Is Maman Mean or Magnificent? How Strict Are French Parents?

French parents are strict

This article about French mothers has me thinking about the ways different cultures parent. Things like, they say French parents are strict, but I know they are wonderful about teaching table manners. My sister told us she was in awe when she visited a Paris pre-school and saw 2 year olds eating bananas — they peeled them without assistance, carefully sliced them with knives and forks, then ate each slice, also with their forks. At age 2!

Or how about Sweden, where there’s a focus on children spending time outside. I was blown away when I learned there are preschools held entirely out-of-doors! Then of course, there are my English friends, who talk about how commonplace the idea of boarding school is. But I don’t personally know a single American family that sends their kids to boarding school. My brain can hardly wrap itself around the concept.

French parents are strict
French parents are strict

Another example has been on my mind all week. Our daughter Olive, age 10, attends a French public school and is on a school field trip. She left on Saturday morning, and won’t be back until Friday night. A one-week school trip! They are at a ski resort 9 hours away. Can you imagine? Our other kids have never done anything like this at her age, but here, no one seems to think it’s extraordinary at all.

Please share. What parenting styles and techniques from other cultures would you like to copy? Have you ever changed your parenting style when you moved to a new state, or to another country?

P.S. — The article also has me irritated because it makes French mothers sound so mean. I’ve spent time around lots of French mothers this past year and have seen nothing but the typical, compassionate, in-love-with-my-kids mothering that you can find the world over.  

French parents are strict

113 thoughts on “Is Maman Mean or Magnificent? How Strict Are French Parents?”

  1. My kids go to a French dual language school here in the states – half the families are French. I think in general they are far more at ease with sleepovers and extended stays away from home than Americans. They start at a very early age (even as early as 4!) Can’t comment much about table manners though – I think because many Grench ex-pats, they’ve left France to get away from that strict sense of traditionalism, so that kind of thing doesn’t carry through in their lives here.

    I live the idea of eating a banana with a fork !

  2. Can’t wait to read this article! I’m hoping there’s some good advice gems to teach me how to teach my 2.5 yr twin boys some civilized table manners – sounds too good to be true! :)


  3. I was recently talking to a mother who had just moved back from Paris. She is a Los Angeles native but had married a french man. She said that the french mothers seemed very detached from there babies. She said things like baby wearing and breast feeding were looked down upon. She said that the reason is that the babies would be dependent on their mothers. She also said that babies were put into childcare as soon as 3 months.

    1. You will find that many cultural traditions in big cities are quite different than in other parts of a given country. You can compare New York to tiny town, Iowa and find life quite different. We gave birth to our first daughter in North Western France in 2008 and the hospitals and community were very pro nursing. I didn’t notice baby wearing as much so that may be true there. But I saw many nursing mothers and it was common and encouraged.

  4. 2 year olds eating bananas? And so politely? It’s so hard to believe! I just completed an internship in a kindergarten class (4 and 5 year olds) and I constantly had to peel, open, cut, and clean up food for them! Maybe we baby them too much?

    And I have never heard of a school trip that long for kids that age. I’m trying to imagine me that age and I don’t know if I could have done it. Amazing!

  5. I loved this article :) I plan to homeschool my kids and this reminded me of some important reasons WHY!

    I Remember having ONE class (besides gym) outside ever. One day in an art class.
    I was in middle school when I had an overnight field trip.

    I want to make sure my kids get a better experience than I did – traditional (I guess I should clarify American) schooling did NOT work for me.

  6. I think that there is, like anything, a healthy balance, and I think that many mothers the world over find it. Of course, there is plenty of out-of-balance too, individually and culturally. That’s why we must turn on our brains and think for ourselves – look around and challenge the status quo in an effort to find what is best. :) Very interesting post!

