Are French Women the New Tiger Mothers?

By Piper Weiss, Shine Staff | Parenting

Parents used to look to doctors for advice on raising kids. Now they look to other countries. The latest contender for the world’s best mom is from France. Author Pamela Druckerman’s new book, Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, asserts that the Jerry Lewis-loving culture is better at raising children than Americans. Call her ‘Le Tigre Mom’, the French version of the ‘Tiger Mother.’ The latter refers to writer Amy Chua’s popular Chinese parenting model emphasizing an extremely structured focus on academia.

In contrast, the French parenting model, focuses on discipline, particularly in social situations.

“Authority is one of the most impressive parts of French parenting,” writes Druckerman, a mother of three, who spent years studying the culture’s child-rearing methods. “Their kids actually listen to them. French children aren’t constantly dashing off, talking back, or engaging in prolonged negotiations.”

Some of the admirable aspects of French-raised children, according to Druckerman’s research:

  • They’re better eaters. They don’t throw tantrums in their high-chairs and they’re less fussy about healthy food.
  • They’re more polite with adults. Raised early on to say please, thank you and proper greetings, their social skills are embedded early on.
  • They’re more likely to sleep through the night. Druckerman found evidence that French parents are less likely wake up every few hours or to attempt the “cry it out” practice.

The French method to the madness of parenting has to do with straight-shooting discipline. Parents are not afraid to say “no” with direct and clear-cut meaning. They don’t second-guess or switch around their parenting tactics as frequently, so as not to confuse or obscure messages for their young children. Delayed gratification is also implicit to French child-rearing. Kids don’t get what they want just because they ask for it, and certainly not when it comes to snacks. Only one snack a day at the exact same time is a mainstay of the country’s parenting culture, according to the author. That kind of unwavering structure may turn out “calmer and more resilient” children.

But the most obvious benefits are for the parents. French mothers lose baby weight faster, have less guilt about their parenting choices, and as Druckerman observed, deal with far fewer public meltdowns at restaurants and gatherings. But do happier parents make happier kids?

Not across the board. In recent years, the country’s childhood obesity rates are closing in the States’. The French are also most likely to suffer a “major depressive episode” in their lifetime, according to a World Health Organization report.

While you can’t blame parents for everything, some popular parenting practices aren’t worth adapting. A 2003 poll found that 84 percent of French parents admit to slapping or spanking their child.

That type of punishment isn’t just taboo in America, it’s considered dangerous in the long term.

“Anytime you hit or spank a child, you are teaching them that that’s acceptable behavior,” Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist who specializes in parenting, tells Shine. “There’s study after study that says abused children have the potential to become abusers themselves. From my thinking there’s no excuse for a parent hitting their child.”

Another questionably severe aspect of French parenting culture: a distinct lack of mother’s milk. France has the lowest breast-feeding rates in the world, despite the largely accepted benefits of breast milk in the first six months of a child’s life.

“When you’re looking to other cultures for parenting advice, you shouldn’t adopt all the principles if they don’t feel right for you and your family,” says Newman, author of Parenting anOnly Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only. “You can pick one aspect to try if you think it’s a good idea.”

If you’re looking to France, they definitely can teach Americanparents how to relax. “Parenting has become a competitive sport in the States, and nobody ever wants to see their child unhappy.”

Like fad diets , the endless barrage of conflicting parenting advice in America is a boon for the publishing industry, but a blow to parental confidence.

“I think anytime there’s a new parenting craze it’s hard not to get caught up in second-guessing your own style, especially when the people promoting their way seem so confident that they’re raising kids the one right way,” says Meagan Francis, author of The Happiest Mom. “There’s no more effective mom than one who is true to her own principles and is open to new ideas, without jumping on every new fad just because somebody said it results in better kids.”

In that way, French parents are better off. “[The French] assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this,” writes Druckerman.

But there are some things we can teach the world, too. “American parents are known for putting their children first,” says Newman. “As a result, children overall feel and know they’re special.”

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