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Battle hymn of the frog mother
February 4, 2012 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Last year it was Amy Chua, Tiger Mother (previously on mefi). This year, Paula Druckerman has written Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, inspired by a trip to a coastal town when her daughter had temper tantrums and French parents didn't. French kids eat the same food as their parents, and aren't constantly snacking. And "when French friends visited [...] the grownups had coffee and the children played happily by themselves." It's about patience -- let the kids cry it out a bit, let them learn how to play alone instead of hovering. And perhaps obsess a little less -- the French don't even obsessively buy books about how to parent. Wall Street Journal article, and video interview by WSJ's Gary Rosen.
posted by madcaptenor (128 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Everything I know about parenting, I learned from national stereotypes.
posted by box at 1:34 PM on February 4, 2012 [53 favorites]


"French parents didn't" should be "French kids didn't". That'll teach me not to obsess over proofreading.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:35 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know one French family with young children, and they really are the best children I've ever seen... they do play quietly by themselves, they do eat whatever you fix them, and they never throw a fit.
posted by Huck500 at 1:41 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's amazing that this is news.

I figured this was all common sense. Don't be a wuss when dealing with your kid, that's how little assholes are raised.
posted by Modica at 1:42 PM on February 4, 2012 [26 favorites]


When I visited France I was pleasantly surprised by how they handled my pregnant sister in law. It's almost like they don't have some obsessive cult of motherhood.
posted by karmiolz at 1:43 PM on February 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


I know one French family with young children, and they really are the best children I've ever seen...

Last time around when people trotted out all their anecdotes about children/parents they'd known, it didn't go so well here.
posted by hermitosis at 1:46 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the general rule of providing parenting advice is whatever you are doing, it's wrong. This keeps parental anxiety high, and that keeps them buying books and articles ion parenting. Which probably explains why so many parents seem a little crazed, now that I think of it. Oh, Capitalism! Is there nothing you can't do?
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:51 PM on February 4, 2012 [29 favorites]


Metafilter: that's how little assholes are raised.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:51 PM on February 4, 2012 [15 favorites]


So she wrote a book that's in part about how french parents dont buy parenting books. What do you do if you're reading it when get to that point?

Also I'm on my phone or I'd do this myself, but I'm pretty sure the "parenting" section of amazon.fr is not empty.

Finally, it's probably worth pointing out that Piaget was not Americain.
posted by kavasa at 1:53 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rest assured, I certainly don't suffer from a pro-France bias. Au contraire, I'm not even sure that I like living here. I certainly don't want my kids growing up to become sniffy Parisians.

Whew! For a moment there I was afraid that she might actually have begun to like France, or even developed a nuanced, non-stereotypical view of its citizens! Reassured that she still recognizes the axiomatic superiority of the non-sniffy USA, I can read the rest of the article in peace.
posted by No-sword at 1:58 PM on February 4, 2012 [34 favorites]


When we were in France, I was amazed at the young French children who would sit quitely and politely with their parents at nice restaurants relatively long into the night. The kids weren't fussed over, and they didn't fuss.

While I tend to agree with Frank Furedi that parents need to worry a lot less at what "experts" say are the best ways to raise children, this book sounds fascinating (and not expert-advice-preachy). My sense is that would-be parents inclined toward the sort of worldview this seems to espouse may also be interseted in The Idle Parent, though I confess to not having read either of them.
posted by Dasein at 1:59 PM on February 4, 2012


I am in Paris. There are many adorable children. There are also parenting books, and mothers smoking over their kids in their little wind-protected strollers. The anecdote I'm taking away is that if I drink more wine, children get cuter...but I feel like that would be a terrible book.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:01 PM on February 4, 2012 [24 favorites]


The anecdote I'm taking away is that if I drink more wine, children get cuter...but I feel like that would be a terrible book.

But a very attractive lifestyle.
posted by Dasein at 2:05 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've said it before here, and will say it again: whenever someone writes a book or an article (with advertising) about How The French Are and it A. piques puritan sensibilities or B. teaches you How Much More Sensible the French Are, they are not telling you the truth.

They are selling you books and page views.

French kids snack. It's called le goûter.

French kids do not ALL eat the same foods as their parents, unless their parents are catering to their tastes. Every. Single. French. Mother. I. Know. Caters to her children's tastes. I know dozens and dozens of French mothers; I work in France. And speak French.

I know hovering French mothers. I know non-hovering French mothers.

I know French mothers who are patient, I know some who are not patient.

I know children of every type, just like they exist around the world. But then again, I've actually lived in France for 12 years and speak the language fluently.

Their kids actually listen to them.
She hasn't met the teenage kids of my co-workers...

And for god's sake only elderly men, Basques, and American tourists were those black berets.
posted by fraula at 2:05 PM on February 4, 2012 [93 favorites]


Hm. Maybe the calmness of French families has to do with the fact that they actually support childbearing and families in France, with state run universal healthcare and childcare and paid maternity leave? unlike in the u.s.a., where they apparently expect you to create an immediately self-sustaining creature via parthenogenesis or something? And then all the 20-something hipsters complain bitterly about strollers on the sidewalks?
posted by yarly at 2:06 PM on February 4, 2012 [39 favorites]


French kids eat the same food as their parents, and aren't constantly snacking. And "when French friends visited [...] the grownups had coffee and the children played happily by themselves."

That sounds much like how my friends, family & I were raised back in the wild, woolly 1970s. In the USA.
posted by ladygypsy at 2:07 PM on February 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


This kind of ties in to the latest moral panic about how American kids take forever to grow up, spend all day at work on Facebook, delay the traditional markers of adulthood, etc. French women have long been perceived as being "more grown up", and apparently raise kids in a more "grown up" manner (less obsession, less fuss), compared to American women who have long been raised in a culture of infantilization of women. What does it all mean? Just that we're doin it rong I guess.
posted by bleep at 2:09 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The anecdote I'm taking away is that if I drink more wine, children get cuter...

My daughter goes to the French international school here in Calgary. They set up a table with wine and cheese in the parking lot at school open houses. It's a good thing.
posted by gompa at 2:12 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is confirming the fact that my parents only like me because I give them excuses to come to Europe and drink wine...
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:15 PM on February 4, 2012


The anecdote I'm taking away is that if I drink more wine, children get cuter...but I feel like that would be a terrible book.

Perhaps I need to drink more wine; it might make me more charitable to people who bring their kids into bars. When I am drinking beer, it annoys me.

That sounds much like how my friends, family & I were raised back in the wild, woolly 1970s. In the USA.

I also was raided to eat what my parents ate. I even got to drink a little wine at special dinners.

Possibly my favorite parenting with food anecdote from my family:

My family was not well off, but my mom (and, to a lesser degree, my dad, thought we should travel, and so we did. When I was about 8, they saved enough money to take a trip to Europe --Germany, London, and Ireland. In London, we ate at a nice restaurant, and my brothers and I decided that we were not going to eat the peas. Our parents insisted. We threw them on the floor. We were told to pick them up, and, mortified, we did. The waiter said "that isn't really necessary." My mother replied rather grimly "Oh, yes, it is." We were much better behaved for the rest of the trip.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:19 PM on February 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


It takes a special kind of genius to publish a book that guilts parents by informing them that superior parents don't read parenting books. I wish I had been a fly on the wall at the marketing meeting where this book was dreamed up.
posted by craichead at 2:19 PM on February 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


Say what you will about other countries but no one does anxious fretting over every aspect of thier lives quite like Americans.
posted by The Whelk at 2:23 PM on February 4, 2012 [20 favorites]


I know children of every type, just like they exist around the world. But then again, I've actually lived in France for 12 years and speak the language fluently.

Stop breaking the stereotype.

French people are effortlessly slender, erudite, calm and urbane. They are fitter, better looking, better educated, more charming and sexier than anyone in the English speaking world. These are known facts.