  7. Wow, that article is mean! I’m German, but my aunt is French – she was a very typical “mademoiselle francaise” before she married my uncle – and she’s really loving and affectionate with my cousins, to an extend that my (German) grandma accused her of being too much of a mother hen :)

  8. It sounds like independence and autonomy is highly-valued in French culture, cultivating it in children and maintaining it in parents! I think the French outlook on parenting is just different, but not bad or mean. Some of the examples in the article were extreme, and probably not the norm, just like a lot of the things we read about in the U.S. are not the norm. Now, regarding the mention made of children going to daycare at 3 months…I had the standard, minimum maternity leave, and had to return to work when my baby was 6-weeks old! I’m willing to bet that the French daycare “infrastructure” is set up to more adequately accomodate the needs of mothers returning to work after their maternity leave. Gabrielle, I would love to know more about this aspect of French culture. It’s not easy being a working parent in America…

    1. Ditto to this! Except, my employer provides a “generous” policy for the US, so I went back to work full time when my first baby was 10 weeks, and my second baby was 16 weeks (because I had saved vacation time to add to my maternity leave). But I know many, many working moms, including those in professional careers like medical doctors and those in middle to lower working class like vet techs or grocery store employees who have to go back at 6 weeks. It is the US that is extreme in this respect, I think.

  9. This is interesting, indeed! I’m not sure the shock about mothers putting their babies into childcare at 3 months is warranted; American mothers do the same. Perhaps there’s a difference in whether or not it’s a choice to do so, I’m not sure. I also thought the article made French mothers out to be mean, but I didn’t think that many of the examples were all that harsh; rather, it was the author’s interpretation and aghast-ness that made the examples seem “mean.” In any case, it’s always a matter of interpretation. Even within the US, moms who allow their children to cry it out are pitted against attachment mothers. I’m sure you’ll find the spectrum of mothers in any culture, and you’ll also find a spectrum of children (from well-behaved to not -so-well-behaved)!

  10. I’m multi-cultural so I’ve seen 3 different cultural standards for parenting. I can honestly say that there are always good intentions and differences in opinion, but loving your children is the same. I personally take the best, in my opinion, stuff and apply it to my son.

    What a wonderful experience of living in a different country! I was born in a different country so I know it has shaped my view of the world in a positive way.

  11. I guess they just want to create another Tiger mom controversy with the article. Yes, you are in another country, culture, there are differences. I don’t think is so mean, sometimes you are getting in the middle of something you don’t know, many times I have to walk ahead so my kids will have to stop the tantrum and walk… I see how this sounds mean, but if I know they are safe. As with anything, it depends on what is relevant for your family, of course the society you’re in will have a huge influence, and I would love to have better table manners in my home. My mother thinks that I spoiled my kids using the baby sling and having trouble putting them to bed. One thing I don’t get is the summer camp, I’m not there yet, but I don’t think it’s for my family.

      1. Some parents in the US send their kids away for weeks or a month for summer camp during the summer. They do arts and crafts and sleep in cabins and swim and canoe. I know of one Mom who does this and others who where aghast at her 8 yo going away for so long. HTH

      2. I grew up in another country, and summer camp is just for very wealthy kids, and I guess relatively new, my parents never let me go for long when I was visiting relatives, they thought it was way too much troble for them. Anyway, the thing about about summer camp is that I don’t like the idea of spending a month or more away from my kids, I can change my mind, as it could be a ‘vacation’ for me I know…

        1. Hello,
          I don’t know how mean we are as french but i know that when we were kids, my sister and i had the best summer of everyone i know. My parents are divorced and we spent one or two weeks with our dad, 3 weeks to a month in summer camp (always themed like theater, waterskiing, horseriding, …) and a week or two with each set of grandparents or relatives, and often a week with friends or a friend would come with us for a week. And we always had so much to share with our mother afterward! It made for some pretty independent girls pretty early on. It was a real break from our everyday life and we got to experiment so many activities, so many people, places, countries (summer camp turned to “immersion” into german and english families.). My mom wasn’t rich, we had help via her “shop committees or work council” (i’m not sure of the term used in the US. and we spent time with family. All my friends were wildly jealous. I hope, Ela that you think about what it can bring your kids, and also, you can’t experience those awesome “reunion moments” if your never apart!

