. I personally take the best, in my opinion, stuff and apply it to my son.

What a wonderful experience of living in a different country! I was born in a different country so I know it has shaped my view of the world in a positive way.


16 Ela January 12, 2012 at 10:35 am

I guess they just want to create another Tiger mom controversy with the article. Yes, you are in another country, culture, there are differences. I don’t think is so mean, sometimes you are getting in the middle of something you don’t know, many times I have to walk ahead so my kids will have to stop the tantrum and walk… I see how this sounds mean, but if I know they are safe. As with anything, it depends on what is relevant for your family, of course the society you’re in will have a huge influence, and I would love to have better table manners in my home. My mother thinks that I spoiled my kids using the baby sling and having trouble putting them to bed. One thing I don’t get is the summer camp, I’m not there yet, but I don’t think it’s for my family.


17 Lynne January 12, 2012 at 10:54 am

Ela–May I ask what you mean about summer camp?


18 All Unwound January 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Some parents in the US send their kids away for weeks or a month for summer camp during the summer. They do arts and crafts and sleep in cabins and swim and canoe. I know of one Mom who does this and others who where aghast at her 8 yo going away for so long. HTH


19 Ela January 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm

I grew up in another country, and summer camp is just for very wealthy kids, and I guess relatively new, my parents never let me go for long when I was visiting relatives, they thought it was way too much troble for them. Anyway, the thing about about summer camp is that I don’t like the idea of spending a month or more away from my kids, I can change my mind, as it could be a ‘vacation’ for me I know…


20 Helene February 11, 2013 at 1:48 pm

I don’t know how mean we are as french but i know that when we were kids, my sister and i had the best summer of everyone i know. My parents are divorced and we spent one or two weeks with our dad, 3 weeks to a month in summer camp (always themed like theater, waterskiing, horseriding, …) and a week or two with each set of grandparents or relatives, and often a week with friends or a friend would come with us for a week. And we always had so much to share with our mother afterward! It made for some pretty independent girls pretty early on. It was a real break from our everyday life and we got to experiment so many activities, so many people, places, countries (summer camp turned to “immersion” into german and english families.). My mom wasn’t rich, we had help via her “shop committees or work council” (i’m not sure of the term used in the US. and we spent time with family. All my friends were wildly jealous. I hope, Ela that you think about what it can bring your kids, and also, you can’t experience those awesome “reunion moments” if your never apart!


21 Kate January 12, 2012 at 10:37 am

Mon dieu! (I don’t know if that’s the way you write that) I just moved back from France and wasn’t faced with any sort of outward meanness or anything from French moms. Well, there was the one time I saw a mom slap her young girl in the playground and go right on talking with us. Of course, her child hauled off and slapped her back, which is kinda what the mom was teaching, right? I have no idea what they said to each other, but it was definitely cringe inducing.

That said, I’ve seen my share of “bad” parenting on the playground here in America, too. Mostly yelling at or ignoring kids, but still. I don’t think you can generalize and say French moms are meaner.

I did change one thing about my parenting style as a direct result of living in France. Have you noticed that French children, dare I say French people in general, are quiet talkers? I’m used to loud talkers, people projecting their voice over the din. Especially when trying to get a kid’s attention. This was my one big observation while there, that the kids used very quiet voices to speak and it inspired me to talk more quietly, and more directly to my own kids.


22 Heather January 12, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Kate, I so agree with you on ” quiet talkers”. We lived in Berlin for a month. The most noticeable thing to me & my husband was how quiet parents & their children were in public places (even parks!). At first, I’ll admit I thought it was kind of freaky. But now, I appreciate it and try to instill that “quiet talking” in
My children when we are out. I often fail!!! I am usually the one that is LOUDLY calling my children to “hurry up,” “comehere, ” and worst, “quiet down!”. :)


23 Joy January 12, 2012 at 7:44 pm

We spent 8 months in France a couple of years ago, with our 3 kids (7.5, 5.5, 2.5), and I can attest to the quiet voices. Which my Canadian children so did not have, lol!


24 Jennette January 29, 2014 at 7:56 am

LOL…..Kate, my kids areSO not quiet speakers! They are French/American children, but they totally get their loudness from their French Grandparents. I also have NEVER met a quiet child….and I have known a lot of children :)


25 Sophie January 12, 2012 at 10:37 am

I think a lot of things in terms of parenting are regional, though. For example, I’m a run of the mill English girl and I’ve never known a person (not even indirectly) who went to boarding school. I guess in certain circles and higher society it’s probably more common, but for most British people, it’s very rare.


26 The New Diplomats Wife January 12, 2012 at 10:38 am

we just returned from austria where it was much of the same, a very “time and place for everything” type culture. at first, we were wondering where they kept their kids, we never heard a peep – but then then we finally met some families, if we joined them on weekends/hikes/outside, the kids were running around and doing all the usual kiddie things, but they knew instintively where to change modes: the dinner table, the museum, when meeting their parents friends. and when i was younger, my parents frequently sent me abroad to french schools – some of those trips were some of the best formative and social experiences of my life.


27 Frumptastic January 12, 2012 at 10:39 am

Unfortunately, I feel like the author found the most extreme negative examples of French mothering and slipped them into her article to obtain a very specific reaction. I am sure that not all French mothers scurry along the streets with their toddlers crying behind. I feel like I learned nothing from that article.


28 Kathleen January 12, 2012 at 10:42 am

I can’t speak to the mothering styles of other cultures/countries but I can say that people here in the U.S. are blown away by the fact that I’ve let my 16 year old travel to Europe by himself twice over now (with more trips planned for the future) It really isn’t done. Folks ask me if he’s going because of school, and when I say he’s visiting friends, they seem very weirded out that I’d allow such a thing.


29 Ela January 12, 2012 at 10:42 am

Sorry, just to be clear, I do think the article was mean to the french mothers. I agree with hikooky, Lynne and Tara.


30 Robin @ Our Semi Organic Life January 12, 2012 at 10:44 am

I spent 6 years in British primary school (non boarding) before coming back to the states and I think it’s true that it was more formal, sometimes more strict and we too went on long trips like that at Olive’s age! I once went to France for a long weekend when I was around 7 or 8 with my school! School uniforms had something to do with it. We even had uniform shoes, coats, bags & (get this!) hats! Two sets of everything for summer/winter seasons. Phew. We spent tons of time outdoors and were expected to eat properly with metal knives and forks and clear our plates every lunch. Lamb with mint sauce in Kingergarden yes every Wednesday. The few weird kids who brought their lunch had to sit at separate tables in the back not with most children who ate the hot lunch. And it was a full meal with good nutrition; no mystery meat!


31 Kelley Jeanne January 12, 2012 at 10:54 am

I have spent some time thinking about this too! When I was teaching in France at the Lycee and College, I always felt that the teachers were very relaxed, especially with the older students, whereas in the primary schools the teachers were much stricter (almost the reverse in the U.S.!). From an outsiders perspective, it seemed like a lot of emphasis was placed on providing a strong, solid foundation, then giving some freedom as they got older. I loved how well behaved the little ones were – especially the sweet one cheek ‘bis’ they will give you when they say goodbye!


32 All Unwound January 12, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Thoughtful observation! I personally believe that being strict, well not wishy washy when they are younger lets you relax more as they age. They should know more when they are in high school than Kindergarten and should be treated as such. In my opinion.