Luckily this flip side of this is that we also know they are arrogant, haughty, culturally insecure, uncool and humorless, which is how we manage to maintain our sense of superiority.
posted by Summer at 2:23 PM on February 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


Obviously it's not so much about French vs American parenting, as it is about unworried, anchored parents vs worried parents reading too many books.
For times unknown, there have been parents and children, and somehow, life has gone on.
Maybe the real difference is that the type of people the author knows in the US are all neurotic and anxious about child-raising, whereas the type of people she knows in France are more relaxed. But both types exist in both countries.
posted by mumimor at 2:28 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


A friend told this story on facebook earlier today: she was with her kids at a coffeeshop, with her son (age 9) sitting across the table from her, and her daughter (11 or 12) sitting on a couch nearby. My friend was looking at something on her phone, and a woman came up to her, asked if the boy at the table was her son, and then chastised her for ignoring him. My friend was so astonished she couldn't think of anything to say.
posted by rtha at 2:34 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think there's something wrong in trying to educate yourself on parenting. It's the most important job you'll ever have so some basic knowledge doesn't hurt. If people spend years training for a career, surely we can expect them to read a book or two when it comes to parenting.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:35 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had an interesting conversation with an English couple in their sixties today, as we were crammed together on the 1 train. We were clucking (and they were confused/amazed) over the American hover-mother who elbowed her way in and hustled her two sons (maybe 5 and 7) into seats the English couple were about to occupy, and went on to use her public-parent voice to congratulate the boys on getting the seats! I ride the train a lot and seems to be a trend -- kids grabbing seats -- and I clearly remember once-upon-a-different time when the kids were made to stand while their (hard-working, tireder, less fidgety and more stiff-kneed) elders got to sit. Bizarre.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:38 PM on February 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


Summer, you forgot that they are cheese-eating surrender monkeys who'd be speaking German if it wasn't for us. Those fun-loving, sophisticated, traitorous, enviable, cowardly snobs - truly America's best frenemies.
posted by gompa at 2:38 PM on February 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Huh. So this is "French parenting", eh? All I know is, this (kids eating the same food as parents, kids behaving well in public, kids not constantly throwing tantrums, parents parenting in other words) sounds exactly how my raised-in-poor-Philadelphia, Pa.-homes parents raised us.
posted by easily confused at 2:43 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Frog mother? Really?
posted by euphorb at 2:44 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


That WSJ article is the most fucking pretentious thing I've ever read and I work in Public television:

Bean, as we call her, was our only child at this point

Know who else had an absurd nickname for their kid and delighted in using it? Faux-patrician fraud Clark Rockefeller. My daughter has a family nickname, too. It's for family. That's what makes it special. When you tell the world about it, it's to narcissistically make you seem hyper-affectionate.

French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables.

90% of American toddlers are well-behaved too. It's called selective memory. When you see a kid terrorizing other patrons you notice it, when a kid behaves you tend not to notice.

The biggest reason this book is a crock is because what she's advocating isn't French-style parenting. It's informed parenting. As I always seem to mention, my wife works in early childhood education and our parenting style is very similar to what the author is attributing to French parents-- emphasis on self-engagement and delayed gratification. Because that's what experts have been saying is the proper course for at least 25 years, if anyone cared to listen to them. But many people don't because the path of least resistance is to dote on your kid and keep the rewards coming because it's superficially easier.

I can't claim to be an excellent parent-- I have real problems with age-appropriate expectations and patience. However, my daughter is well-behaved-- you make yourself look myopic by using superlatives about your own kid, but I think I'm being as objective as possible when I say that she is fantastically well-behaved because she's been taught self-awareness and empathy from an early age. I'm not by temperament a good parent; in fact purely by disposition I probably don't have any business having a kid. But I am aware of this, and treating parenting as a discipline to master rather than an exercise in instinct has allowed me to be respectable at it. Despite my shortcomings, I get complimented on my daughter and her relationship with me frequently. This is because I do my best to take to heart the advice of people who know what they're talking about and keep my perspective about my child's place in the world, now and for when she matures. If people who had better natural inclinations also did this they wouldn't need to ponder pretentious gimmicks which suggest that some other culture has a magic bullet. That elusive solution has been around for ages, and another book isn't going to make anyone pay attention.

Apparently the real difference between French and American parents is that French parents actually heed sensible parenting advice and have a view past the immediate. How shocking that another culture is better at opening their ears and thinking long-term than the United States.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:50 PM on February 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


At the time of our outing, she had been a mother for all of three months. Yet just by virtue of being French, she already had a whole different vision of authority than I did

'Just by virtue of being French'! Ah oui, that Gallic sophistication, that natural chic, that indefinable je ne sais quoi .. are there any more clichés I've missed? Note that Pamela Druckerman doesn't actually offer any tips on French parenting other than the utterly banal (French parents have an 'easy, calm authority', etc), she's simply infatuated with the idea of 'being French'.

What will the next parenting fad be? The secrets of Spanish parenting, perhaps: how, thanks to those long, lazy siestas, late-night mealtimes and laid-back mañana culture, Spanish children are free from the obsessive, anxiety-driven neuroses of their American cousins. Anyone care to offer me a book deal? I'm sure I can pad it out with a chapter about the little tapas bar I discovered on holiday in Barcelona last summer.
posted by verstegan at 2:52 PM on February 4, 2012 [23 favorites]


The cultural expectation that kids will misbehave does wonders for encouraging kids to misbehave.

I really do think it's a difference of expectations. Not that they'll be on their best behavior always, but just the expectation that they'll try to participate in the world with an age-appropriate level of civility, instead of the expectation that they'll participate in a sanitized "family friendly" environment.

Kids are a part of life. The biggest difference in European parenting that I've noticed (I live in Germany where the kids are remarkably well behaved) is that kids are much more integrated with adults. They participate and learn what's acceptable this way.
posted by cotterpin at 2:52 PM on February 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


Summer, you forgot that they are cheese-eating surrender monkeys who'd be speaking German if it wasn't for us

Yeah. And they can all speak English but they choose not to.
posted by Summer at 2:52 PM on February 4, 2012


So - next year's big parenting phenom is going to be a kind of French-Chinese hybrid?

(Starts planning Tonkinfancy.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:55 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was a teenager, our neighborhood gentrified and a couple moved in next door that had both just graduated from Berkeley Law (mid-70's). We found them fascinating and exotic. But the thing the generation older than I found the most amazing was that the hip young lawyers and their friends would listen raptly to a child's opinion. A conversation among adults would stop for a four year old's input, as if the child was equal to an adult. That stuck with me and I took notice of that style of child rearing. It's kind of being in love with your kids in a way that doesn't allow proper roles. I think in the last thirty plus years that style has become the norm. Every damn thing must be discussed; bedtime, vegetables, clothing choices. It is very tiresome and some three year olds are very powerful. The autonomy/parental respect balance is very tricky and I don't know that I made the right balance for my own kids.
posted by readery at 2:58 PM on February 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


Whether it's based on a stereotype or not, unlike the awful Tiger Mother book this seems to depict a fairly sane and better than average (for my corner of the US at least) way of raising kids. Our whole society does seem to have drifted into a weird cult of childhood where children are both sacred and fragile as blown glass, and must be protected from all harmful influences and instantly nurtured when they express the slightest discontent whatever the cost. And of course common sense indicates that this is the perfect formula for raising a tyrannical asshole, yet it seems to be becoming the norm.
posted by localroger at 2:58 PM on February 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


So this is what I've learned about parenting based on books about parenting from other cultures.

1. Asian Parenting - I'm right. You're wrong. Play the violin. Something about tigers.
2. French Parenting - I'm right. You're wrong. We're thin and beautiful. Something about coffee, cigarettes, and baguettes.
3. American Parenting - I'm wrong. You're right. Have you read this awesome parenting book in the NYTIMES? They're doing something right. God we're fat.

"What's that. I'm being awfully reductive and offensive. Oh well, if that's the case. You're probably correct, there is no RIGHT way, just try to be decent and educate your children."
posted by Fizz at 3:10 PM on February 4, 2012 [18 favorites]


Our whole society does seem to have drifted into a weird cult of childhood where children are both sacred and fragile as blown glass, and must be protected from all harmful influences and instantly nurtured when they express the slightest discontent whatever the cost

I think more than one international observer has stated that Americans are very good at hysteria. The latest craze/terror/fashion, what have you. We like to go overboard about stuff, and when we run out of steam something comes along that gets our engine going.

Surely we can't be the only one? Do other countries that allow concerns over child predation/child pornography drive a surprising amount of local law (Megan's list) and national policy (whatever new internet-policing act they're trying to push through).
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:10 PM on February 4, 2012


But what happens when you put the Frog Mother in a pot of water and turn up the heat?
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:16 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is it that everything linked from WSJ is so weird and problematic. Is it WSJ or metafilter? Show me something they have that is actually constructive and insightful.
posted by polymodus at 3:24 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I seem to have been raised by parents who carefully concealed their French nationality to the point of speaking with a Chicago accent.

