Are French Women the New Tiger Mothers?

Piper Weiss, Shine Staff
Are French kids raised better? (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Are French kids raised better? (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)


Parents used tolook to doctorsfor advice on raising kids. Now they look toother 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 cheese-wine-and- Jerry Lewis-loving culture is better at raising children than Americans. Call her 'Le Tigre' mother, the French version of the 'Tiger Mother.' The latter term, refers towriter Amy Chua'spopular parenting model of Chinese moms who emphasize an extremely structured focus on academia.

Read more about Tiger Mothers and Amy Chua's praise of Chinese parenting

In contrast, 'Le Tigre,' or French parenting model, focuses on discipline 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. "Many French parents I meet have an easy, calm authority with their children that I can only envy. Their kids actually listen to them. French children aren't constantly dashing off, talking back, or engaging in prolonged negotiations."

Some of the finer points of French kids, 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" method.

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 their parenting styles as frequently, so as not to confuse or obscure messages for their young children.Delayed gratification is also implicit to French child-rearing: only one snack a day at the exact same time is a mainstay of French culture according to the author. That kind of unwavering structure may turn out "calmer and more resilient" children.

All told, Druckerman suggests French parenting practices may mean happier moms and dads. French mothers lose baby weight faster and she observed, are able to dine out with their children without less concern over public meltdowns. But do happier parents make happier kids?

While it's not a lesson Druckerman touts as a takeaway, physical discipline is far more accepted in French culture.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 a child or spank or child or lose your temper, you are teaching your child that that's acceptable behavior," Susan Newman, Ph.D., asocial psychologist who specializes in parenting,tells Shine. "There's study after study that say 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 a mother's milk in the 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 an Only 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 American parents how to relax. "Parenting has become a competitive sport in the states, and nobody every wants to see their child unhappy."

In contrast, the French are far less obsessive about their own choices. "They 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.

It's unlikely you'll see France's bestseller list with a book on why Americans are better parents. Like fad diets , the endless barrage of conflicting parenting advice can be 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 ofThe Happiest Mom. "There's no more effective mom than one who is true to her own principles, follows her own style, 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. 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."

That's just the American way.

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