  12. Mon dieu! (I don’t know if that’s the way you write that) I just moved back from France and wasn’t faced with any sort of outward meanness or anything from French moms. Well, there was the one time I saw a mom slap her young girl in the playground and go right on talking with us. Of course, her child hauled off and slapped her back, which is kinda what the mom was teaching, right? I have no idea what they said to each other, but it was definitely cringe inducing.

    That said, I’ve seen my share of “bad” parenting on the playground here in America, too. Mostly yelling at or ignoring kids, but still. I don’t think you can generalize and say French moms are meaner.

    I did change one thing about my parenting style as a direct result of living in France. Have you noticed that French children, dare I say French people in general, are quiet talkers? I’m used to loud talkers, people projecting their voice over the din. Especially when trying to get a kid’s attention. This was my one big observation while there, that the kids used very quiet voices to speak and it inspired me to talk more quietly, and more directly to my own kids.

    1. Kate, I so agree with you on ” quiet talkers”. We lived in Berlin for a month. The most noticeable thing to me & my husband was how quiet parents & their children were in public places (even parks!). At first, I’ll admit I thought it was kind of freaky. But now, I appreciate it and try to instill that “quiet talking” in
      My children when we are out. I often fail!!! I am usually the one that is LOUDLY calling my children to “hurry up,” “comehere, ” and worst, “quiet down!”. :)

    2. We spent 8 months in France a couple of years ago, with our 3 kids (7.5, 5.5, 2.5), and I can attest to the quiet voices. Which my Canadian children so did not have, lol!

    3. LOL…..Kate, my kids areSO not quiet speakers! They are French/American children, but they totally get their loudness from their French Grandparents. I also have NEVER met a quiet child….and I have known a lot of children :)

  13. I think a lot of things in terms of parenting are regional, though. For example, I’m a run of the mill English girl and I’ve never known a person (not even indirectly) who went to boarding school. I guess in certain circles and higher society it’s probably more common, but for most British people, it’s very rare.

  14. we just returned from austria where it was much of the same, a very “time and place for everything” type culture. at first, we were wondering where they kept their kids, we never heard a peep – but then then we finally met some families, if we joined them on weekends/hikes/outside, the kids were running around and doing all the usual kiddie things, but they knew instintively where to change modes: the dinner table, the museum, when meeting their parents friends. and when i was younger, my parents frequently sent me abroad to french schools – some of those trips were some of the best formative and social experiences of my life.

  15. Unfortunately, I feel like the author found the most extreme negative examples of French mothering and slipped them into her article to obtain a very specific reaction. I am sure that not all French mothers scurry along the streets with their toddlers crying behind. I feel like I learned nothing from that article.

  16. I can’t speak to the mothering styles of other cultures/countries but I can say that people here in the U.S. are blown away by the fact that I’ve let my 16 year old travel to Europe by himself twice over now (with more trips planned for the future) It really isn’t done. Folks ask me if he’s going because of school, and when I say he’s visiting friends, they seem very weirded out that I’d allow such a thing.

  17. I spent 6 years in British primary school (non boarding) before coming back to the states and I think it’s true that it was more formal, sometimes more strict and we too went on long trips like that at Olive’s age! I once went to France for a long weekend when I was around 7 or 8 with my school! School uniforms had something to do with it. We even had uniform shoes, coats, bags & (get this!) hats! Two sets of everything for summer/winter seasons. Phew. We spent tons of time outdoors and were expected to eat properly with metal knives and forks and clear our plates every lunch. Lamb with mint sauce in Kingergarden yes every Wednesday. The few weird kids who brought their lunch had to sit at separate tables in the back not with most children who ate the hot lunch. And it was a full meal with good nutrition; no mystery meat!