As much as I disapprove of all this "here's how to be a good parent! No, here! Let's use another nation as a stick to beat US women with!" routine, I am a bit confused by what the article assumes are the norms of US parenting. My family was a bit odd and authoritarian in some ways, but I never felt that our day to day lives were particularly out of the ordinary - and "eat at meals and at one permitted snack, don't interrupt the adults without apologizing and backtracking, spend the evenings in quiet play while the adults read or do work" was absolutely how my childhood worked. More, it was how my friends' childhoods worked too. I'm in my mid-thirties, true, so I haven't been a kid for a while. But have things really changed that much?

Also, French family relations are legendary for their severity and coldness (Edith Wharton has something to say about this). I'm not sure how the writer really expects to replicate Frenchness - whatever that is, since I don't believe it's simply discouraging your kids from interrupting and maintaining structured mealtimes - and preventing her kids from growing up....French.
posted by Frowner at 3:28 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


> My daughter has a family nickname, too. It's for family. That's what makes it special. When you tell the world about it, it's to narcissistically make you seem hyper-affectionate.

She might be doing it to give her daughter some privacy. I use nicknames for my kids when I mention them on the Internet not to be cutesy or because of my narcissism, but to make it a little harder for people to find them by looking their names up on Google.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:30 PM on February 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


According to my brother who is french, the secret of french parenting is a portable dvd player (or an ipad depending on your budget) and a good collection of mediocre american animated CG films (Madagascar, Cars, Ice Age etc...), that will keep your kids from bothering you.
posted by SageLeVoid at 3:36 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


But what happens when you put the Frog Mother in a pot of water and turn up the heat?

James Fallows gets irate.
posted by asterix at 3:38 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't Frog considered a slur? Are there a bunch of French people who refer to themselves as Frogs?
posted by bukvich at 3:39 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


French kids eat the same food as their parents, and aren't constantly snacking.

The food is better. I've known French thrasher transgressive graffiti-bombers, that come sit politely at the table when they smell good food.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:42 PM on February 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables

And afterward, the little tykes entertained everyone with a reading of Descartes.
posted by bpm140 at 3:44 PM on February 4, 2012 [14 favorites]


bpm140 Quite possibly, a story of egalitarian animals storming a prison and requesting to be let out of heaven. This kid nails "french." http://vimeo.com/2113477
posted by karmiolz at 3:53 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dudes, the differences between this thread and the Tiger Mom thread are insane.

"How shocking that another culture is better at opening their ears and thinking long-term than the United States."

"they really are the best children I've ever seen... they do play quietly by themselves, they do eat whatever you fix them, and they never throw a fit."

"I figured this was all common sense. Don't be a wuss when dealing with your kid, that's how little assholes are raised."

"kids eating the same food as parents, kids behaving well in public, kids not constantly throwing tantrums, parents parenting in other words"

Are you fucking kidding me? We're not even going to get one "this is a recipe for making cookie-cutter arty philosophers" or "how many more foodie film directors do we really need" or some other shit, just for parity's sake? You guys understand that every one of these opinions could have been transplanted into the Chinese parenting thread without any loss of accuracy or applicability, right? Seriously, go back and read that thread and then this one, it's completely nuts.
posted by Errant at 3:58 PM on February 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


When I was a teenager, our neighborhood gentrified and a couple moved in next door that had both just graduated from Berkeley Law (mid-70's). We found them fascinating and exotic. But the thing the generation older than I found the most amazing was that the hip young lawyers and their friends would listen raptly to a child's opinion. A conversation among adults would stop for a four year old's input, as if the child was equal to an adult.

My parents were of that generation, and I can remember my grandparents being horrified at the lack of Discipline and Proper Roles in our household. But unlike the family you describe, things in our house weren't based on equality and listening to the child; it was more about removing structure in order to allow the child to flower unconstrained by old-school expectations and roles. So if I wanted to come to dinner naked, or wearing a dress, no one was going to forbid it, or even much care. But equally, no one was interested in my interrupting an adult conversation to tell them about it, either.

In retrospect it was an interesting experiment but not all that radical in its outcomes, though it certainly produced some drama at the time. But what's interesting is that it made it easy for them to have adult time, like the FPP describes. They could sit and chat with their friends, and my friends and I were expected to be independent enough to entertain ourselves, preferably outside. And even though they were trying to be the antithesis of their Eisenhower-era parents, their own childhoods also featured that kind of freedom for the adults to sit and sip cocktails Mad Men-style while the kids played upstairs.

I don't have kids, but when I am at the houses of friends who have children, I don't see quite as much of that expectation of them being able to take care of themselves with no adult involvement while the adults do adult things. I'm not sure that it's really all that awful; I like hanging out with kids and holding them in my lap, but it is definitely different from what I grew up with.
posted by Forktine at 4:01 PM on February 4, 2012


I think part of the point being missed in some comments here is that the french are raising kids the way that americans used to, which is not the same as how americans raise kids today. That woman who made national need a couple of years ago by writing about how she let her 9 year old son make his own way home via public transportation - that story didn't blow up because it was normal, it blew up because it seemed crazy to today's parents, even though it's completely normal for the childhoods of people in this thread.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:04 PM on February 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Wait, also, neurotic parents are not all Americans nor vice versa- having observed parenting in several places, let me assure you that the phrase "If you go outside with wet hair you'll die" and cutting up the meat of a thirteen year-old boy were not conducted in English. Parents are parents, and kids are kids. Most parenting doesn't happen in public.

Then again my brother hated everything but ham and peas for years, whereas I loved pickles and Caesar salad so I guess one parent was a true-bloodied American and the other a sneaky, fermented food-loving spy? They just removed us from the public eye when we got awful.

ps: does anyone know if drinking wine and staring at a French airline strike makes it cuter? Urgent question.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:10 PM on February 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Our whole society does seem to have drifted into a weird cult of childhood where children are both sacred and fragile as blown glass, and must be protected from all harmful influences and instantly nurtured when they express the slightest discontent whatever the cost


Have we? Have we really? Or is this just something everyone likes talking about, a heady cocktail of nostalgia and judging others that is irresistible to all but the most resolute? I acknowledge that metafilter is not exactly the most representative, but whenever I see stuff like that here, elsewhere on the web, and in person, there's never anyone who comes in to say, "Actually, George and I like to coddle little Cheswick and love listening to his inane, nonsensical stories, and I think giving in to his mercurial demands and egregious tantrums will result in a better adult."

No, everyone's always falling over themselves to say "Oh no, we never do that with our child, and we certainly weren't raised that way, goodness no!"

I submit that this horde of pandering, jelly-marrowed parents, hostage to their demon-spawn's incoherent desires and becoming little more than vessels for their child's wishes do not, in fact, exist in the real world in any meaningful sense.

Further, I would argue that we posit their existence to make us feel better about our own, always less-than-perfect, always vulnerable to a creeping coterie of doubts, fears and anxieties parenting. Summoning the spectre of the indulgent, inconsistent, lazy, fibre-less parent allows us to forgive our own trespasses. And if we can't invent them wholecloth, there are always some parents in the wings, from which we can happily extrapolate an entire methodology based on witnesses one unfortunate incident at the shopping centre, or some over-tired shenanigans at the the restaurant.

We need these bad parents for two reasons: Firstly, it makes us feel better when we are indulgent to our own children. When we prioritise convenience over "doing the right thing", when we - inexplicably - find their boring anecdotes and tortured explanations charming and enthralling. When we let them have that thing we should really let them have because it's convenient, or we love them, or we just want a fucking moment's peace. We don't need to feel guilty about that indulgent because there are parents who do that all the time! Imagine!

Secondly, it makes us feel better when we are not indulgent to our children. When we put ourselves and our needs first. When we tell them to shut up we're watching Survivor, or no we don't have time to "look at the toys" we just want to go home, or there's no milk and I'm not going out to get any it's toast for breakfast, tough shit. Or no, I'm not gonna listen to your boring story about something you actually care about because I'm tired, I've had a long day, and frankly I can barely understand you and you are a terrible anecdote-relater. This discourse helps here because we can then think, not only is it okay to put our needs above the child but it's actually helping them become better people. Phew!

I kind of understood much of this when I was a childcarer for five years - though I confess I was a lot more judgmental then. But being a new parent has made me see those years with a complete new vision. I now realise that parenting is essentially twenty-odd years of feeling guilty, and then trying not to, about approximately eleventy killion different things. You try to expunge this guilt by either finding parents that are worse than you, or persuading yourself that the things you're feeling guilty for are actually in the best interests of your child. Both of things can be true, of course, but to act like there's any kind of trend or pattern is, I think, fiction.

