Why French Parents Aren’t Superior to American Parents

Today there is a fun trend happening globally. This trend is called Superior Parenting, and I liken it to pitting two parents against each other in a boxing ring. Whoever comes out the least bloody wins.

People may have noticed extracts of the book Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman as it has been circulating widely around the internet and various news sites under the title Why French Parents Are Superior. After wondering why so many people would fall for such a provocatively titled article it dawned on me that perhaps people actually think it is possible to raise children in a superior fashion. Perhaps they even think there is one nationality that has all the secrets to parenting mastered. Well, they’re wrong.

This practice of looking to another culture for solace when your child is red in the face, furiously kicking his legs up and down on your Persian carpet and gnashing his teeth is certainly understandable. Everyone wants to believe that there might be some secret of parenting someone will impart that will make all tantrums null and void and create a child so perfect that even the Virgin Mary would flush with pride. Unfortunately, there is no secret that everyone is missing out on.

Perhaps that’s the reason why people still continue to look so hard to other cultures and countries in the hopes that there is something they may not have known about before. Amy Chua, in her book Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, was also plastered across newspapers exactly one year ago at this time. You couldn’t escape from articles like Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior no matter how hard you tried.

Amy Chua expounded on her parenting philosophies right and left, and after reading it most were convinced that even Stalin would have made a better parent. Sleepovers allowed? Nope. School plays? Nope, acting is for suckers. Choosing their own activities? No siree, Chua considered her children little better than pets. And pets not to be doted on, but to be trained with military precision. Suffice it to say that for most of us, living in Amy Chua’s household would have been little better than being a Prisoner of War only in perhaps plusher surroundings.

The Chinese philosophy, as she tells it, is all about following the system, striving to only attain A’s in school – in other words, following the societal norm no matter what it may be. Any sort of creative thinking or dissent is shunned. Admittedly in China this is perhaps easier as questioning anything in society will see you possibly shot – see Tiananmen Square.

Amy Chua would probably say that her children are all academically (and, later on, with respect to their future careers) successful at what they do and that this is proof of her dazzling parental skills, but anybody can train a chimpanzee and this absolutely does not mean that the chimpanzee is going to be happy jumping through hoops or really even understand what it means to jump through said hoops. She would be mortal enemies with Albert Einstein who loudly proclaimed, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I would venture to say that, hundreds of years from now, Albert Einstein and his remarkable intellectual discoveries will continue to be remembered while Chua and her book will be consigned to the dustbins of history. Personally, I prefer Albert Einstein’s many inspired and inspiring ideas when it comes to learning and think everyone else should too.

By contrast, Pamela Druckerman seems positively refreshing in her views of the French and Gallic styles of parenting. Still, many of the anecdotes just don’t add up. She mentions that most French babies sleep through the night at two to three months of age. This is perhaps possible if they are fed formula as formula takes much longer to digest, leaving babies feeling fuller longer. But if they are breastfed, they will certainly not be sleeping through the night at such a young age. Breast milk, as any doctor will tell you, is digested more quickly and readily than formula, which means your baby will wake up more frequently for nighttime snacks. This is just a biological fact, and no amount of believing most babies should sleep through the night will change how our human bodies are designed.

Most of the article I read was generally positive, although having spent much time in France I can honestly say that I saw just as many children throwing tantrums in restaurants as I have in my native America. Children are children and parents are parents. No matter where you go in the world, nothing will ever change that. And perhaps that’s my biggest gripe. There is no one perfect or uniform way to raise children. As it’s often been said, if you had 10 children they would all be completely different. Different personalities have different needs and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It is brilliant that the French take their children with them to art galleries, but a lot of Americans friends of mine do the same. No matter where you live, you will always find different styles of parenting, some which work better in the long-run than others. But there is no perfect or superior method of parenting no matter how many books or newspapers insist otherwise. Please remember that the next time you feel exasperated with your child. They are only human, after all. So are you. And nobody is perfect.

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