33 Andrea Graf January 12, 2012 at 10:54 am

I’m so glad you posted this, I just heard a similar thing on NPR and how children in america are brought up with a sense that school is their job but helping out around the house is less important and starts a lot later than in many countries, for me it’s all about priorities, you can’t make everything a big deal and our culture shapes a lot of ours, I love good table manners but I’ve only taught them to the extent of being polite and sitting still. I love that children are actually taught to be more autonomous in other countries even though the thought of being away from one of my kids for more than a few hours or overnight kills me because we are supposed to be raising our kids to be independent adults not momma’s boys and daddy’s girls.
As always, I love reading your great posts.


34 julia fain January 12, 2012 at 10:58 am

I live in the US and I find we have such a range of parenting styles. We live in Minnesota–where many friends wear babies, co-sleep, eat organic, and don’t believe in tv. I grew up in Georgia (the state) where things seemed more relaxed.


35 Helena January 12, 2012 at 11:10 am

What an interesting post and article! Great topic.

I’m American, as are both parents, but my parents let me do things at a young age that nowadays(*) would get them written up in the news like that lady who let her 9 year-old ride the NYC subway. At 11 I was flying by myself (no escort) to visit family in other states – including changing planes in Dallas. No one in my immediate family thought anything of it.

However, I was also not allowed to have an umbrella until I was in high school because I might “put out my eye”… perhaps my parents were bad at risk assessment.

* I’m 29… to give some perspective to how “long ago” this was.


36 Chi @ Carousel January 12, 2012 at 11:17 am

I’m British with Nigerian parents and went to a boarding school in Nigeria. I now live in the UK and I wouldn’t say that boarding school is “commonplace” at all here! :)

My daughter will soon be going to a nursery specifically chosen because the children are taught and expected to serve/prepare their own snacks, lunches, etc. and clean up after themselves amongst other things.


37 kim January 12, 2012 at 11:18 am

Take the article with a grain of salt. The author is portraying one point of view, and doing so with the intent to write a popular article.

We live in an earth-mom, gentle discipline, organic, baby-wearing metropolitan area, but 20 minutes away when visiting a Wal*Mart, I have seen (on more than one occasion) the type of parental behavior that warrants a call to CPS. In Paris, it is quite possible that most parents raise their children in the way described. However, outside the epicenter there may be a more relaxed approach.

Either way, the article was fascinating!


38 Rosa January 12, 2012 at 11:27 am

Thanks for writing about this. I “sometimes” have an issue with even sleep away camp. But the older I get, and the older my kids get, the more independence I want to provide for them. Our Montessori school has a philosophy of independence that my husband can’t even take. He won’t let our daughter, 3-years-old, pour herself something to drink. We, Americans, control so much of our children’s day to day interactions. I am starting to want my kids to be more independent. And they are of the age to be so. I am planning on doing more things that will allow them to be independent, but hopefully, safe.


39 pia January 12, 2012 at 11:28 am

i’m a german who worked as a au pair in the states (15 years ago). i have a french friend with two boys and she is very strict. manners are very important to her. there is no cuddling or kissing (accept when the boys come and go). a lot of her behaviour remains me of my own childhood . we had the freedom to do what ever we wanted as long as we behaved ourselves. adults didnt’t take much interest in us as long as we behaved in public, at school and showed good manners. when i came to the states i thought it was strange how present american parents were, how they organized there children’s life. i found it very strange that all the moms stayed at home. (i grew up in eastgermany where over 95% of all moms worked, in fakt i didn’t know one single mom who didn’t had a job). with my three children i try to find a way in between. i stayed at home for 8 years untill the last turned three. my children went to kindergarden 6 hours a day, but they started at different ages(between 2-3 years, when they were ready for it). we teach them table manners and ask them to use them in public (and explain to them why we find it important) but at home they can eat with there fingers if they like because we feel this is importent too. we wan’t our children to become independent, to care about each other and there friends and family. we don’t make schedules for our kids. since our children were able to speak, they were free to invite or go to friends as long as they organize it themselves ( ask the other parents directly or make phonecalls).
as in sweden we have waldkindergardens all over the country. waldkindergarten means forrestkindergarden. kindergarden out-of-doors all day long, 5 days a week. i love that idea too. and the children love it too. sometimes these kindergardens are on small farms with animals like sheep, chickens etc.
our kids started 1week field trips in there last year in kindergarden, ages 5 – 6 and since then they went on field trips every year at the end of the schoolyear. so far they always loved it.


40 shalini January 12, 2012 at 11:29 am

2 year olds eating bananas with a fork is impressive although a bit excessive too. I do think that each generation is baby-ing their children more than the previous one, me included. As for cultural differences on boarding schools, I’m Indian and spent 7 years in boarding school from almost 8 and a half years to 16 years of age. The boarding school system is quite normal in India due to the British Raj. I have to say that boarding school was a blast. The friends I made from when I was 8 years old are still good friends and it’s not a horrible experience like most people think it to be.


41 Kirsten January 12, 2012 at 11:31 am

What aterrible articel. Every single situation the journalist described i have wittnessed or heard about in other european countries, and i have been to quite a few, with friends all over. Its too generalising and just not true.

Just not good journalism


42 Liis January 12, 2012 at 11:44 am

Babywearing and breastfeeding and natural births – these are a norm in Estonia. Women have a paid leave for 18 months and can stay at home up to 3 years. Normally, they stay about 1,5-2 years at home before returning to work. Their job is usually guaranteed. There is no daycare available for children younger than a year.

As far as staying away from parents on trips goes, this is also my experience from Estonia. I also teach my children to wait their turn when I am talking with a grownup. It is not in the way you do not have a say and stay quiet, but I just want them to be patient and better their self-control. Preschoolers also spend much more time outside in Estonia – 2-3 hours and they are expected to wear proper clothing – during winter it is snow boots, snow suits, etc. Also, when you have p.e. at school, then you change clothes for that and afterwards change back and you wash yourself in a shower.

What I really like here in the States is how schools involve parents and have parents come in and do stuff at school. My daughter enjoys it immensely when I can show up (which is not often due to having an infant and a two year old who are not allowed to be taken along). Another thing I like here in the States is that children are allowed to be creative and reading habits are installed from early on and they are not judged with bad grades early on. I like the different projects they do, it just seems a lot more creative than I ever got to do at my school. Also, I’ve found that children are quite open and relaxed when strangers talk to them and are not that shy. My upbringing was probably more strict and I remember not feeling too comfortable at first when talking to sb I didn’t know (I do not mean complete strangers on a street, but sb my parents knew for example).

As far as manners and eating etc goes, I do tend to prefer my experience vs American one. When I look at my child’s school menu here I cannot see how she would be able to get her stomach full – each week the same exact meals – pizza, hamburger, roll accompanied with chocolate milk. And then they stress it is a whole grain roll or whatever. She is eating mostly bread (flour based) things each day at school – not a hearty soup, mashed potatoes or sth similar. Also, I think general tidiness is expected and taught more in daycare in Estonia and I stress good table manners at home too.

Another thing different – small children do not usually use strollers if they are already 2 and walking well. And toilet training starts early and by 2- 2,5, children are toilet trained (not all children of course, but in general).


43 Isa January 12, 2012 at 11:48 am

Being German, but raising my children in Finland, I have thought about this topic a lot. There are a few things here that I used to find odd or even cruel — such as letting your baby sleep outdoors in minus 20 degrees C — but once you understand the culture, you realize that parenting behaviors are usually an adaptation to environmental factors. In the north, there isn’t enough sunlight during the winter months and vitamin D is hard to come by, so a habit of emphasizing outdoor play and even outdoor sleep ensured the kids got enough vitamin D in times when such wasn’t readily available from the pharmacy. I am sure something similar is true for the strong emphasis on manners employed by French (and also German) moms. It may have something to do with the nobility trying to set themselves apart from the rest, and the rest trying to emulate them, and then later on, the nobility trying to come across as polite so as to avoid being be-headed. Also, I have noticed that the French wash their laundry in much colder water than some other countries (you could argue they are environmentally aware!), and as we all know, food stains are hard to get out in the cold cycle. Who knows, that might be a reason why children learn to eat neatly.