  18. I have spent some time thinking about this too! When I was teaching in France at the Lycee and College, I always felt that the teachers were very relaxed, especially with the older students, whereas in the primary schools the teachers were much stricter (almost the reverse in the U.S.!). From an outsiders perspective, it seemed like a lot of emphasis was placed on providing a strong, solid foundation, then giving some freedom as they got older. I loved how well behaved the little ones were – especially the sweet one cheek ‘bis’ they will give you when they say goodbye!

    1. Thoughtful observation! I personally believe that being strict, well not wishy washy when they are younger lets you relax more as they age. They should know more when they are in high school than Kindergarten and should be treated as such. In my opinion.

  19. I’m so glad you posted this, I just heard a similar thing on NPR and how children in america are brought up with a sense that school is their job but helping out around the house is less important and starts a lot later than in many countries, for me it’s all about priorities, you can’t make everything a big deal and our culture shapes a lot of ours, I love good table manners but I’ve only taught them to the extent of being polite and sitting still. I love that children are actually taught to be more autonomous in other countries even though the thought of being away from one of my kids for more than a few hours or overnight kills me because we are supposed to be raising our kids to be independent adults not momma’s boys and daddy’s girls.
    As always, I love reading your great posts.

  20. I live in the US and I find we have such a range of parenting styles. We live in Minnesota–where many friends wear babies, co-sleep, eat organic, and don’t believe in tv. I grew up in Georgia (the state) where things seemed more relaxed.

  21. What an interesting post and article! Great topic.

    I’m American, as are both parents, but my parents let me do things at a young age that nowadays(*) would get them written up in the news like that lady who let her 9 year-old ride the NYC subway. At 11 I was flying by myself (no escort) to visit family in other states – including changing planes in Dallas. No one in my immediate family thought anything of it.

    However, I was also not allowed to have an umbrella until I was in high school because I might “put out my eye”… perhaps my parents were bad at risk assessment.

    * I’m 29… to give some perspective to how “long ago” this was.

  22. I’m British with Nigerian parents and went to a boarding school in Nigeria. I now live in the UK and I wouldn’t say that boarding school is “commonplace” at all here! :)

    My daughter will soon be going to a nursery specifically chosen because the children are taught and expected to serve/prepare their own snacks, lunches, etc. and clean up after themselves amongst other things.

  23. Take the article with a grain of salt. The author is portraying one point of view, and doing so with the intent to write a popular article.

    We live in an earth-mom, gentle discipline, organic, baby-wearing metropolitan area, but 20 minutes away when visiting a Wal*Mart, I have seen (on more than one occasion) the type of parental behavior that warrants a call to CPS. In Paris, it is quite possible that most parents raise their children in the way described. However, outside the epicenter there may be a more relaxed approach.

    Either way, the article was fascinating!

  24. Thanks for writing about this. I “sometimes” have an issue with even sleep away camp. But the older I get, and the older my kids get, the more independence I want to provide for them. Our Montessori school has a philosophy of independence that my husband can’t even take. He won’t let our daughter, 3-years-old, pour herself something to drink. We, Americans, control so much of our children’s day to day interactions. I am starting to want my kids to be more independent. And they are of the age to be so. I am planning on doing more things that will allow them to be independent, but hopefully, safe.