These parents - and their opposite number, the "good" parents - don't exist insofar as they exist in us. Some days you're the "bad" parent, and some days you're the "good" parent, just like your child is both "good" and "bad" some days. Everyone - adult and kid alike - is just trying to feel better about it. If you want to help, try keep your judgment to those few magical hours you have each night when you and you partner are awake and your child isn't. The glare of judgment from other people regarding your parenting feels like superman's heat vision, I can tell you.
posted by smoke at 4:23 PM on February 4, 2012 [57 favorites]


Well, I for one *do not* think having well behaved little children is a positive thing. I was apparently potty-trained before my first birthday and also properly eating meals with my own fork. Thirty years later people still remember how well behaved I was, a miracle of no nonsense European child-rearing, yadda yadda...
Given that children are potty trained and eating by themselves at around 3-4 years old, not at 11 months, I frankly wonder what kind of stressful scary hell my first year of life must have been..
posted by ruelle at 4:32 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the French are so good at raising children, why does Madeline always end up in trouble?

SHE NEARLY DIED!
posted by drezdn at 4:42 PM on February 4, 2012 [18 favorites]


One could say the same of Katy Carr.

Isn't Frog considered a slur? Are there a bunch of French people who refer to themselves as Frogs?

It's on about the level of le rosbif ("The Roast Beef") - which the French call the English. In both cases it's a reference to something one nation finds it weird that the other eats. It's rude - you wouldn't call a French person it to their face unless you wanted to offend them.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:44 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


(But rude like "yankee" or "pollack", rather than rude like harder racial epithets - you can put it on the front of a British tabloid newspaper without censure.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:46 PM on February 4, 2012


Naturally, worldly, rational people are wary of just foolishly swallowing whatever old stereotypes of whatever new population happen to be on the cultural menu this month, and yes, we all prefer to believe that people are about the same wherever you go. But actually there is no reason why that should be true, and it isn't. There are just tons and tons of brats in America. Seriously, haven't you noticed? I have rarely been out in public in an American city and not been made aware of them. Always talking so loudly, and insisting on things, and running around, and knocking things over*. God, what the fuck. Not all of them (of course not, not even close), but it just seems like it's always someone, all the time. Meanwhile the children I came into contact with in Brittany were almost all just wonderful, so calm and sweet. The ones I actually met and got to know were even more impressive. By the time I left I was aching to reproduce. But it must depend on where you go: Here in the south of France, the quality of child you get seems somewhat degraded. (People here seem more like Americans in general, actually.) But, still better than the places I've been in America (or in my own country, where they're it's as bad but in a different way - Americans spoil their children, we neglect ours).

I don't know if the author of this book has managed to come up with useful advice based on all this, but I have no argument with the idea that there's something particularly nice about French children, and that we could learn from their example.

* It actually seems that's what people expect of them.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:58 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do not know a lot of French people, and I've only been there just one time. My take on them is that they're more grounded, and not as easy to get to know as people in the US, even on a superficial level. Though the fact is that I was a man from a foreign country, in a city they love that's all the time swarmed with fools who are not always respectful to their traditions, unwilling or -- mostly -- unable to speak their language.

Still, even given that, it seemed -- to me -- that there was a reserve that doesn't exist in US citizens in similar circumstances. Since I returned, I make an extra effort to help anyone who looks lost; that glazed look, a map in one hand, a finger from the other shoved into their nose up to their elbow, rooting around—I ask them what they're looking for (on the map, not in their nose), I do all that I can to help, friendly as I can. Though I had that tendency before, anyways, which I've heard is truly a big US thing; seems we're sortof a festive people when we're not bombing your country and water-boarding your brothers.

But. Kids. Can't say much about French children, though if the people were in fact more reserved I'd think that'd pass on to the kids. The children I did notice did live up to the hype, like small adults, not sugared-up screaming escapees from a monkey house.

But I've absolutely seen that same thing in US kids that have attended Montessori schools and some home-schooled kids, too; plz don't think that all home-schooling is by crazed fundie freaks, a friend of mine has taken his daughter out, as have other thoughtful parents, and they've all taken a subject that's a strength to them, and those children are long miles ahead of any others, probably long miles ahead of me.


I worked with a ton of Indian contractors when I was saving the world from Y2K, then also at CPQ after it was clear that we'd been successful in doing so, the world now safe for all. Of course I got to be friendly with some of these people. In talking with them about their children, here's the news: You're an Indian, and have kids, you leave the US before your child starts school. Period. Either that or you are not going back to India, as your child will never, ever fit.
II asked Rajeev what it'd be like if he fell in love with a topless dancer, and married her, and took her home. Immediately, straight-up, no hesitation he told me that his father would immediately and completely disown him, never speak his name. Family is big there, and very powerful.)


fraula: "And for god's sake only elderly men, Basques, and American tourists were those black berets."
HEY!! I love my black beret! The red one, too.* They're not the wool ones, that itch like hell, they're the nice cotton ones, that lay real nice on my fat head...
*Pretend that it's not a dorky looking gals mannequin head modeling the beret, make like it's some real Mans Man, all muscular and shit, looking off into the smoky distances with clarity and a complete fearlessness.

Last—thanx for the heads-up on it being WSJ links. I never did much like to click on them but *really* avoid it since Murdoch bought it; I keep hoping for a big public meltdown like MySpace. I've thought about a MetaTalk about it even, a small pony request, where any link to WSJ on an FPP the link would be preceded by a picture of a steaming turd; I shouldn't think that'd be too hard to program for a star like PB.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:14 PM on February 4, 2012


"Parent like this one woman claims all parents do! Your kids will be quiet!"
"Will they be happier? Will they be better-adjusted adults?"
"Who the fuck cares? It's more convenient!"
"Sure. If it's true."
"Whaddya mean, if? She was, like, in France! Have you been to France?"
"Yes."
'What the fuck do you know about anything?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:25 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Isn't Frog considered a slur? Are there a bunch of French people who refer to themselves as Frogs?

I'm not French so I'm not sure how most French people take it, but I know several huge francophiles who affectionately refer to French people as frogs.

I think it's similar to Krauts for Germans...again, not sure how actual Germans take that word. Although interestingly, when I lived in Germany I know people referred to Americans as "Amis" and one time someone said something to me about Amis(I'm American) and then started apologizing and looked sheepish.
posted by fromageball at 5:54 PM on February 4, 2012


Last night we were driven from our favorite, candle lit Thai restaurant by a screaming toddler. Its getting to be so common in our neighborhood that, with the exception of one old school Italian place, the type with Sinatra music and big, deep booths, we just get delivery or do pick up.

I don't understand the allure of dining out at night for the parents as not only are all the other patrons in the restaurant miserable by the screaming tot but the parents, also, look extremely tense and unhappy.

Why do they do it?
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 5:59 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


French, Canadian, whatever.

Seriously, though. Just let your kid sort it out for themselves, mostly. It's nice being able to take our 19-month-old to a proper restaurant and just have a normal family time, without tantrums, thrown food and ridiculous amounts of attention.

Rule #1: it's ok to let them cry, as long as you know they aren't in real distress. Crying is how they express their displeasure about something. I encourage self-expression in my child, and sometimes this means she expresses how pissed off she is about having to go to bed, or do something else I know is best for her.

She gets over it and is a better person for it.

Actually, rule #1 is "just relax already". You aren't going to harm your child with a few mistakes. Try to be consistent, fair and loving. But the world will never revolve around your child, so the earlier they learn that, the better it is for everyone.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:08 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you fucking kidding me? We're not even going to get one "this is a recipe for making cookie-cutter arty philosophers" or "how many more foodie film directors do we really need" or some other shit, just for parity's sake?

The real irony here is that, while Amy Chua was talking about getting her kids to excel at violin as well (and thus do something 'creative'), just about all the French people I know are engineers (and obviously there's some selection bias here). As cliches go, it's quite marvelous as to how a country that builds the world's highest road bridge, one of the fastest rail networks in the world, and one whose national icon is a misshapen piece of bent steel isn't typecast as being nerdy. There's clearly some amount of projection going on in the (liberal) anglophone world on what the French are, even before we hit the Francophobes.