Ha, I am just blabbering. I really don’t know. :) Interesting topic, for sure!


44 smee January 12, 2012 at 11:52 am

Any parent of an average child without special needs (and for some with special needs) the key to getting *any* behaviour form a child is consistency. Knowing what result will happen for any given action. You want a child to cut up a banana and eat it with a fork, make that the norm, and the kid will follow. However, if you eat it with a fork this morning and then *you* peel it for the kid in the car and tell him “just eat it!” – 2 different set of rules for the same situation = confusion in a kid’s mind.

Let’s face it, there are certain things which happen consistently every day which need no explanation to any child so the child reacts the exact same way each time they are exposed to that situation; like the sun rising. Every day that huge bright hot ball comes up over the horizon…no need to get excited, big deal, pretty day. However if the child’s bedtime is 10:00 one night 8:00 the next, and “when we get home!” the following, this isn’t consistent and *the child* rising when the sun comes through the window will be a trial most mornings.

For some, consistency is considered to harsh, a structured schedule to confining, and teaching regime too much! The fact of it is that it is much easier to be consistent than to keep the kids guessing how to react to any given situation.

Children, although taught early to do chores, eat and play with manners, to play out of doors, when and when not to interact with adults, and how to explore correctly in different environments, etc. will be label “the happiest kids I know!” and “well behaved!” -because consistency will clue them into whatever behaviour is appropriate, and they can accomplish *their* desired goal -pleasing the parents and receiving praise form those they love.

***And the bonus is: When the kids reach 10-12 they will already have good habits and an understanding of how mom and dad work so those fun adolescent years won’t be so frustrating.


45 Barchbo January 12, 2012 at 11:52 am

Interesting article. As a middle school/high school teacher, I saw so many parents who did not know how to parent teenagers so they just kept treating them like they were little kids (which tends to work out for neither party.) But I do base a lot of my parenting on my professional experience as an educator/coach. I’ll make mistakes, do the best I can, and NOT let my child be the center of the universe. As my mom says, “Your marriage is the roots, kids are the fruits – if you don’t tend the roots everything dies.”

Note: My 17 month old does not yet peel his own banana but he holds it and feeds himself.


46 Margie January 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I like the French way, for certain things. Children need discipline. In North America we are too busy trying to be our children’s friends that we forget to parent. Let my kid eat sand, no problem. Leave my child at the hospital without me, no way. But this the the beauty of the world around us …. you can pick and choose what works for you and your family. We co-slept with our children and practised attachment parenting, but that didn’t mean we threw the rules out of the window.
Our goal is to raise happy, well adjusted, independent member of society.


47 All Unwound January 12, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Interesting! I think that US culture is so fragmented…not like Sweden or France really….I would be uncomfortable having my preschooler outside all day in the cold weather but I know they’d love it.

I do admire cultures that instill a love of education in their children. Art reading and science are so important.


48 tori January 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm

So interesting. I think there is probably a happy medium out there somewhere: creative, compassionate AND polite.


49 christy January 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm

My neighbors, who are now in their 70s, sent their two daughters to a boarding school two hours away. They only saw them occasionally. I simply can NOT imagine! And those two daughters are now parents of toddlers, and are planning on sending THEIR kids to the same boarding school in a few years. And we live in a typical middle class neighborhood. And my neighbor worked in the public school system for years! It boggles my mind.

The pictures are lovely! And that’s so wonderful about the week long ski trip. What a fantastic experience! And the two year olds with the cutlery? Amazing. I LOVE these posts that provide glimpses into life in France. Thank you for sharing!


50 Patricia January 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm

wow this is an eye opener, thanks for sharing this article!


51 bdaiss January 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Love reading the comments with all the different experiences! Our kids have sleepovers already – but just with their grandparents. : ) I’d let them go to some of our good friends’ houses whose parenting styles I am in harmony with, but most of them would think that was crazy. I travel a great deal for work, so being separated from my kids isn’t as traumatic as it is for some. This is why skype and cell phones were invented!

From my own viewpoint…I admit I find the “loose” parenting style many around me have adopted frustrating beyond belief. Not to say we are tyrants – my kids enjoy plenty of time for creativity and running around and general insane-kid-ness. Our kids have also learned from an early age (18 months-ish) how to behave in a restaurant, in public in general, and around other adults. How to be patient and not interrupt. They’re not perfect by far, but they do well. (They’re 5 and 2…and while the 2 year old can peel her own banana, I suspect if I handed her a knife for it I’d end up with banana “frosting” all over the table.) We hope we can instill basic manners, common sense, and good judgement early so we don’t have to work so hard later in life. This approach maybe the crazy result of their relatively balanced left-brained/right-brained mother. I’m an engineer by education/career, but have a closet life as a quilter/crafter/creator of homemade stuff. So I value discipline and focus while also recognizing the need to burn off energy and find joy in creating and cultivating your imagination.

And like others, I suspect this article focused on the extreme to provoke a reaction. Which is sad to me.


52 Judit January 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm

I was born and raised in Hungary and indeed, at around age 10 or 11, I started going away to ski camp for several days with my “ski group”. We drive to neighboring countries even. My mom was probably nervous, but I don’t think it was such a crazy situation. Financially, we were very fortunate that we could even afford to do such a thing but it was only because my grandmother was a physician and made decent money that skiing was even possible for me. Maternity leave was for two years in the seventies (when I was born) so my mom stayed home with me, but once I turned two, I was part of the daycare/kindergarten system. Almost nobody stayed at home with their children at that time and my mom was no exception. She was a single mom so I also had to walk to school alone and back home, starting in first grade. It was about a 20 minute walk each way and after school, I had to stay with our neighbor until my mom came home. Once I was in second grade, I was allowed to stay home alone after school, but I also had do my chores before my mom got home. For example, I distinctly remember cleaning the kitchen every day.
As far as eating goes, I was definitely taught how to eat with a fork and knife at a young age. My mother was very uptight when it came to table manners! I remember being scared that I wasn’t keeping my elbows parallel to my body while eating.
Since Budapest at the time was so safe, from a young age, I was also allowed to take public transportation by myself all over town to visit my grandparents etc. This was a bit tricky because I often had to switch from bus to metro to bus or streetcar. Looking back, I’m astounded that I was allowed to roam around a big city like Budapest without even the ability to check in with my mom (or anyone else) to make sure I was OK. Obviously, there were no cell phones and not very many landlines in people’s homes.
In other ways though, my upbringing was much more sheltered than my kids’ here in the US. Playdates were unheard of. Sleepovers were very rare. We had very few things and very little exposure to TV (only two channels and they weren’t even on the air most of the day) and popular culture in general. Not sure there was even a “popular culture.” Families tended to be more closely knit, partially because nobody moved! Parents also felt it was their responsibility to provide for their children well into adulthood, even once they were married. My children’s lives are pretty different from mine when I was growing up, but the basics are the same. My husband was raised in a small New England town and under completely different circumstances (stay-at-home mom, two siblings etc.) but he and I somehow agree on most ways of raising our kids.


53 Rosa January 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Okay. I just read the entire article, and I’m totally a French mother. I guess that is why I am leaving them when the youngest is 18 and moving to France. Seriously, I feel that all I want is for my children to be independent and seek self sufficiency. I left home at 18 to explore my independence and individuality, and I want them to do the same.


54 Barchbo January 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm

PS: Baby June gets more darling with every photo!