  25. i’m a german who worked as a au pair in the states (15 years ago). i have a french friend with two boys and she is very strict. manners are very important to her. there is no cuddling or kissing (accept when the boys come and go). a lot of her behaviour remains me of my own childhood . we had the freedom to do what ever we wanted as long as we behaved ourselves. adults didnt’t take much interest in us as long as we behaved in public, at school and showed good manners. when i came to the states i thought it was strange how present american parents were, how they organized there children’s life. i found it very strange that all the moms stayed at home. (i grew up in eastgermany where over 95% of all moms worked, in fakt i didn’t know one single mom who didn’t had a job). with my three children i try to find a way in between. i stayed at home for 8 years untill the last turned three. my children went to kindergarden 6 hours a day, but they started at different ages(between 2-3 years, when they were ready for it). we teach them table manners and ask them to use them in public (and explain to them why we find it important) but at home they can eat with there fingers if they like because we feel this is importent too. we wan’t our children to become independent, to care about each other and there friends and family. we don’t make schedules for our kids. since our children were able to speak, they were free to invite or go to friends as long as they organize it themselves ( ask the other parents directly or make phonecalls).
    as in sweden we have waldkindergardens all over the country. waldkindergarten means forrestkindergarden. kindergarden out-of-doors all day long, 5 days a week. i love that idea too. and the children love it too. sometimes these kindergardens are on small farms with animals like sheep, chickens etc.
    our kids started 1week field trips in there last year in kindergarden, ages 5 – 6 and since then they went on field trips every year at the end of the schoolyear. so far they always loved it.

  26. 2 year olds eating bananas with a fork is impressive although a bit excessive too. I do think that each generation is baby-ing their children more than the previous one, me included. As for cultural differences on boarding schools, I’m Indian and spent 7 years in boarding school from almost 8 and a half years to 16 years of age. The boarding school system is quite normal in India due to the British Raj. I have to say that boarding school was a blast. The friends I made from when I was 8 years old are still good friends and it’s not a horrible experience like most people think it to be.

  27. What aterrible articel. Every single situation the journalist described i have wittnessed or heard about in other european countries, and i have been to quite a few, with friends all over. Its too generalising and just not true.

    Just not good journalism

  28. Babywearing and breastfeeding and natural births – these are a norm in Estonia. Women have a paid leave for 18 months and can stay at home up to 3 years. Normally, they stay about 1,5-2 years at home before returning to work. Their job is usually guaranteed. There is no daycare available for children younger than a year.

    As far as staying away from parents on trips goes, this is also my experience from Estonia. I also teach my children to wait their turn when I am talking with a grownup. It is not in the way you do not have a say and stay quiet, but I just want them to be patient and better their self-control. Preschoolers also spend much more time outside in Estonia – 2-3 hours and they are expected to wear proper clothing – during winter it is snow boots, snow suits, etc. Also, when you have p.e. at school, then you change clothes for that and afterwards change back and you wash yourself in a shower.

    What I really like here in the States is how schools involve parents and have parents come in and do stuff at school. My daughter enjoys it immensely when I can show up (which is not often due to having an infant and a two year old who are not allowed to be taken along). Another thing I like here in the States is that children are allowed to be creative and reading habits are installed from early on and they are not judged with bad grades early on. I like the different projects they do, it just seems a lot more creative than I ever got to do at my school. Also, I’ve found that children are quite open and relaxed when strangers talk to them and are not that shy. My upbringing was probably more strict and I remember not feeling too comfortable at first when talking to sb I didn’t know (I do not mean complete strangers on a street, but sb my parents knew for example).

    As far as manners and eating etc goes, I do tend to prefer my experience vs American one. When I look at my child’s school menu here I cannot see how she would be able to get her stomach full – each week the same exact meals – pizza, hamburger, roll accompanied with chocolate milk. And then they stress it is a whole grain roll or whatever. She is eating mostly bread (flour based) things each day at school – not a hearty soup, mashed potatoes or sth similar. Also, I think general tidiness is expected and taught more in daycare in Estonia and I stress good table manners at home too.

    Another thing different – small children do not usually use strollers if they are already 2 and walking well. And toilet training starts early and by 2- 2,5, children are toilet trained (not all children of course, but in general).

