I am just now learning of the recent book by Pamela Druckerman called Bringing Up Bébé in which she expounds on the many ways that French parents are superior to American parents. Sacre bleu! Can it be true? I really like my American childhood. Yet as I read an excerpt from her book, things began sounding too familiar for comfort. She describes American childhood as tantrums, throwing food, snacking all day, refusing to eat vegetables and fish, constant fighting with siblings, interrupting Mommy on the phone, demanding Daddy get on the floor and build Legos, play kitchens in the living room, teepees in the dining room, toys everywhere, hectic schedules, and constant whining. Then I find out that other counties are chiming in and agreeing with Ms. Druckerman. They also believe they have superior parenting skills and raise less-stressed, happier, more patient, more-resilient children just like the French. Well, I respectfully disagree with this “Axis of Superiority.”
Mrs. Druckerman, you forgot to ask the horribly raised, spoiled, overindulged American children what we think. We love our stressed out, overworked, overindulgent parents. We prefer being picky eaters that snack all day. We enjoy having play kitchens in the living room and teepees in the dining room. We love the lack of firm boundaries and we applaud our parents’ “resistance to unfailingly use absolute authority.” Some American parenting magazines say this fosters creativity. N’est-ce pas? We especially love to interrupt Mommy when she’s on the phone and we need Daddy’s help to make a Lego castle RIGHT NOW! Childhood is brief. We don’t want them to miss a single opportunity to be with us.
Still I felt compelled to do some French parenting investigative work myself. I just could not believe that French parenting is superior. Now please don’t get me wrong. I love the French. I study their language and I hope to visit France next year. My littlest cousins (ages 6, 8, and 10) attend the French-American School of Rhode Island. This place is quite impressive and my cousins love it there. Not only are they fluent in French thanks to the school, but my cousin, Courtney, age 8, can even be coaxed into helping me with my own French homework when she’s in a generous mood (I can only hope Mrs. Varrone isn’t reading this). My cousins have many French classmates at school who are raised by French parents and they tell me their French classmates are just as naughty, undisciplined, and demanding as they are. These French tots often get in trouble with their teacher, “Madame,” and they interrupt her constantly (that is when my little cousins aren’t interrupting her first). Now that’s a relief. I just knew French parenting couldn’t be superior.
Finally, Ms. Druckerman says that we American children and our American parents don’t know anything about the importance of “delayed gratification.” Au contraire. The overwhelming majority of American children grow up to be kind, caring, productive, valuable, and valued members of society who care deeply about each other and our shared world. Yes, American children grow up to be just fine and when we do we usually turn around and thank our parents who truly deserve the credit for that. Our parents usually feel pretty gratified when we do, as delayed as it may be.