55 nichshee January 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I think this article from 2007 by Janine di Giovanni is pretty balanced view of French parenting from a US perspective – but to give it more depth you have to know more about the author – she is a well-known, very respected foreign correspondent (if you want to know more look at – her book ‘madness visible’ will sear some scenes into your mind you will never forget, she has witnessed the worst of war AND she has written some very interesting articles about the challenge of being a war reporter and having a child which resurfaced in the UK recently with the terrible assault on Lara Logan ( I think seeing the worst of humanity and then having your own child, to protect and cherish … gives her a unique perspective on the world. As far as the challenge of combining children and career (as well as raising children in France : ) she is one of my favourite commentators.

BTW your comment on ‘commonplace’ boarding schools in the UK just made me giggle – I agree with Sophie and Chi as well as Wikipedia which says 6.5% of UK children go to boarding school. My entire family and circle of friends belong to the other 93.5%. In fact, in 40 years, I have only met one person who went to boarding school. I now feel I should have made more of a fuss of her.


56 LH January 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Two thoughts: maybe this is why my husband’s family of French descent (although they’ve been in the states a while, his great-grandpa only spoke French!) seem so “mean” and heartless to me in their parenting and
2.) when I lived in France as an 8 yr old I sure never saw other kids’ moms being mean to them! And all the students went home for an hour for lunch each day and there wasn’t school at all on Wednesdays, so someone (I guess possibly Grandmas) was watching the other kids, right??
I did know a girl who ate some sand and got worms. Perhaps her maman cherie thought it’d teach her a lesson like the mom in this article?

Anyway, I’ll stick to attachment parenting :)


57 Ayme January 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm

This is such an interesting topic. I’m not really sure what my parenting style is because I pick up influences from so many places, including articles like this. But I do agree that discipline comes from love and I admire parents who have very obedient children.

Thanks for sharing, Gabby, great food for thought! :)


58 Ashlea Walter January 12, 2012 at 2:54 pm

A few things come to mind after reading the article and your post.

1) Dr. Spock? Really? Does anyone really follow his advice anymore? I thought it was more Dr Sears in 2012 than Dr Spock…?
2) My 2yo can get her own banana, peel it, eat it (not cut it, although she could) and put the peel in the compost. She can also get a container of yogurt, open it, eat it with a spoon and put the container in the sink to be cleaned out for the recycling bin. And so on… this is all because I believed that she was capable of it, taught her to do it and empowered her to do it. Montessori! Do not do for a child what she can successfully do for herself. This is not to say we don’t have messes because we certainly do.
3) I don’t believe that being mean is a good way to treat anyone. Firm, but kind, right?!


59 Karan January 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I am US born and raised both of my children here. When I lived in Italy I marveled at the gentle attention the children received in public places…and how marvelously well behaved most Italian children are…at all ages. The attitude was more on making the experience work for all around and including the child. In the US it seems that the focus on a child in public is either total indulgence in allowing any behavior or much concern on controlling the child for the sake of others. Maybe if I have another child, I might move to Italy because it was quite nice to be around children there.


60 Tiffanie January 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Here in San Francisco there is enough nature that it is possible for some preschools to embrace the outdoor school philosophy. My daughter attended an immersion preschool where the children are allowed access to the outdoor play areas, garden and chicken coop all day long, regardless of weather. And every Thursday they hiked a nearby canyon, rain or shine. That part wasn’t as fun for me, as a parent volunteer, but the kids loved it.

I vacillate on the topic of manners. For all intents and purposes, my daughter is a very well behaved six year old, actually much better than many of her classmates. But I wonder if it came at a price. Did we teach her to be a little too demure, a little too considerate, so that later she might become soft spoken or a pushover? She still knows how to get what she wants in a situation, but when I compare her to some of the other kids who couldn’t care less about manners (but are still very smart kids) I start to wonder.


61 annie January 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I read a post above that is similar to my thoughts, but I thought I’d give my two cents. Often, I feel like an outsider in comparison to how many of those around me parent. By nature, I am not an overly “motherly” mom. I adore my kids, but the way I parent may come across as harsh to others at times. My husband and I have four children, ages 7 and under, in the US. We believe that what we expect from our kids is what we get from them. So, from the beginning we work on our manners. Why is that important? Because I think having manners is being respectful of others. So many children that my kids go to school with believe that they are the center of the world. I just think it’s good for them to learn early on that is not the case.

Also, we believe that our job as parents is to raise our kids not to need us. Having four kids in five years has probably forced me to make my kids more independent than maybe I would have if I had fewer kids, or more spread apart. But they know that they have boundaries and that there are rules in place and behave (most of the time! haha) accordingly.

This is not to say that they are forbidden from creativity and free thinking. Maybe this goes back to my days in Catholic school, but within the confines of structure, creativity flourishes. (I had to figure out how to still be “me” in the uniform of the school :) Wow! That may be the longest “comment” I’ve ever left, but obviously this is something I often think about. Regardless, loving a child, making them feel secure in this world is the most important thing. And I’m sure that even if it looks like awful parenting to some watching, there’s another side to the story.


62 Candace March 28, 2012 at 8:59 am

I love this….”we believe that our job as parents is to raise our kids not to need us.” My parents’ philosophy has always been “work yourself out of a job.” It used to shock me how heavily some old college roommates still relied on their moms. I’ve lived away from home for 10 yrs and still call my mom for advice on cleaning this or how to cook that, but some of those girls would not have survived a week without mommy’s help!

All in all, I think it’s about balance. What an amazing, but tricky job!


63 the enchanted home January 12, 2012 at 4:11 pm

This sounds good. Really good. And what an interesting topic! It is so fascinating how certain cultures take on child rearing. I think moderation is key with anything, any culture. I do admire the discipline for example that we look at many of the Asian countries’ parents enforcing with their kids at an early age, or the Europeans way to creating mature and independent kids at an early age, the list goes on. In the U.S. I think we all see and know kids are basically the center of our universe. I dont’ think this is necessarily a good thing and personally think kids have too much say, are growing up too fast, exposed to WAY too much too early and basically are not allowed to be kids for as long as they used to say in my generation. SO….bottom line is yes, I would curtail my own parenting decisions based upon moving to another country if they align with my own moral compass. Really intesting topic!


64 Heather January 12, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Gabrielle, I never get tired of photos of sweet Baby June! Or any of your children for that matter! Hope Olive is home soon!


65 gina vide January 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Gabrielle, you have such a way with conversation starters: I’ve loved reading the comments, as well. As an American ex-pat, who’s now lived in Sweden for a long time; married to a French-Swede, raising our 3 children in Sweden at a French/Swedish school in Sweden with regular doses of American-cousin-4th-of-July-fun; this rings with me each and everyday. I think it certainly gave me pause before we started a family: can I raise my “American” children abroad?
Impressed with your assessment, when we met, last Spring that “there are so many ways to raise children and they are all OK.” That’s the Pandora’s box of living abroad with children. Every day at our French-Swedish-International school playground, I am fascinated and amazed at the contrasts I see and feel between the cultures and marvel. I agree with you: I have found French mothers, as mothers, to be extremely attentive to their children, very family oriented, friendly, academic minded, well-kitted up & prepared for any pharmaceutical or gastronomical dilemma and yes: determined to raise neat & tidy children with good, traditional mannered and having a love of dining; on the other “side of the playground:” I see the Swedish mothers who don’t want conflict & really “let the child decide” which includes non-fashiony Pippi-longstocking-style dressing or how they speak to adults. Our kids were proudly encouraged to sleep over at 3-4 by Swedish friends and later, hear time and time again that it’s common place for co-ed sleep at any age.9, 10, 12! Swedish children are weather and water proof 365 days of the year because nothing, “like the weather” is going to stop them from being out in nature – there is a sublime love of nature here. Regarding academics, I was told, at one of the most elite Stockholm schools, that the 1st Graders would only “learn one new letter per week at school and if possible, have a chance to spell this letter in the leaves at the park!” You can imagine my reply, to which I was answered: but… reading isn’t until they’re in 3rd Grade. (And this in a country of one of the highest literacy rates in the world!) In contrast the French are writing in cursive at 6 and standing in front of the class reading a 20 line book. And, yes, my British School Mum friends, are fretting, fretting, fretting about the schools their kids begin in because statistically, if they’re not off to the right school early, doors close. And, in my American corner: ideas about organization, can-do-ness, and community. It’s forces one to really asses and take the good from each culture and assess why. I’ve been humbled by these peeks into all of these cultures, which I’ve not only married into but am surrounded by at our children’s school. And the wonder of it all to me, is that children exposed to all of these cultures know how to act appropriately in each culture or environment. Kids are resilient and capable of so much. I love the banana story…

