Maman vs. Mommy

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gui’s favorite Sunday routine includes catching up on the piles of Economist magazines which he seems to never have enough time to read anymore. When he comes across an interesting article – something related to my previous job, political gaffes or other ridiculousness – he dog-ears it for me to read later or pulls me out of my knitting coma to tell me about it. Lately, he’s been adding topics on parenting to his bookmark queue, and last weekend, he came across this article about the difference between French and American parenting styles.
We were in the middle of making breakfast, so after I read the article, we sat over eggs, bacon and coffee and discussed our personal critiques and compliments on the subject. It’s true, I’ve always wondered how French parents were able to feed their kids exactly what they were eating at exactly the same time everyone else ate – not a separate meal served earlier. And, I’ve always admired the way French mamans can look so great while pushing (and sometimes carrying) a stuffed stroller through the metro and onto buses. And, even though we always seemed to visit right around l’heure de dodo, I can’t ever recall seeing a parent struggle to put their kid down for a nap or bedtime.
But, those are just my observations. When Gui and I first found out we were expecting a baby, all sorts of questions started coming up – between us and from curious friends and family – about how we planned to raise our kids. Obviously, the language thing is a big deal. We want our little girl to be fluent in both French and English (among other languages), and it was never truly a question for us that we would speak to our child(ren) in our respective mother tongues. It wouldn’t feel natural for either of us, otherwise.
Regarding education, we are talking about moving back to Paris in time so our daughter can start school in France. There are pros and cons for us on both sides of the whole American versus French education discussion, so we aren’t limiting ourselves one way or the other. Frankly, it’ll mostly depend on where we want to be at that time. We’ve talked about the possibility of our moving around, to and from France and in and around Europe in the future, and we both agree that while stability is important, children aren’t so fragile that they can’t adapt to and even learn from living in different places.
Going back to the article, I think what Gui wanted me to appreciate the most from it was the way it described French parents as having the authority, period. We’ve talked about this before and I’ve always argued that I feel like parents here do have the authority; I don’t recall my mom ever making special meals for us either and when one of my parents told me I couldn’t have or do something, I knew better than to ask why or throw a fit. But, what the article so clearly described was the way American parents today seem to feel like they're expected to explain why mom says to stop being rowdy or why dad says go to bed, while French parents don’t go into explanations or sugarcoat their commands. It’s a difference I never really remarked before, but one that became so crystal clear to me after reading the quote made in the article of the apologetic-toned American parent asking the child if it’s ok to throw sand at someone. It just sounded so silly put into writing. Why would the parent be asking the child?
But, what I may find silly, someone else may find relevant, and as with most differences of opinion, that's what makes the world go round. The most wonderful and terrifying thing about becoming a parent for me, is knowing that I’m growing (both literally and figuratively) an entirely individual human being that will learn about life mostly from observing me and Gui. It’s what makes being a parent such a special responsibility, and it’s how we end up having so many colorful personalities and perspectives in our world. I don’t know yet if my parenting style will curve more toward the “American” or “French” method (it will likely be a bit of both), but I am eager to give my best at being my daughter’s mother and hopefully learn heaps about myself and Gui in the process.
I’m curious, though, what were your thoughts on the article?  If you've had any experience with French families with young children, how does their upbringing compare to yours?

1 comment

Anna said...

Love the article, thanks for linking. I admire the French way of parenting and I think I would raise my future kids the same way. First, to know that I'm in charge; second, that my husband/partner's and my relationship is just as important as my relationship with my kids, and that I will not tolerate misbehavior. A parent is not a friend.

I'm happy you guys want to teach your kid both English and French. There's nothing but endless benefits to having a bilingual child.

As far as French schools go, I've always thought they were much harder than they needed to be on young kids. It's also a weird system, because kids are taught to follow the rules and be obedient. In the long run, I'm not sure that's necessarily positive. Working with French people in Paris, and having French interns in my New York office, I've noticed they tend to be less proactive in the workplace. A French intern might wait for duties to be assigned to them by superiors, while American interns tend to be more scrappy and find work to do for themselves. Again, this is totally a personal observation and isn't scientific in any way.

/rambling comment

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