But yes, the difference here is stark. You have to be Asian (in both British and American sense of the term) to truly get it, I suppose.
posted by the cydonian at 6:26 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can we just post smoke's comment on every FPP that includes some article regarding Parenting And Why You Probably Suck at It?

Because I'm really tired of this conversation. Now if you'll excuse me I have to go make my kid brush his teeth and go to bed. I'm probably doing that wrong too, somehow.
posted by emjaybee at 6:46 PM on February 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Rule #2:

Teach your kids that actions have consequences:

The straw wrapper you threw nearly landed in the next table's food, the armrest you kick on the plane hits the person in front, when you scream it hurts people's ears....etc.

Don't just fucking say "sorry" to those who have been subjected to this.
posted by brujita at 7:08 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I for one *do not* think having well behaved little children is a positive thing. I was apparently potty-trained before my first birthday and also properly eating meals with my own fork. Thirty years later people still remember how well behaved I was, a miracle of no nonsense European child-rearing, yadda yadda...
Given that children are potty trained and eating by themselves at around 3-4 years old, not at 11 months, I frankly wonder what kind of stressful scary hell my first year of life must have been..


Kids are in constant learning mode. Give them no challenges to overcome, and they get complacent. It's much more stressful to unlearn a bad habit like having people feed you and wiping your ass for 3 years than it is to learn how to do it right along with your growing body and mind wanting to.
posted by gjc at 7:18 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have we? Have we really? Or is this just something everyone likes talking about, a heady cocktail of nostalgia and judging others that is irresistible to all but the most resolute? I acknowledge that metafilter is not exactly the most representative, but whenever I see stuff like that here, elsewhere on the web, and in person, there's never anyone who comes in to say, "Actually, George and I like to coddle little Cheswick and love listening to his inane, nonsensical stories, and I think giving in to his mercurial demands and egregious tantrums will result in a better adult."

I don't think you've been paying attention. I can't count the number of times I've seen people - on metafilter even - say things like "When I was a kid, most days my mother didn't know where I was for hours at a time - but I can't imagine that with my own kids, I just can't."
posted by -harlequin- at 7:20 PM on February 4, 2012


I don't think you've been paying attention. I can't count the number of times I've seen people - on metafilter even - say things like "When I was a kid, most days my mother didn't know where I was for hours at a time - but I can't imagine that with my own kids, I just can't."

That is totally equivalent to helicopter parenting, you're right. Also, anecdotes are totally the best way of discussing society-wide trends.
posted by smoke at 7:24 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Smoke - not sure what you're saying. You said you hadn't heard anecdotes in line with the perception, but I've heard no shortage of them.

For broader evidence, I mentioned that incident earlier where a nine-year being allowed to make his way home (like was normal in our day) blew up into national news prompting national outrage and horror. That level of national outrage couldn't happen if there wasn't a some kind of society-wide change in attitude norms.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:40 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


society-wide change in attitude norms.
It's kind of tough, because like most society wide things it's kind of a vicious circle. I'm not a parent, but I grew up in a suburban subdivision that has 15 miles of trails running in the middle of it, with ponds and woods and fields and such. As kids (1980s-90s) we would run around from dawn to dusk, unsupervised. I'd come indoors and be so unused to indoor light that everything would go green for a minute. It was great, but all the kids were out so it felt pretty safe. You'd roam around with your band of kids and run into another band of kids. We never felt alone.

Now, my parents still live where I grew up, and there are no kids out EVER without parents right behind them. I feel like it's sad, but if I were a parent I'm not sure I'd want to send them all by themselves out there either. The fact that *everyone* did it is what made it seem normal and safe.
posted by sweetkid at 8:10 PM on February 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Last night we were driven from our favorite, candle lit Thai restaurant by a screaming toddler.

You know you're getting old when the cab drivers start looking young.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:15 PM on February 4, 2012 [23 favorites]


> Now, my parents still live where I grew up, and there are no kids out EVER without parents right behind them.

Are there still all the ponds and woods and fields and such, and no additional cars? That's my big concern (well, a big one, the other concern being the man in my neighborhood who tried to abduct a child last week). My kids are growing up in an area with so much more traffic than I had to deal with that I can't even begin to calculate it. I let my son ride his bike all over, but I worry so much about all the drivers out there.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:32 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Say what you will about other countries but no one does anxious fretting over every aspect of thier lives quite like Americans.

Its not society's fault but of carefully crafted consumer culture. Perusing vintage ads where this insecurity was beginning to be created, you can see it more clearly as they tend to be more obvious. Marketing and advertising is entirely created on the foundation of creating then soothing anxious fretting.
posted by infini at 9:44 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


running order squabble fest: "Last night we were driven from our favorite, candle lit Thai restaurant by a screaming toddler.

You know you're getting old when the cab drivers start looking young.
"

You know how online everybody is always writing lol or even LOL and you know for a fact that all they're doing is sitting there like a lump of goo? Well, I truly laughed out loud at this one. You be funny man! (or woman)

thanx!
posted by dancestoblue at 9:59 PM on February 4, 2012


Are there still all the ponds and woods and fields and such, and no additional cars?

Yea, lots more cars (this is Northern VA, which is undergoing traffic explosion). The trails kind of duck in and out of being car accessible. Like I said, I'm not a parent and wasn't worried about abductors as a kid so I don't know too much about how they operate, but I go running out there when I'm home and there are never kids out there without a parent in tow. Totally different than when I was a kid.
posted by sweetkid at 10:38 PM on February 4, 2012


I can confidently comment on your parenting style because my username is French.
posted by desjardins at 11:25 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't understand the allure of dining out at night for the parents as not only are all the other patrons in the restaurant miserable by the screaming tot but the parents, also, look extremely tense and unhappy.

Why do they do it?


Because the most times my child is in a good space and he enjoys eating out and we all have a good time.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:35 PM on February 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh! Won't anyone think of the children?
posted by carping demon at 12:14 AM on February 5, 2012


The parental child-emperor fetish happens worldwide. It's pretty epidemic in upper-middle class US areas, though. The worst are the parents who won't deny their precious loin-spawn a single whim but who snarl at everyone who reacts to their enfents terribles - i.e. asking them to stop kicking a seatmate on an airplane, or to stop ramming shoppers with those awful kiddie carts, or to stop throwing food at neighboring tables at a restaurant.

Parents who lack the backbone to set boundaries with their children shouldn't expect the rest of the world to share their weakness. Also, they could generally benefit from the advice of a competent attorney: it's generally not a crime for an adult to politely request that a child stop a violent or disruptive action that's performed in a public space. At least, not until the precious mommie clan who hang out in my neighborhood learn how to make laws.
posted by SakuraK at 12:36 AM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I read about this new craze for excellent French parenting, and how well-behaved French kids are, I can only hope that someone would tell the baby who cries non-stop from 5 to 8 am in the flat below, the toddler next door who has perfected the high-pitched whine to an art, or the teenagers who spend the whole weekend smoking pot in the basement. And I live in conservative, staid, traditional and definitely French Versailles, as a matter of fact.

Also, get off my lawn.
posted by Skeptic at 1:04 AM on February 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


I've read the Finnish version of this same discussion on a parenting forum not long ago. It was about how American kids are so pleasant, sociable, sunny, well-behaved and confident, compared to our own morose, moody and whiny offspring...
posted by sively at 1:49 AM on February 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


The real irony here is that, while Amy Chua was talking about getting her kids to excel at violin as well (and thus do something 'creative'), just about all the French people I know are engineers (and obviously there's some selection bias here). As cliches go, it's quite marvelous as to how a country that builds the world's highest road bridge, one of the fastest rail networks in the world, and one whose national icon is a misshapen piece of bent steel isn't typecast as being nerdy.

Not to mention that if you are a physicist or mathematician, the most familiar French names to you are Fourier, Laplace, Fermat, Poisson, Poincare, Cauchy, Galois, etc. Not to mention Curie, Becquerel, Coulomb, Ampere, de Broglie, etc. etc. etc.
posted by vacapinta at 1:52 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


You guys understand that every one of these opinions could have been transplanted into the Chinese parenting thread without any loss of accuracy or applicability, right? Seriously, go back and read that thread and then this one, it's completely nuts.

Well, one key difference is that this article advocates inclusive parenting and teaching independent children self-actualization and deferred gratification, and the Tiger Mom article advocated thinly-veiled child abuse. So I can certainly see how people would have different opinions of one v. the other.
posted by mhoye at 2:32 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a grain of truth in what the author says, but she could at least be honest and outline what she doesn't want to talk about.