There are only two areas where the cultural divide became really extreme: nursing French Mothers vs nursing Swedish Mothers. Hand’s down the Swede’s are Earth Mother’s the first year of a baby’s life: nursing and being home with your baby (men, too) for a year to a year and a half (paid maternity and paternity leave) and, although, almost all of my French mother friends nursed and stayed home with their babies 3 – 12 months, I do have a friend who was nursing her 5 month old in front of her French in-laws and they asked her,” when are you going to stop doing that to your baby?” ! The other area is discipline. Again, I’ve never seen it personally but I’ve heard about it, even in schools, in France – it must really vary. I just know, that from the chairlift in Chamonix, this Christmas, I did see a ski instructor spanking his ski group every time their little legs weren’t paralleling in his paralleling class! Where as, spanking is actually illegal in Sweden so it’s completely taboo (and, as I said earlier — it’s about listening to what your child tell you they want). I just don’t think about it here or see it.

Thank you for sharing, I agree with all of your positivity. For us, we find our children to be totally recognizable to us; enriched, confident and adaptable due to their international life — doing things that shock me but don’t hurt! Yes, my 10 year old, too, will traveling to Provence for a week and no one is batting an eye, at our school….


66 Aimee January 12, 2012 at 5:45 pm

I think some of the reason why Europeans are the way they are is because not too long ago war was raging on their soil, with families struggling to just live normal lives. Order, structure, and self reliance seem to be a result of going through that time. Carry on and keep calm right?


67 Jennifer January 12, 2012 at 6:16 pm

When we moved from San Francisco to France I was both stunned and liberated by the differences in the parenting cultures. In California I felt immense pressure to be a perfect back-to-earth hands-on mom (my first child was also born there). Although I did not abandon things like multiple years of breastfeeding and staying in their room until they are asleep, watching the french parents allowed me to give myself greater freedom to try different approaches. It was with a modicum of guilt and great relief that I used disposable diapers on my second child who was born in Paris. I realized that the French children were just as happy as the American children I know even though they were being raised very differently. I came to love the Lord of the Flies mentality that the article describes at the playground. It was quite refreshing after feeling as though I had to hover over my son at the playground in San Francisco in order to intervene before he bopped someone over the head. In France they accept that kids will bop each other over the head and that need not prevent the parents from conversing with friends on the nearby bench.


68 Elena January 12, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I was born and raised in Mexico where generally the parenting culture is very traditionalist and family bonds are really tight; it is very common to stay at home living with your parents even if you are in your middle 30′s (single) I was so lucky to have a mom that had an open mind enough to let me go out of her nest and spent 3 years away in a LDS boarding school (the equivalent of grade 10, 11 and 12) 5 hrs away from my family. That experience gave me a good sense of independence and responsibility. I was in charge of my own laundry, sometimes cooking, got my first official job at 15, meet the best friends of my life, manage my own time and money, etc. I believe that this experience helped a lot in life, specially me when I had to take hard choices like moving with my husband and daugther to a different country. Now we are living in Canada, a multicultural Nation made mostly of immigrants from everywhere and I’m loving it! a great experience to appreciate and respect the differences of parenting betwen cultures and take the best for my family.


69 Stacey H January 12, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Fascinating post! But I just have to say how freaking adorable Baby June’s curly hair is! !!!


70 Fiona January 12, 2012 at 7:11 pm

My family and I have just returned to Canada from spending a year in the south of France. We are hoping to bring home with us the ability to sit still at the table for an entire meal. Our kids had lunch in their school everyday and no hovering/half sitting was tolerated.

Our experience in France was of very closely knit, loving families and happy children. I was really surprised at how polite everyone was, especially teenagers. My seven year old was much more polite when he was speaking French than when he was speaking English.

You can find examples of “bad” parenting everywhere – it will take more than a few random examples to shake my view that the French could teach us a lot.


71 Allison January 12, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Hi! I liked that you started this conversation, parenting styles is something I think about a lot. I live in the US, and I’m only 30, but I notice that parents with kids the same age as my son (2) have a very different style than I do. I don’t do everything for him, I encourage him to play on his own and do his own thing. One thing really stuck out in the article – that French moms view their children as seperate people from themselves and expect them to have their own lives.

Many of my fellow moms here have remarked about how they feel like their children are extensions of themselves or that they feel like their hearts are beating outside of their bodies. This is not only culturally specific (from what I see around the web) to the US, but also to this generation of parents. My depression era grandmother (born in 1916, raising her children in the 50′s) would NEVER describe parenthood this way. I actually mentioned that to my mom today and she had a good laugh.

I don’t think there is one right way to parent, nor do I think its inherently terrible to feel like this (although I decidely do not), I think it has a lot to do with how we might interpret this article. I am a firm parent and encourage my son to do things for himself and so some of the examples in that article don’t really seem too harsh to me.

I think its good to let kids do things without their parents, and as hard as it is to let them do stuff that scares us (like being away from us at a young age) I think its really important!


72 Esther January 12, 2012 at 7:33 pm

The article is in fact very interesting. I am 24 and have a 16-month-old. My husband is American and I was born in Costa Rica but raised in America after the age of 9. I find myself agreeing with the ways of the French. I have practiced the crying out method for sleep training and recently started doing time outs to curb my son’s habit of pushing and hitting. Does it break my heart to hear him cry? Yes, but I do it because I feel confident that it is the best thing I can do for him.

Thanks for posting the article, Gabby!


73 Angel January 12, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Gabby, have you read the Tiger Mom book? What do you think French moms would think of Tiger moms?


74 Angel January 12, 2012 at 7:56 pm

I grew up in Maryland and when I was in 5th grade, my teacher took the entire class on a one week camping trip (with plenty of chaperones of course) about 30 minutes away from home. It was one of the best experiences from my childhood.


75 carolina January 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm

I’m in Canada since 4 months ago, and I’m from Chile. With my oldest kid (5yo now) i read the book “DUERMETE NIÑO” from DR Eduard Estivill, who said, the baby has to sleep in his own room and teach him to sleep, if he cries don´t talk, calm down. If he cries again wait one minute more and calm him, and then 2 minutes and 3, and bla bla. For my family this was torture, i’m only did one week, but did some other things, like some french mother, at the end the book said the kids believes they are kings and you have to obey them, so don´t do it. But i felt mean almost a lot of time. But with my second kid (15 month) i read the book “Besame Mucho” from Dr Carlos Gonzalez, who told you kiss you son, if he talks to you listen to him, if he cries hug him, he NEEDS you, and he sleep with us since he was a new born in our bed. I don’t know what method is better, i was extreme with both, but my oldest son is independent but has problem with his feelings, and the youngest is a baby yet but he needs me all day and is exhausting.
In Chile there is some controversial because all women are working and the baby had to go to “SALA CUNA” like Day Care, since 3 month. A month ago the law change and now are 6 month post natal and you can share with the father. My kid goes to “JARDIN INFANTIL” like Day CAre but better much better, when he has 18 month, because i have to work and for me was like a privilege because a lot of mother can stay with their kids so much time. And “DAY CARE” works since 8 am (or 7am) until 7 pm (or 8 pm). the kids lunch there, and take a meal at 4 pm too.


