Today we’re taking a look at France’s family culture and the way that the French raise their children. If you’re new to the Parenting Around the World post series, or you’ve missed a few and want to catch up, here is where all of the PAtW posts live.
There are a lot of articles and posts out there about French parenting – it seems to be the most covered topic in the international parenting subject. I’m going to try and condense all of the information out there for you and just give you the highlights.
Boy, is this a controversial topic. Depending on what you read, French parents are either the best or the worst parents in the world. Please bear with me as I attempt to be neutral and present everyone’s opinions fairly. You can decide for yourself what you think of French parenting (and let me know in the comments!)
There is no “children’s food”
If you are reading a lot of parenting material, you have probably come across the book Bringing Up Bebe, written by American expat Pamela Druckerman who raised her child in France.
She noted lots of nuances about manners and behavior in French children vs. American children. One of the most touched upon points is the way children are taught to eat in France.
First of all, there is no “children’s food”. Children eat what adults eat. Now, because they are still learning what they like and don’t like, they may decide there are some things that they don’t want to eat. French parents tell them “You don’t have to eat it all, but you do need to try it”. The idea here is for children to gain exposure to many different foods so that they eat a balanced and healthy diet.
Vegetables are offered as a first course in daycares so that children can try the healthiest food while they’re the most hungry, then move on to the rest of the meal.
French children are also expected to behave nicely at the table, to eat neatly, carry on conversation along with the adults, and use good manners.
French parents are strict
Several people, both French and American expats, have noted that all of this good behaviour comes at a cost. French parents are willing to discipline their children much more harshly than their American counterparts would consider appropriate. Spanking is normal and acceptable there.
French children are expected to conform to societal norms and this comes with a loss of individuality and creative expression. Schools prime children to behave in certain ways and learn specific topics, leaving little room for individualistic thinking.
France’s government supports families
(Source: New York Magazine)
We’re seeing a trend here that goes along with other types of European parenting [see German parenting, Icelandic parenting, and British parenting]. Families are prioritised so that working mothers get plenty of time off for maternity leave (16 weeks as compared to Americans’ measly 6 weeks). Employees also get 25 days of vacation time a year – read 5 weeks instead of 2. This means that French parents have a lot more time to spend with their children, which I wholeheartedly support.
I really wish the United States would get on board with this.
[read here about why I won’t raise my kids in the U.S.]
Life doesn’t revolve around the kids
(Source: Cup of Jo)
Quoting the book Bringing Up Bebe, Joanna Goddard brings up the idea of balance in a French family. Some time for the kids, some time for the parents. Children aren’t necessarily excluded from adult time, but they are expected to self-entertain without being accommodated.
Self-play is important to French families – they want their children to enjoy themselves without needing an adult to entertain them or provide activities. This promotes independence in the children, and also gives the adults a break to chat with their adult friends or get things done around the house.
Breastfeeding is not common
While the government technically supports breastfeeding, few French women choose to go this route, especially for longer than their maternity leave. Going back to the idea that life doesn’t revolve around the kids, French women don’t like to think of themselves as being a slave to their child and having to whip out a breast every time bebe gets hungry.
Women’s bodies are meant to be attractive and seductive. Something about cracked nipples doesn’t scream “Come hither”, apparently.
Daycare spots are coveted
The French creche, or daycare, is infamous for its excessively long waiting lists. While many families try to get access to public childcare, It’s simply not available for most. Only about 10% of children make it in. Consequently, we see that France has become a nanny culture. In-home childcare is fairly standard for those who can afford it.
Babies sleep through the night
(Source: Talk in French)
French moms are not quite as fast to soothe their baby back to sleep when they wake up crying. It’s not that they don’t care about their baby – it’s that they’ve learned that giving them a couple minutes often results in the child soothing himself back to sleep.
Infants wake up in between sleep cycles. It’s normal. That momentary pause between when they wake up and when you go and rock them helps them connect those sleep cycles together. It gives them the chance to go back to sleep for another cycle.
When the infant learns to string together multiple sleep cycles per night, they sleep much better and require less adult intervention to stay asleep.