I've lived for several weeks with French families, lived and taught kids in France and go there regularly. I've also lived in the US and have a bunch of American relatives.

Food:

French children do snack less. Absolutely true. Their schools meals are much, much healthier. French kids just don't have the same relationship with food as Americans. But a far higher proportion go on to become adults who smoke to manage their weight. American acceptance of incredible obesity is neatly counterbalanced by French horror - to the point of it being a moral failure of self control - over weight gain.

Discipline

An in extremis example: a French family I lived with for several weeks (I was 12) were very structured and disciplined. They got adult time. Their kids were incredibly well-behaved. The boundaries between who got to make the orders and who got to follow the orders was very clear. They were a nice family who I am absolutely certain raised anxious children simply dying to break the yoke. The elder sister had been to America and the other kids listened to her tales as if she were describing Disneyland itself. Amongst other things, I got grief from the parents for going for a pee in the middle of the night (in the toilet, I should add) and getting two punctures on my bicycle tyre. I likened it to living in Dickensian times.

Sense of order

It is worth noting that for lots of reasons French family units are both stronger and different. You need to take a more stand off approach to childrearing if, as is more common in France, you have more than 2 kids. Private ownership of companies passed down through the generations is more common. It's a smaller country. Adults do not need to travel so far from their home towns to find work and progress their careers. The support from the state is explicitly built around support for the family. Life expectancy is high. The intergenerational DNA of childrearing is often passed down with fewer changes. A clear negative of this is dependency. Most commonly seen among the stereotypical Italian man still living at home at 30, there is a less extreme French version too. American kids may get less structure but they get less boundaries too.

Rules and creativity

There are lots of incredibly creative French people. But the French school system does not encourage kids to think as much as other systems I've encounterd. It encourages them to learn set stuff. The British system, by contrast, is less learning and more thinking. Both systems have merit, but one is to strict and one is too lenient. I made it my life's work to get my pupils to express an opinion in class about the things they were studying. I was not always successful. The French are more than capable of breaking explicit and implicit rules when they want, as anyone stood next to a no smoking sign or trying to queue can testify, but this sense of the framework, the cadre, is nonetheless strong.

Cultural homogeneity

It goes without saying that all of this is based on stereotypes. Notwithstanding that, France places a much higher premium on cultural homogeneity (or at least limiting how far heterogeneity goes) and this influences attitudes to kids and raising kids too. Not only does America place a much lower premium on it, but it is a more culturally diverse country and saying things like "in virtue of being American [she absorbed some amazing way of raising kids]" makes very little sense. It is pretentious and debatable to say it about the French, but it is at least more plausible.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:48 AM on February 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


Not to mention that if you are a physicist or mathematician, the most familiar French names to you are Fourier, Laplace, Fermat, Poisson, Poincare, Cauchy, Galois, etc. Not to mention Curie, Becquerel, Coulomb, Ampere, de Broglie, etc. etc. etc.
posted by vacapinta at 1:52 AM on February 5 [+] [!]


Just to add to the list from a humanities/social studies/literature perspective: Sartre, Foucault, Merleau-Ponty, Deluze, Guatarri, Derrida, Auguste Comte, Bordieu, Durkheim, Kristeva, Piaget, Bergson, Barthes, de Certeau, Lacan, Levi-Strauss, Riceour, Georges Perec, Camus, and Volatire. I'm sure there's some I'm missing.

France: The nerdiest nation?
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:36 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Though I should add, lest I give the wrong impression, that I ain't no Houellebecq girl, cause seriously, judging by his novels, that guy has some serious issues with women.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:39 AM on February 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


As far as I can tell, "French" parenting is the same as "not upper-middle class parenting". Because the rest of us don't have trouble saying "No."
posted by jb at 5:18 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's not forget Donatien Alphonse Francoise de Sade and Anne Desclos.

Being in America, I'm probably breaking some kind of law even mentioning them in a thread about childrearing.
posted by localroger at 5:53 AM on February 5, 2012


I love that the idea that bad parents who raise obnoxious children are something we all just collectively hallucinated is more plausible here than the idea that the culture of a nation over a thousand years in the making, across an ocean, with a vastly different history, politics, geography, cuisine, language, and whatever could actually accomplish something important (particularly something having to do with as made up and historically changeable a notion as that of "childhood") differently and better, in aggregate, than Americans. Yes, this book sounds silly, reductive and gimmicky, and yes, parents are sad and vulnerable prey, but I still don't see what is so impossible about that.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:43 AM on February 5, 2012


France: The nerdiest nation?

Not to do down the achievements of France, but I think you could make the same kind of list for most developed nations.
posted by Summer at 6:43 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


... and one whose national icon is a misshapen piece of bent steel isn't typecast as being nerdy."

The beginning of the film Amelie: "How many people are having an orgasm right now?" [scenes of various orgasms taking place] Amélie: "Fifteen."

By the way, my children are Franco-Albertan, and I assure you that they are very well-behaved.
posted by sneebler at 7:04 AM on February 5, 2012


"A clear negative of this is dependency. Most commonly seen among the stereotypical Italian man still living at home at 30, there is a less extreme French version too. American kids may get less structure but they get less boundaries too."

This is just speculation from a few Italian friends and a friend whose been living all over europe/middle east/latin america the past ten years and brings visitors back to my city all the time. I'm not actually sure this is a bad thing. Staying at home until you have sufficient income to sustain your own place is not a bad thing if everyone involved is happy with it. You can save more money, make more relaxed and honest choices about what career and educational path you want to go on, and spend more time enjoying life.

Not to mention, assuming that every single person needs to go and create a new home that suits their particular tastes in an American thing. We are sold on the idea we need to buy a home and really it should be new. In Europe this manner of "becoming an adult" doesn't seem like it would make sense because there isn't this manifest destiny spirit that everyone needs to spread out and build build build and leave your family behind and disconnect from your roots in order to be an adult.

The interconnectedness of families, grandparents, cousins, neighbors, and the stability of supportive social networks of people that have known each other for a long time, might actually you know... be good for kids.

Who knows all of this is from a book that's not particularly guided by science (though science itself can fall short of measuring child development, human happiness and well being so these kinds of anadata are useful too as far as I'm concerned)
posted by xarnop at 7:05 AM on February 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


sively: I don't speak a word of Finnish, but I'm dying to know more about that conversation. (When I was a little girl, I used to think wistfully that it must be lovely to be Scandinavian. I had a lot of children's books from that part of the world.)

Now, my parents still live where I grew up, and there are no kids out EVER without parents right behind them. . .

To be fair to the parents of those kids kept inside, they may be more afraid of CPS than of child predators. Although I have no kids, I would have no objection to allowing a certain amount of roaming on their part. I would have an objection to getting the cops called about it by some busybody. Even if no charges were filed, it would be a terrible way for the kids to be exposed to the police.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:29 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Summer, true, but there was the whole enlightenment thing. Tis a pretty French word. But yes Bentham, Locke, Hobbes, etc.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:44 AM on February 5, 2012



I recall how similarly frustrated I was about the recent write-ups about how children in France eat their school lunch. From the first link, there are similarly inflammatory statements to those in the WSJ article posted here, such as: "Public schools in France are overcrowded, rigid and hierarchical. And parents, who are never addressed by their first names, are strongly discouraged from entering school buildings, let alone the classrooms. I cannot tell you what my child learns, paints or builds on any given school day. But I do know that on Feb. 4, he ate hake in Basque sauce, mashed pumpkin, cracked rice, Edam cheese and organic fruits for lunch. That meant stuffed marrows and apples for dinner. The city of Paris said so."

This makes me shrug and say, "Wow - that's interesting, I guess - but that's not possible where we live." Even though we live in a gentrified neighbourhood in Toronto, where plenty of parents are sighing with longing over the lunches while ignoring the rest of the paragraph.

smoke is so right about parenting being about days, sometimes both but usually either good and bad. And parenting in public is made up of little moments. As my friend posted on fb recently: "Some days are like today, when a little old lady remarked about how nicely behaved and respectful [her son] is. And some days are like yesterday, when [her son] pointed at a lady wearing a Full black hijab and yelled "NINJA" in the middle of a busy shopping center." (For the record, her son is autistic so please don't start on the inappropriateness of that - this is provided as a concise example, written from her heart, of how far the pendulum swings) When I read through some of the WSJ comments, I was thinking "Wow, responding like this to an article about a book is like judging a parent based on one episode in a park." Except that I'm kind of curious to read how a book was built from all of these little instances. I think I'll request it from the library, and will still probably say "That's interesting, I guess, but not always possible where we live."
posted by peagood at 9:05 AM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


(But rude like "yankee" or "pollack", rather than rude like harder racial epithets - you can put it on the front of a British tabloid newspaper without censure.)