76 Katie January 12, 2012 at 8:42 pm

After reading this article I’ve decided to spank my kids more.

Just kidding.

But I do need to let my toddler be more independent and I do need to be stricter in some areas.


77 Marie January 12, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Great post! I grew up in Paris but am living in the States now. The article is a bit extreme but there is some truth to it, and I notice it more now that I have a toddler. When we go to visit, the difference is stunning. I often feel that many of the French kids are repressed and that their self-esteem will suffer from it. I also think that some moms are so busy keeping their “independence” that they are missing out on the best years with their kids. Of course, they think I’m nuts for not wanting to leave my child to go on vacation. Even though I was raised in Paris, my mom was more of an “attachment parenting” believer, but that didn’t mean she didn’t emphasize good manners. I think you can teach you children manners without being a cold authoritarian.


78 Renae January 12, 2012 at 9:12 pm

My husband is half-French…french father, Australian mother. And yes his upbringing was strict, and so was mine – my parents had me at 46 (I was the whoopsie baby after four boys who were nearly adult by the time I was born), so I was raised by an older generation. We are strict with our two, but more emotive with them than we would have experienced. Table manners are a BIG deal and behaving in public. But having said all that our son didn’t adjust well to the French bilingual school here at 3 and we took him out.

Culturally the french see adulthood as the best time of your life and childhood is something to be endured (not enjoyed) on the way – an opposite view to how modern parenting has us thinking.


79 gina vide January 13, 2012 at 2:07 am

I found this so late, last night, I didn’t have time to read the article. I’ve just read it now and find it to be very interesting and again, reader comments, too. Reacting to the “out of the box” of the article and seeing everyday “out of the box” ex-pat French living in Sweden, one reaction I hear repeatedly, from these women is that families are literally “out of the box” is that families are at first shocked but then quickly embrace the Swedish culture, where men will be much more a part of a families daily life which includes staying home sick with the kids (paid), picking kids up from pre-school and attending their activities. Yes, this adaptive lifestyle feels almost fictive (and “soft”) to many, but it does quickly change parenting and they do adapt to this well. It is commonplace for a CEO (including Volvo, Ericsson, etc) Father to pick his kids up from pre-school at 4:00 (although, it’s most prestigious to get your children by 3:00!).

(pondering: the French see adulthood as life’s best moments, rather than childhood. Interesting. Also, I was just in Paris and this Jardin Luxumborg over the holidays. I see the scene perfectly.)


80 Alex January 13, 2012 at 3:19 am

Hey there,
I am German and we have no specific rules for table dinner, but it should be in “controlled” atmosphere. We talk a lot about the day. Everyone talks about his day, some good news, some bad news or something funny detail.
Probably my son can not carefully slice and eat a banana on his own with 2 years, but I think that is not the point. He sits with us together, eat and laugh and get the feeling what it is to be part of a family. For me eating together is a part of socialization and I love lots of people being around us.
Like on Christmas……;-).


81 Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes January 13, 2012 at 5:32 am

I agree with that children should learn that there is a place and time for everything. But moderation in everything please, kids will after all be kids!


82 Marjorie January 13, 2012 at 6:40 am

Hi Gabrielle,

Well I hope my English won’t be that bad that you can’t understand or minsunderstand my words.

As a French mother raised by French parents married to a French lovely man and living in France I can be a witness.
I can give evidence of what’s happening in France as regards education.
Effectively Moms in France are quite strict and not really affectionate with their kids but things are moving. Our generation (i’m 32) is trying to change the way it is. We’re trying to be more open-minded.
But most of the mothers even my age still stick to “old school” manners. And for sure in France you’ll hear things like “ça suffit” (that’s enough) or “dépêche-toi” (hurry up) or “j’en ai marre” (I’m fed up)…
For sure I like it when my kids have a good behaviour at home or in public but the difference is now we take more time to talk with our kids about the rules we want to follow in our homes , there is more dialogue.

In France people slap A LOT ! I don’t agree with that, but most of the parents don’t even know why they slap or yell at their children that’s just the way it is, as an excuse that’s just the way they were raised.
In France it’s hard to tell to the parents that they are on a wrong path they will be easily offended because it means to them that they not good parents not good people…

So the article is not that wrong but maybe the way the author describes French mother is a bit fast made opinion although it’s faithful but sarcastic.


83 Ann January 13, 2012 at 7:23 am

When we lived in Korea, I adopted the Korean parent approach to school and had much higher expectations of our daughters and my involvement in attending to their education.

Our younger daughter now attends an Australian school. Starting in grade 3 the children go away for a camp and stay in caravans (camping trailers) that fit 4 kids… adults. The adults sleep in the hotel. Amazing self-sufficiency and group skills she has learned.


84 juliagblair January 13, 2012 at 7:43 am

Slicing a banana and eating it with a fork! How marvelous! Thanks millions! I remember being in High school before a friend informed me I was not holding my fork in the proper way. I’ve been grateful ever since.


85 Abby January 13, 2012 at 8:24 am

The “Lord of the Flies” comment had me laughing out loud because that’s exactly what I said to my husband this summer as we watched our kids play in the Tuileries playground as well as the Jardin du Luxembourg playground. “It’s like Lord of Flies in there!” Our kids were shocked at how the kids on both those playgrounds had free reign. It was a mini-society with a few kids ruling the playground and all the equipment. There was so little of the expected: be nice to the little kids, take turns, get in line to go down the slide, etc. In my experience, American parents are likely to be involved in their children’s play at a park and if not participating in the play they are watching their children like a hawk. The rare mom reading her book on a bench, not paying attention to their child at the park (and not reacting immediately if their child misbehaves) is certainly looked down upon. For good or bad, it’s the way it is here. The kids in France seemed to have complete free reign on the playground and as an American I was a bit shocked (as were my kids), but it definitely made me think. Maybe there’s a lot these kids are working out on the playground, without their parents making decisions for them. It was a very interesting experience. Another reason I love to travel!


86 Abby January 13, 2012 at 8:34 am

Oh, and one quick comment… Our experience with Waldorf schools in Colorado has been very much geared towards playing outside (in ALL weather) and the kids used their own fork and knife at age two:cutting their own veggies/fruits, spreading their own almond butter, etc. They used real utensils, cloth napkins, poured their own drinks from little pitchers, lit candles with real matches, etc. It was remarkable.


87 Siggy January 13, 2012 at 1:50 pm

What a coincidence, I was just about to ask your opinion about this article:

As a Belgian mother of two I’m sometimes surprised by the permissive and ‘baby-like’ parenting style of some American mothers (as documented on their blogs) but then on the other hand I’m often appalled by the seemingly detached way some children here are raised too (how I was raised, frankly). As one commenter said, it’s all about balance. But I must admit, I have not reached that point of zen yet.
And btw, summer camps are totally mainstream here too!


