Are the French Better Moms?

January 25,2012
Erin Dower( )

We just love to compare ourselves to the French (case in point: the best-selling book French Women Don't Get Fat). Now a new book coming out next month, Bringing Up Bebe, highlights how parenting in France is superior (or at least a lot less "fussy" and "stressy") to that in the States.

While yet another book comparing the French to Americans sounds like one more great opportunity to pour a glass of wine, curl up in a cozy chair, and hate ourselves, I think this book might offer some amazing insight.

This article teasing the book mentions some really good points (generalizations, I realize):

  • American kids control parents; French kids don't -- French parents set more boundaries, expecting kids to sleep in their own bed and sit politely through family dinners from a very young age. I, myself, haven't been to France since a week-long trip in high school, and can't attest to these things. But I think we've all witnessed the common parenting culture stateside: Kids are given choices on what they want to eat, how long they can sit at the table (until the first tantrum strikes), and where they want to sleep (clinging to Mom, until middle school, in extreme cases). As the article's author simply states: "Kids in France are not king."
  • Parenting in the U.S. is the ultimate sacrifice; parenting in France is just a part of life -- I would argue that many people in the U.S. put off having kids because they see it as a major turning point (like, a 180), and not just a fork in the road. Yes, adults need to adapt on many levels to having kids, but you could argue that American parents over adapt. One example of this is having baby gates or other baby-proofing contraptions at every corner of the home -- rather than just using that scary word (NO!) with little ones. Sure, finances play a role, but many Americans put a moratorium on travel, dates with their spouse, and even the occasional half bottle of wine enjoyed at home ("What if I need to drive Mikey to the hospital??") in the name of being a "good parent." Which brings me to...
  • American women thrive on being "stressy," fussy, guilty; The French? Jamais! (Never!) -- You can't put a price on creating a safe, happy world for your child. Or maybe you can? In the U.S., it seems to cost a bundle o' money (just check the pricetag of any trendy baby stroller) and, oftentimes, much of the mom's happiness. The American ideal of moms being everything to everyone (amazing cook! immaculate cleaner! best mom ever! career woman -- or guilty if you're not a career woman! prettiest mom to the cutest, smartest kid! with the snazziest SUV on the block!) makes a lot of ladies a bundle of nerves. Even if French moms get as stressed from daily life (which I doubt), their government provides longer vacations and free public nursery school. Lucky!

What do you think? Are you booking your ticket to Paris right now?

Are American kids in charge, with obsessive/stressed moms chasing after them all the way to college? What concerns you about the way Americans parent these days? Or is everything here tres bien?