I'm not French so I'm not sure how most French people take it, but I know several huge francophiles who affectionately refer to French people as frogs.

I had never thought that "yankee," "pollack" (the proper polish word is "polak," pronounced the same way), and "frog" were anything but informal. Not rude, exactly, but simply familiar, like someone calling his dad his "old man." "Kraut" is clearly derogatory, I think, but maybe that's just from too many wartime propaganda films wearing that into my brain.

Yankee is a special case, though. From foreigners, refering to all 300 million of my countrymen, I take it as a informal shorthand for "American," but there are certain enclaves in the American South where, refering to a whole list of intergenerational grievances, jealousies, and hatreds, that the word can come out with a surprising amount of venom, even when disguised as casual joshing.
posted by LiteOpera at 9:35 AM on February 5, 2012


I just want to say that I didn't mean anything negative by "frog". I just needed an animal that somehow felt French! And frogs are very much not like tigers, which helps.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:13 AM on February 5, 2012


Yankee is a special case, though. From foreigners, refering to all 300 million of my countrymen, I take it as a informal shorthand for "American," but there are certain enclaves in the American South where, refering to a whole list of intergenerational grievances, jealousies, and hatreds, that the word can come out with a surprising amount of venom, even when disguised as casual joshing.

Well, think of it this way. Those grievances, jealousies and hatreds primarily come from economic competition over the last 200 years or so, and a four-year war between the North and the South. England and France have been competing economically and militarily for about 1000 years, including one war that lasted for a hundred years (with intermissions). Between that and arguments about whether bathrooms need bidets, the word has the potential to be quite forceful. I'd say "kraut" is probably about the right comparison - not unforgivable, but not polite.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:36 AM on February 5, 2012


Remember when Jimmy Kimmel challenged parents to give their kid a terrible Christmas present and tape it and upload it to YouTube?

There was about 1 pair of kids that I'm pretty sure most people would not mind having as their own kids. But a number of the other kids were just awful: high strung, whiny, humorless, and demanding.

I can't imagine having the time or energy to have children or teach them how to behave when I have a full-time job. Jesus Christ.
posted by anniecat at 1:04 PM on February 5, 2012



I love that the idea that bad parents who raise obnoxious children are something we all just collectively hallucinated is more plausible here


Well, what I'm arguing is that I'm not sure they exist as a recent social phenomenon. Of course there are indulgent parents, parents who struggle etc. But is this something new bought on by slippery new morals? And are they legion? I'm yet to see a skerrick of actual evidence for that proposition, and I have (somewhat desultorily I admit) looked.
posted by smoke at 1:09 PM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Though, by the way, when I lived in London, I was in a public changing room and some British lady's annoying daughter said something to me that I couldn't quite decipher, and the mother laughed and said to me, "It's okay. She's always telling everyone to wear thongs. Even people on the Tube." Ha. Ha....ha. How so very adorable, rude child.

So, some British parents overindulge their annoying monsters too. How about teaching her to not bother strangers in a changing room about their undergarments? Was that supposed to be cute or acceptable?
posted by anniecat at 1:10 PM on February 5, 2012


anniecat, I am sorry, but that seems pretty funny to me.

Now I am a bit curious how a child saw your knickers, I have never seen a group changing room in a retail store before. Usually it is a series of booths.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 4:01 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Compare the comments here to the vitriol I received when I asked "At what age (if any) should a child/young adult be expected to address the envelope of a thank you note sent through the mail?" on the green. Nobody ever answered with an age value.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 4:33 PM on February 5, 2012




Remember when Jimmy Kimmel challenged parents to give their kid a terrible Christmas present yt and tape it and upload it to YouTube?

There was about 1 pair of kids that I'm pretty sure most people would not mind having as their own kids. But a number of the other kids were just awful: high strung, whiny, humorless, and demanding.

I can't imagine having the time or energy to have children or teach them how to behave when I have a full-time job. Jesus Christ.


In fairness:

- it was Christmas, which is really high stress for both kids and parents. Kids often don't behave well at Christmas - unfamiliar rich food, unusual bedtimes, strange adults, the thrill and stress of presents. I would never judge a kid for being whiny at the holidays, remembering the stressful horrorshow that they occasionally were in my loving and well-mannered home

-these were children whose parents thought it was funny to upset them and then post it on the internet, which leads me to believe that the parents themselves might be pretty ghastly. My parents would probably have gnawed off a finger before unneccessarily hurting me in order to get laughs from random adults. They would have considered it cruel to me and demeaning to themselves.
posted by Frowner at 5:16 PM on February 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


Now I am a bit curious how a child saw your knickers, I have never seen a group changing room in a retail store before. Usually it is a series of booths.

Changing room of a health club. They were probably there to go swimming.

these were children whose parents thought it was funny to upset them and then post it on the internet, which leads me to believe that the parents themselves might be pretty ghastly.

Some of the kids seemed to handle it pretty well. The holidays don't have to be a stressful time.

Kimmel also did one where he challenged parents to tell their kids that they ate all their Halloween candy.

Again, you have some kids who are pretty well behaved. I don't think it's a horrible thing to do. Kids ought to learn how to act appropriately, and they shouldn't throw stuff at their parents no matter how dramatic and hysterical they feel.

They'll get over it.
posted by anniecat at 5:24 PM on February 5, 2012


@Napoleonic Terrier - ..."note sent through the mail?"

What is this thing you speak of?
posted by kuanes at 5:59 PM on February 5, 2012


I'm holding out for the book that eventually proves that Italian parenting is the-one-true-way.
posted by dgran at 6:34 AM on February 6, 2012


LET ME TELL YOU A THING OR TWO ABOUT HOW TO RAISE YOUR KIDS....
posted by Theta States at 7:51 AM on February 6, 2012


Now I am a bit curious how a child saw your knickers, I have never seen a group changing room in a retail store before. Usually it is a series of booths.

Hello??!

posted by thinkpiece at 10:11 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Finally, it's probably worth pointing out that Piaget was not Americain.

Nor was he French, he was Swiss.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:24 AM on February 6, 2012


Among the things I've noticed among my cousins and siblings who have kids is that the ones with calm, sensible children are themselves calm and sensible, even in the face of childish absurdities. Reasonable demands from the children are met favorably. Unreasonable demands are met with instruction and discipline, if necessary. As the kids grow there is constant increase in expectations for responsibility. The kids are important, but they don't run the adults' lives.

The ones who have children who constantly whine or are constantly unruly are themselves whiny and hysterical; prone to blowing small things out of proportion. The children dominate their lives and attention, as if they don't know how to set boundaries and stick to them. Rules seem arbitrary and open to negotiation. Toys and households are in states of perpetual mess. This tendency with with their children seems reflected in other parts of their lives.
posted by scelerat at 12:22 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is a thinly disguised rehash of the endless stream of "don't be a helicopter parent" articles and books out there.

I don't disagree with the idea. But saying it's uniquely French is... well, a good way to sell books.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:27 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


... inspired by a trip to a coastal town when her daughter had temper tantrums and French parents didn't.

Someone please fix this sentence. Please. IT BURNS.

And perhaps obsess a little less -- the French don't even obsessively buy books about how to parent.

Excellent! Another book I don't need to buy or even read!

fraula won this one early. and then smoke.

Given that children are potty trained and eating by themselves at around 3-4 years old, not at 11 months, I frankly wonder what kind of stressful scary hell my first year of life must have been..

I'm guessing you don't have kids. My daughter started eating with a spoon at 1, and like many, was toilet trained right at 2.

Pretty much all Japanese kids are potty trained by 9 months, no? I actually think diaper training at 2 or 3 is MUCH more stressful than before they have formed emotional opinions about their diapers.

Or what gjc said first and better. Geez, everyone is first and better! Reminds me of being the little brother ... Sniff. :(
posted by mrgrimm at 2:39 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now, my parents still live where I grew up, and there are no kids out EVER without parents right behind them.

I'm guessing you don't live with a lot of underclass kids. To be honest, I almost NEVER see the kids in my neighborhood accompanied by their parents (unless they're getting pushed out of a half-moving car ...) .. they are all mostly roving around the neighborhood in packs of 2-6 ... just like my brother and I did when we were 6-12.