88 Trina January 13, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I found the article fascinating. Of course different countries and cultures have different ways of doing all things, not just parenting. I find it fascinating to learn what those differences are. There are always good points and points that just don’t resonate. Perhaps we can learn, at least some thing, from the good. With that said, I think the key to almost anything and everything is balance. Extremes always seem to bring with it some form of trouble.
I don’t think I could be quite as detached or consistently as stern as a French mother but I do think they are on to something in the fact that their children are well behaved and well mannered. I would definitely agree that the majority of American children are spoiled and catered to. What shocks me, most days, is the way that children interact with adults. And the fact is that, for the most part, it is the parents who have not taught or communicated to the children how to properly interact with adults in a respectful manner.
Great conversation, Gabby!


89 Kristen January 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm

What an intriguing article. I have to say, I think all to often in our American society children are babied and coddled way too much. Whining seems far too acceptable.
Not to mention “helicopter parenting.”


90 Sara January 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Such a thought provoking article; thanks for sharing! I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read it, and trying to figure out how to comment without rambling on forever!

I would love to be able to somehow combine all the best aspects of every culture’s parenting! I agree that the author of the article made the French moms seem to mean. Stricter does not = mean, and I think more boundaries can be good. Respect for adults and all others is admirable.

The example she was so horrified by (with the mom walking ahead of the little one crying)…my first thought was that we have no context. We have no idea what happened right before this (or all day for that matter)…haven’t we all been there? when we are at the end of our rope with whatever behavior? Certainly I know there are many moments when I have lost patience with my kids and behaved in ways I’m not proud of. And, even if that was not the case for this woman, there still is so much we don’t know…

For me, the bottom line both within and across cultures…I’d love it if we, as moms, could feel supported enough and confident enough in our choices to give one another the benefit of the doubt for our parenting methods, respect that we are all trying to do the best we can with the resources and skills we have, and learn from one another what might improve our own parent “toolboxes” without feeling threatened. My personal goal. I love reading about different cultures and ideas. Thanks, Gabby.


91 terry w January 13, 2012 at 7:11 pm

My father was in the Air Force & we lived in France in the ’60′s. The french kids my age (6th grade) went to ski school in the Alps every winter and our class of American 6th graders was a test group to try it as well. We went for 2 weeks with our teachers. We had school in the morning (the hotel had a room set aside for this) and ski instruction in the afternoon. On the weekend we even took the train into Geneva to sight see! We had the time of our lives! We also took trains to get there even changing trains on the way! Looking back from an adults perspective I marvel at the fortitude of our teachers! The whole French/Swiss town we were in was set up for this and the small hotel was all French students and our American group – so glad I had the chance to do it! Happy for Olive, too!


92 Leigh Ann January 13, 2012 at 7:55 pm

I read an article by an American living in France a few years ago about how French parents DO instill more boundaries and limitations. The example I remember most was that while we Americans put up gates, rubber guards on furniture corners, remove all trinkets, and pretty much make our homes a “rubber room” for our kids, the French do none of that. They simply teach the children not to mess with things. Very interesting, although I still don’t know if I could have done that with my twins and then another infant.


93 sylvia January 14, 2012 at 5:04 am

I’ve raised my children in many different cultures around the world and I’ve found that mothers the world over do, more or less, the same wonderful things, and the same ugly things. We are all human.

It seems to me that with many different issues, the cultural divide lies not in what we do or do not do; rather, in what we’re ashamed to let others see us do. Perhaps many French mothers feel little embarrassment slapping, ignoring or yelling at their children at the park, while many American mothers prefer to save that for the privacy of their own homes.


94 Suburban Princess January 15, 2012 at 8:15 am

The thing is….north Americans feel anyone who actually *raises* their children is mean. I am mean because I don’t budge until my son says ‘please’. I don’t accept silence when ‘thank you’ is needed. I teach him the correct way to behave at meals – at home and at restaurants. I am always told what a perfect child I have yet I am considered mean for teaching him to be that way. Tiger Moms are poohpoohed but their children are the ones who will be running the world in 20 years.


95 chrissy January 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm

We have recently moved to London from the US. Our three daughters, aged 12, 10 and 7, are enrolled in British schools (and my 14-year old son is in an international school).
What I have noticed the most, especially in my daughter’s schools, is the emphasis on manners compared to their (very good) public schools in the US. At the younger two girls’ school, a teacher waits outside the door each morning and afternoon and the children must make eye contact, greet the teacher and shake their hand on their way in and out. Additionally, there are teachers supervising the lunchtime and gently reminding the children to keep their wrists at the edge of the table and proper use of their knives and forks. There are signs posted in the cafeteria that state “Hold your fork and knife properly”.
Personally, I LOVE IT! I think that manners are so overlooked in the US it is a very nice thing to know how to eat properly and to greet an adult.
Also, what the children are served for lunch is AMAZING — roasted organic lamb stew, shepherd’s pie, sausages and potatoes, peas, asparagus, homemade pizza and a wide variety of fruit for daily tea. There are no chicken fingers and french fries nor hot dogs, and jello does not count as a serving of fruit. The kids are not expected to eat anything differently than what the adults eat, as it should be! This is the way I was raised (my mother was born in Czechoslovakia) and this is the way I have raised my children. They order from the adult menu in restaurants and like a wide variety of foods as a result. They are great dinner dates and fun to cook for!
(now if my son could only learn how to use a knife as well as his little sisters!)


96 Maike January 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm

I am a German mother, living with the Irish father of my 3 year old in Berlin, after I lived for half a year in Ireland, where we met.
I am impressed by a lot of things that Irish parents seem to do naturally so much better than us Germans – and the other way around.
In Ireland, it seems a total No-Go to have your kids sleeping in your bed and crying-it-out appears to be the normal thing to do. I heard stories of kids throwing up because they cried so hard or climbing out of bed and breaking their arm because they got so worked up, and nobody is questioning it. All that to teach your kids independence – which doesn’t keep parents from driving their kids to school every day and picking them up and kids don’t have sleepovers until they are teenagers.
On the other hand there seems to be a very natural understanding of what kids are and need, how to take care of them and really understand what it means to be a child, also to really enjoy and have fun with your kids. While childish bahaviour in Germany is usually granted with impatience and embarassment by the parents, to be too nice to your kids and too understanding comes with the fear of not teaching them early enough that life is hard.

Talking about sleepovers: I spent 3 weeks every year far away in summer camp since I was 6, no phone calls, only letters. Class Trips at the age of ten took ten days and when I was 11, the summer trip without my parents took us to the Soviet Union to the beautiful Black Sea – 2000 km from home.
If you ask me, it was too much too early – I wouldn’t do the same with my kid. But it was not so unusual. I often have a feeling when I am in english speaking countries, that parents think, as soon as they let go of their kids only a little bit, the very worst will happen.
For me it is good to see the two sides because it teaches you that so many things are influenced by culture and you can just change them if you don’t like them. They are not a natural law. It’s like food – the more you know, the better it tastes.


97 happykatie January 15, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Yes, perfect!!!

“For me it is good to see the two sides because it teaches you that so many things are influenced by culture and you can just change them if you don’t like them. They are not a natural law. It’s like food – the more you know, the better it tastes.”


98 happykatie January 15, 2012 at 4:10 pm

When I was a child in Belgium, my British-run school (not boarding) had all of the kids eating 3 course meals at lunchtime and were expected to use the correct silverware and manners for every one. Starting at 3-4 years, cloth napkins at school!

It wasn’t unusual, just the way that it was. We bring that into how we raise our 5 year old too. We really don’t care how other parents raise their kids – in our family, we eat things – go places – see people – do stuff and there’s an expectation on how each of us acts in those contexts. End of story.

Much of what seems to work is leading by example and being consistent even when it sucks (ie: ‘don’t pitch a fit’ rule broken repeatedly at holiday family party equals same immediate consequences as at home – even though it means having to deflect family members who don’t see ‘the big deal’, sigh).