  29. Being German, but raising my children in Finland, I have thought about this topic a lot. There are a few things here that I used to find odd or even cruel — such as letting your baby sleep outdoors in minus 20 degrees C — but once you understand the culture, you realize that parenting behaviors are usually an adaptation to environmental factors. In the north, there isn’t enough sunlight during the winter months and vitamin D is hard to come by, so a habit of emphasizing outdoor play and even outdoor sleep ensured the kids got enough vitamin D in times when such wasn’t readily available from the pharmacy. I am sure something similar is true for the strong emphasis on manners employed by French (and also German) moms. It may have something to do with the nobility trying to set themselves apart from the rest, and the rest trying to emulate them, and then later on, the nobility trying to come across as polite so as to avoid being be-headed. Also, I have noticed that the French wash their laundry in much colder water than some other countries (you could argue they are environmentally aware!), and as we all know, food stains are hard to get out in the cold cycle. Who knows, that might be a reason why children learn to eat neatly.

    Ha, I am just blabbering. I really don’t know. :) Interesting topic, for sure!

  30. Any parent of an average child without special needs (and for some with special needs) the key to getting *any* behaviour form a child is consistency. Knowing what result will happen for any given action. You want a child to cut up a banana and eat it with a fork, make that the norm, and the kid will follow. However, if you eat it with a fork this morning and then *you* peel it for the kid in the car and tell him “just eat it!” – 2 different set of rules for the same situation = confusion in a kid’s mind.

    Let’s face it, there are certain things which happen consistently every day which need no explanation to any child so the child reacts the exact same way each time they are exposed to that situation; like the sun rising. Every day that huge bright hot ball comes up over the horizon…no need to get excited, big deal, pretty day. However if the child’s bedtime is 10:00 one night 8:00 the next, and “when we get home!” the following, this isn’t consistent and *the child* rising when the sun comes through the window will be a trial most mornings.

    For some, consistency is considered to harsh, a structured schedule to confining, and teaching regime too much! The fact of it is that it is much easier to be consistent than to keep the kids guessing how to react to any given situation.

    Children, although taught early to do chores, eat and play with manners, to play out of doors, when and when not to interact with adults, and how to explore correctly in different environments, etc. will be label “the happiest kids I know!” and “well behaved!” -because consistency will clue them into whatever behaviour is appropriate, and they can accomplish *their* desired goal -pleasing the parents and receiving praise form those they love.

    ***And the bonus is: When the kids reach 10-12 they will already have good habits and an understanding of how mom and dad work so those fun adolescent years won’t be so frustrating.

  31. Interesting article. As a middle school/high school teacher, I saw so many parents who did not know how to parent teenagers so they just kept treating them like they were little kids (which tends to work out for neither party.) But I do base a lot of my parenting on my professional experience as an educator/coach. I’ll make mistakes, do the best I can, and NOT let my child be the center of the universe. As my mom says, “Your marriage is the roots, kids are the fruits – if you don’t tend the roots everything dies.”

    Note: My 17 month old does not yet peel his own banana but he holds it and feeds himself.

  32. I like the French way, for certain things. Children need discipline. In North America we are too busy trying to be our children’s friends that we forget to parent. Let my kid eat sand, no problem. Leave my child at the hospital without me, no way. But this the the beauty of the world around us …. you can pick and choose what works for you and your family. We co-slept with our children and practised attachment parenting, but that didn’t mean we threw the rules out of the window.
    Our goal is to raise happy, well adjusted, independent member of society.

  33. Interesting! I think that US culture is so fragmented…not like Sweden or France really….I would be uncomfortable having my preschooler outside all day in the cold weather but I know they’d love it.

    I do admire cultures that instill a love of education in their children. Art reading and science are so important.

  34. My neighbors, who are now in their 70s, sent their two daughters to a boarding school two hours away. They only saw them occasionally. I simply can NOT imagine! And those two daughters are now parents of toddlers, and are planning on sending THEIR kids to the same boarding school in a few years. And we live in a typical middle class neighborhood. And my neighbor worked in the public school system for years! It boggles my mind.

    The pictures are lovely! And that’s so wonderful about the week long ski trip. What a fantastic experience! And the two year olds with the cutlery? Amazing. I LOVE these posts that provide glimpses into life in France. Thank you for sharing!