To be honest, I would very much prefer to see more parents around. The language these kids use would make your ears blush, and it's getting awfully hard to explain it all to a three-year-old.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:45 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now, my parents still live where I grew up, and there are no kids out EVER without parents right behind them.

I'm guessing you don't live with a lot of underclass kids.


My comment was pretty specific to where I grew up, and comparing my experience growing up to what I see in the same neighborhood now when I visit home. It wasn't meant as a universal comment.
posted by sweetkid at 2:50 PM on February 6, 2012


No, I get it. I would just guess that most of the kids you are not seeing are probably watching TV or playing video games as opposed to being helicoptered.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:51 PM on February 6, 2012


Kids often don't behave well at Christmas - unfamiliar rich food, unusual bedtimes, strange adults, the thrill and stress of presents. I would never judge a kid for being whiny at the holidays, remembering the stressful horrorshow that they occasionally were in my loving and well-mannered home

First world problems, kids edition.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:11 PM on February 6, 2012


I'm not French so I'm not sure how most French people take it, but I know several huge francophiles who affectionately refer to French people as frogs.

The French student I hosted last year cracked wise about one of my city's nicknames - Frogtown. "Oh, I should be right at home here!" I think it largely depends on the French person in question.

I think it's similar to Krauts for Germans...again, not sure how actual Germans take that word. Although interestingly, when I lived in Germany I know people referred to Americans as "Amis" and one time someone said something to me about Amis(I'm American) and then started apologizing and looked sheepish.

Older Germans who were around for WWII don't take kindly to the word. My first host mom bitched me out something ferocious for referring to myself as a Krautchen. (It came out later that they had been True Believers in the Nazi cause. Boy, did that get awkward.) My second host family, however, were younger and referred to themselves as Krauts all the time. Seems to be an age thing.

Ditto with Amis. My classmates made the distinction between Amis - myself and the other American kids living im Sauerland, going to school, and essentially behaving like we belonged there - and ScheißAmis - the asshole tourists and poorly behaved GIs who crashed around like elephants.
posted by MissySedai at 5:14 PM on February 6, 2012


The French-as-frogs discussion reminds me of Art Spiegelman's "Maus," the great Holocaust memoir as told through anthropomorphic animals: Jews=mice, Nazis=cats, French=frogs, etc. In-universe, Spiegelman is trying to decide how to depict his wife, a French convert to Judaism: as a frog in a mouse mask? With a frog-to-mouse transformation sequence? The wife is not amused.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:19 PM on February 6, 2012


First world problems

I've never really understood the whole first-world/second-world/third-world thing. I mean, originally, it was part of the Cold War, right? We (NATO) were the First World (the best, hooray!), the Soviet Union, China, DPRK, Cuba, etc. were Second World, and all the non-affliates (i.e the poor countries ripe for resource exploitation) were Third World. OK:

Over the last few decades, the term 'Third World' has been used interchangeably with the Global South and Developing Countries to describe poorer countries that have struggled to attain steady economic development. [3] The Third World has also been connected to the world economic division as "periphery" countries in the world system that is dominated by the "core" countries. [3] Due to the complex history of evolving meanings and contexts, there is no clear or agreed upon definition of the Third World and the term is now less popular than it was during the 1970s and 80s.

So, really, when you say "First World problems" you mean "Non-Third World problems" since "Second World" citizens are pretty similar to First World citizens... the whole conceit seems a bit offensive on its face, however. Is that what concern trolling is? (i.e. pretending you care about the underclass while pejoratively belittling them, as if their societies aren't advanced enough to have complicated social/parenting problems?)

The "Third World" includes Venezuela and India ... you don't think they have similar modern parenting issues? Jeez.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:00 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Among the things I've noticed among my cousins and siblings who have kids is that the ones with calm, sensible children are themselves calm and sensible, even in the face of childish absurdities.
...
The ones who have children who constantly whine or are constantly unruly are themselves whiny and hysterical; prone to blowing small things out of proportion.


I wonder how much of that is genetics, though.
posted by vacapinta at 9:02 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much of that is genetics, though.

Hard to say, right? Both genetics and behavior. However I do notice a feedback loop with the hysterical child/hysterical parent combo. i.e. at times it's quite clear that a parent is taking action which escalates a situation, not diffuses it. And sure, possible that parent is acting on instinct, but it also seems possible with some calmer self-reflection that parent might handle a situation differently if they thought it would result in a different outcome.
posted by scelerat at 11:01 AM on February 7, 2012


The "Third World" includes Venezuela and India ... you don't think they have similar modern parenting issues? Jeez.

Sorry for the derail - but (and I'm sure there's a dictionary entry somewhere that will contradict me) I don't think it does, any more.

As you say, the first-second-third world distinction has collapsed, because the centrally planned economies of the second world have largely fallen. Some of those countries are still undemocratic, and others are still more or less autocratic, but they are all now part of the global marketplace. So, the second world possibly now contains North Korea, although that's more like the national equivalent of a... compound?

Meanwhile, "third world" doesn't work any more because there are nations which are clearly not wealthy, industrialized western and northern states (that is, largely, the OECD nations), but are resource-rich and increasingly affluent and powerful - the BRIC nations and the MIKT nations, who are either not members of the OECD or are somewhat isolated from the OECD's power centers. Then there are the Next-11 and CIVETS, which overlap with MIKT and each other, and cover a range of nations from the rich (South Korea) to the poor (Bangladesh) which have significant potential. And there's the G20 developing nations, which is where places like Argentina and Venezuela fit, along with much of the rest of South America and various representatives of other ways of cutting the up-and-coming/agrarian but relatively prosperous and stable cake.

These coalesce into a sort of ladder, with South Korea at the top and Bangladesh at the bottom, in terms of human development, with a range of rapidly growing economies and populous and/or resource-rich nations looking for stability or trying to curb corruption strung out between them. And then there are the poor and less advantaged nations underneath them - what you might still call the Third World, depending on taste, although the term is unfashionable not least because ill-defined and missing a Second World.

So, Venuezuala and China are not uncontentiously identifiable as Third World any more - they are in a position underneath the maxed-out economies, with greater or lesser prospects for overtaking them on various metrics.

This causes no end of trouble for journalists, who have to work out whether to talk about the developing world (the initial attempt to de-hierarchize "third world") when actually a number of the countries underneath that group are actually not developing, but are stagnating or even falling behind. So, you have wealthy/developed, developing and then whatever the style guide says for those well below the global salt - less developed, poorer, poor.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:02 PM on February 8, 2012


I'm French-Canadian. My upbringing was apologetic laissez-faire and can be easily summed up in one maternal sentence: "I'm sorry but if you want to fight you have to go outside".

This brutal denial of the reality of indoor violence left me ill-prepared for the advent of first-person shooters. I was pure sniper bait because I kept going out in the open to do virtual harm. It took me many many counterstrike lifetimes to get over this. I still haven't IMed my mom that I forgive her.
posted by srboisvert at 3:00 PM on February 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's really just one book I plan to read for parenting, the same book my parents read when I wa growing up, which is How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk. Beyond that, if my son is anything like I was when I grow up it's pretty much give him as much knowledge as he can possibly soak up, drag him out to the woods for hikes and climbing every once in a while, and get him tested for ADHD as soon as humanely possible.

Also, as a kid who always at dinner with my parents growing up...as a young child, I felt like I was starving, all the time. Kids' bodies are growing realliy quickly, they need a lot of food. So yes, eat with them but also make sure that they can get food when they're hungry.

True story: once, when we were 5 or six my twin brother as usual announced to our mom that he was hungry. She told him to wait a little while (I guess since she was cooking dinner and didn't want to spoil our appetites). In utter despair, my brother wailed, "What am I supposed to do? Eat my finger?!?" Our family still uses this to this day whenever someone is hungry, and I taught it to my wife. It's literally the perfect expression of hunger.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:15 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's really just one book I plan to read for parenting

As a parent of a 3 y.o. and a 6 m.o., I would recommend a sleep training book ...

... or actually, sorry, can you recommend one for me? CUZ IT AIN'T WORKING.

Thanks for the rec on HTTSKWLALSKWT. Not sure about it (a lot of the advice seems like common sense these days), but I'll see if I can find a download somewhere ...

FWIW, the best book on parenting/children that I've read so far is Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:29 AM on February 23, 2012


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