I remember parents being stricter in Europe on their younger kiddos, but more trusting and relaxed when they were older. After a certain point, kids just know what’s expected of them and how to act in various situations and there’s no need to micro-manage.

Sometimes in the States, I think that kids are smarter and more capable than many parents give them credit for.


99 Maxie January 16, 2012 at 1:07 pm

I greb up in Denmark, but am now living in Germany and raising my daughter here. I have to say that I miss the Danish approach for my daughter.
Toddlers and kindergarten kids spend almost all day outside playing. The even sleep outdoors in covered shelters in all weather. The idea being that there is no such thing as bad weather – if you wear the right clothes. In Denmark there is much more focus on outdoor activities than in Germany where kindergartens tend to be quite expensive and parents want some serious learning for their money.
Most children start school around age 6 and in most schools they will have a short school camp of 3-4 days already in first grade. Some kindergartens even have field trips for the older kids as a sort of good bye trip before they go to school.
Mos tchildren love the adventure of being away, even if they are a little scared the first time.
In my family we have had a lot of exchange students from all over the world (mostly 16-18 year olds) and I have to say that the Americans we have had staying with us have been the most immature and pampered of them all. My impression is that helicopter mums are must more predominant in the US than in for instance Scandinavia.
With us kids learn to be independent fairly early on – perhaps it is a side effect that has occurred because we have such a high rate of women in the work force.
The German school system is no set up for working women as they have short school days and long holidays and most parts of Germany do not have sufficient after school/holiday care.


100 Robyn January 16, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Treating a child with incivility will not teach him to be civil. At the very best, it will teach him to imitate civility in a public setting. But that is just a superficial show, an act. How we treat those closest to us, in the most intimate of family situations and relationships reveals our true civility, and teaches our children the deeper reality behind true good manners. Cruelty is never a justified means to an end. No good can come from kicking your child. That being said, I believe in high expectations and enforcing consequences. It is a show of love. As long as love is our motivation in all of our dealings with our children, then we are on the right track.


101 blandine January 17, 2012 at 2:21 am

I am a French daughter and I was amused to read the article. I am afraid not all French kids have good manners – but more than American kids ;-) However, I’d like to clarify that anyone sensible will be shocked by the sight a a parent kicking his child – we are not a nation of child abusers, for heaven’s sake!

What struck me, beyond the fact that you can always draw clichés about anything, is that it is all about mothers. What about fathers, why is child-care seen as a mom thing only?


102 Liz January 18, 2012 at 4:19 am

I’m an American living in France and married to a French man (although he is really more Italian than French) and there were a few things from the article that I wanted to clarify.

It doesn’t surprise me that the 2 year old was eating a banana with a fork and knife – in France, they eat EVERYTHING with their forks and knives, including pizza and hamburgers!

And people being shocked at French mother’s abandoning their babies after 3 months – in most cases, that is the length of their paid maternity leave. If they take longer, they also take only a fraction of their normal pay. In France, it is virtually impossible to live on one paycheck.


103 brooke @ claremont road January 18, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Thought you’d appreciate this article I came across today entitled “Why French Children Don’t Throw Food”:


104 veli February 8, 2012 at 11:38 am

As a parent, I think that you can raise a happy, healthy child using a variety of methods. The key is to be attentive and give them lots of attention, and also to really pay attention to their reactions and inclinations.

Even if you are strict, you are still showing that you care, that you are invested in them, that you are there. I think the kids who suffer the most are the ones who are neglected, either by overly permissive or overly cold parents.

But I also think that how you treat children is how they are going to treat other kids. A parent who is very critical and strict to their child is going to have a child who is critical and strict toward other children. If you require your kids to be orderly and polite, they will probably demand that of others as well.

In this regard, I think there needs to be some balance. Parenting is important work and we can all do a little better in raising responsible, orderly people who are also kind and respectful of one another.


105 Michelle February 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Interesting article. I always like considering alternative methods/ideas about childrearing. Always open for self-improvement. I don’t think corporal punishment is ever effective, nor is neglect, or humiliation, or rejection, but loving direction about boundaries seems really important. I see parents who are incredibly cruel with their children’s feelings in my neighborhood park, but I don’t draw conclusions about the whole culture from those incidents. Maybe the writer drew conclusions without even evidence?
I think that what happens for mothers everywhere at one point or another is difficulty determining when and how to mark their own boundaries. Kids are incredibly needy, and if they are to be healthy, confident, and loving, they need to have their needs met, not over indulged, but met. It can be extremely exhausting and confusing in the beginning, but once the early years are over and there’s been a lot of physical affection and attention to feelings, the results can be good for all, the tired parent, the child who needs to be defining him or herself…I’m a mother of a 5 year old who attends a French immersion school that follows the French Curriculum. My son has attended the school since he was 2 because I had to work. I found the classroom amazing. It wasn’t just glorified babysitting. The 2 year olds were learning and dancing and drawing and speaking in French. The teachers were affectionate and were able to instill a bit of order and discipline. It’s always about balance isn’t it? Smacking, neglecting, ignoring, these are all extremes and unnecessary no matter who does it…My little guy plays by himself as well as with others. If I’m in the company of adults, he’s respectful of our space. He hasn’t thrown a tantrum in years, and we aren’t disciplinarians. He just seems calm and content and confident. We treat him respectfully and acknowledge his feelings and he does the same for us.


106 Ann February 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Makes me want to learn more!!!


107 jessica July 25, 2012 at 11:47 am

I read bringing up bebe.. the author presents her take on French Parenting as if she is not sure she buys all of it. This article is brazenly depicting french mothers as abusive.. The book Bringing up Bebe has moments of glorifying french parenting that seems over the top but it also has a few appliccable points. I like some of the concepts such as “le pause” waiting before immediately consoling your child, to help them lawn to self sooth. As a NEW mother (8 weeks this thursday) and a early childhood educator it is difficult to parent because I have knowledge and theoretical approaches i have been taught while earning my bachelors degree that don’t always go along with what i do as a mother in the moment.


108 Shakinyi July 9, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I too grew up overseas and i think the ‘French’ model is pretty similar to most cultures overseas. I do feel that ‘American’ parenting is the most permissive, sometimed downright coddling parenting i have ever witnessed.( and continue to witness…with exceptions of course)
I am conflicted sometimes on how best to raise my daughter as she is spends most of her time in daycare with caregivers that only know to set the limits that they are allowed. When she gets home there is a different set of rules as that is how i was raised( no talking with food in your mouth, speaking in low tones, no speaking when adults are speaking, girls cross their legs when seated etc) At this point ( she’s 3) i think daycare manners are winning .

It will be interesting to see how she turns out…. hopefully a well rounded individual that knows how to act in both scenarios and not a totally confused one :)


109 Mary August 10, 2013 at 10:48 pm

I grew up in Southern California where “manners” were defined as treating others with respect and kindness, a firm handshake and a big smile”…the specifics of how to hold your utensils and whether your elbows touched the table were left for you to determine whether your company expected it. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” And when in Southern California your expected to be somewhat less formal, in many cases to skip to forgo the tie and prim and proper manners for the sake of not seeming stuck up. Now that I have kids I’m torn between what degree of formality to teach them and how to make sure they don’t turn off their California peers.


110 Jennifer October 9, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I found that article to be very accurate! Except French children are not so well behaved, but they are able to put on a show of it. As soon as parents turn their backs, it is most definitely “Lord of the Flies”! Crazy! Sure Americans could pick up a few habits that would improve their own parenting but the French could also look around and seek improvement. But everyone outs in blinders and refuses to change anything and get better. Or if they do change, they do so over-committee and completely blind to the person they are parenting. :(


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