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Are the French Better Parents than We Are? – Bloggin on the ETC [BOOK WEEK]

Like a lot of American moms, I’m always on the lookout for the next great parenting book. This can be a frustrating mission. More often than not, parenting books make me feel like I’m doing a terrible job, that their advice doesn’t fit in with my lifestyle — or any other lifestyle that doesn’t involve staying at home and/or a platoon of nannies, and that, no matter what, it’s all my fault because I’m the mom and constantly failing. I imagine if a mom did follow all this American parenting advice to the letter, she would find herself completely miserable all the time. And quite frankly, the results from what I’m seeing on the street, aren’t all that bang up. I love that American toddlers really do excel at the art of self-expression, but all too often, I see kids melting down and pretty much running their parents, who seem to be becoming more servile by the day in an attempt to appease their little kings and queens.

How refreshing then that two recent reads, BRINGING UP BEBE by Pamela Druckerman and FRENCH KIDS EAT EVERYTHING by Karen Le Billon*, aren’t even billed as parenting books. Instead they’re memoirs of two American moms raising children in France.

Let me tell you, I ate these two books up. Never have two books made so much parenting sense on both practical and loving levels. I immediately began applying some of the “French” lessons and things continue to improve around our household. Suddenly we’re able to take our daughter to restaurants without meltdowns, and she seems happier for having a firm set of rules. Not everything has been a rousing success. We’re still dealing with her refusal to eat or even try certain foods, and the husband and I have had to hold several strategy suggestions around getting the little girl to stay put at the dinner table. But we’re hopeful that we’ll even surmount that obstacle soon.

Here were my main takeaways:

1. Kids deserve your undivided attention at certain times, not at all times. It’s good for them to learn to wait and let you finish what you’re doing or continue on with the conversation they’ve interrupted.

2. Kids are much more capable of controlling themselves than we give them credit for. Especially if they have firm guidelines to go by.

3. If your kids are doing something that embarrasses you in public, work on putting the kibosh on it. Our daughter has pretty much ceased acting a fool in public, and it’s made running errands so much more pleasant.

4. Your kids are their own people. You were not put on this earth to serve them, but to teach them. It’s also not your job to provide them with constant entertainment. Give them daily chances to entertain themselves. Now I read for half an hour while my daughter plays by herself before bath time. It’s lovely and relaxing for both of us.

5. Teaching kids to be autonomous might be even more important than teaching them to attach to you.

6. Kids don’t need to snack between meals.It’s okay for them to be a little hungry between meals, that means they’ll appreciate their food more. We thought this would be the hardest new rule to implement, but our daughter got it right away and seems to understand that if we’re not sitting down at a table, then she’s not going to be getting anything to eat.

7. It’s a good idea to only eat at the table. That way you don’t have to deal with kids demanding snacks day in and day out. We cleaned out our cars before implementing this rule and a month later, they’re still gloriously clean — even the car seat!

8. Kids should eat what adults eat, and adults decide the menu. Our family now eats the same meal every night, with no swapping out whatsoever. Whenever we’re at the grocery store, our daughter still looks longingly at the easy to make cups of instant macaroni that we’d grown way too dependent on, but she’s eating a lot better now.

9. Making quality meals doesn’t have to be time-consuming, and it will make everyone way more excited about eating. One of the best new rules we made for dinner was that we can’t have the same dish more than once in a week and more than two times in a month. Keeps our eating experience fresh.

10. Moderate sugar, don’t exterminate it. Fruits and cheese or one square of dark chocolate make great desserts. And on the weekends we allow ourselves a homemade dessert that hopefully our daughter can help make.

11. At the end of the day, it’s you who decides. That means it’s up to you when to give kids choices and it’s up to you what’s acceptable and unacceptable behavior on their part.

Bonus: American moms don’t demand enough from our government or our society. Your head will explode when you read about the amazing (completely free!) daycare system, which both potty trains and teaches kids autonomy and manners; paid maternity leave; the rigorous public education system; the French parents who are encouraged by society to enjoy both regular alone and sexy time with each other — forget date nights, these folks are going on date weeks without guilt; the glorious school lunches.

I could go on and on, but I’m hitting my word limit. I’ll just end with saying that though I still appreciate American parenting values, there’s a lot to learn from other countries. This also has me wondering if any of you have received great parenting advice from non-American sources. If so, let us have it in the comments.

*If you’re planning on picking up these books, I suggest reading BRINGING UP BEBE first, and then FRENCH KIDS EAT EVERYTHING.