  35. Love reading the comments with all the different experiences! Our kids have sleepovers already – but just with their grandparents. : ) I’d let them go to some of our good friends’ houses whose parenting styles I am in harmony with, but most of them would think that was crazy. I travel a great deal for work, so being separated from my kids isn’t as traumatic as it is for some. This is why skype and cell phones were invented!

    From my own viewpoint…I admit I find the “loose” parenting style many around me have adopted frustrating beyond belief. Not to say we are tyrants – my kids enjoy plenty of time for creativity and running around and general insane-kid-ness. Our kids have also learned from an early age (18 months-ish) how to behave in a restaurant, in public in general, and around other adults. How to be patient and not interrupt. They’re not perfect by far, but they do well. (They’re 5 and 2…and while the 2 year old can peel her own banana, I suspect if I handed her a knife for it I’d end up with banana “frosting” all over the table.) We hope we can instill basic manners, common sense, and good judgement early so we don’t have to work so hard later in life. This approach maybe the crazy result of their relatively balanced left-brained/right-brained mother. I’m an engineer by education/career, but have a closet life as a quilter/crafter/creator of homemade stuff. So I value discipline and focus while also recognizing the need to burn off energy and find joy in creating and cultivating your imagination.

    And like others, I suspect this article focused on the extreme to provoke a reaction. Which is sad to me.

  36. I was born and raised in Hungary and indeed, at around age 10 or 11, I started going away to ski camp for several days with my “ski group”. We drive to neighboring countries even. My mom was probably nervous, but I don’t think it was such a crazy situation. Financially, we were very fortunate that we could even afford to do such a thing but it was only because my grandmother was a physician and made decent money that skiing was even possible for me. Maternity leave was for two years in the seventies (when I was born) so my mom stayed home with me, but once I turned two, I was part of the daycare/kindergarten system. Almost nobody stayed at home with their children at that time and my mom was no exception. She was a single mom so I also had to walk to school alone and back home, starting in first grade. It was about a 20 minute walk each way and after school, I had to stay with our neighbor until my mom came home. Once I was in second grade, I was allowed to stay home alone after school, but I also had do my chores before my mom got home. For example, I distinctly remember cleaning the kitchen every day.
    As far as eating goes, I was definitely taught how to eat with a fork and knife at a young age. My mother was very uptight when it came to table manners! I remember being scared that I wasn’t keeping my elbows parallel to my body while eating.
    Since Budapest at the time was so safe, from a young age, I was also allowed to take public transportation by myself all over town to visit my grandparents etc. This was a bit tricky because I often had to switch from bus to metro to bus or streetcar. Looking back, I’m astounded that I was allowed to roam around a big city like Budapest without even the ability to check in with my mom (or anyone else) to make sure I was OK. Obviously, there were no cell phones and not very many landlines in people’s homes.
    In other ways though, my upbringing was much more sheltered than my kids’ here in the US. Playdates were unheard of. Sleepovers were very rare. We had very few things and very little exposure to TV (only two channels and they weren’t even on the air most of the day) and popular culture in general. Not sure there was even a “popular culture.” Families tended to be more closely knit, partially because nobody moved! Parents also felt it was their responsibility to provide for their children well into adulthood, even once they were married. My children’s lives are pretty different from mine when I was growing up, but the basics are the same. My husband was raised in a small New England town and under completely different circumstances (stay-at-home mom, two siblings etc.) but he and I somehow agree on most ways of raising our kids.

  37. Okay. I just read the entire article, and I’m totally a French mother. I guess that is why I am leaving them when the youngest is 18 and moving to France. Seriously, I feel that all I want is for my children to be independent and seek self sufficiency. I left home at 18 to explore my independence and individuality, and I want them to do the same.

  38. I think this article from 2007 by Janine di Giovanni is pretty balanced view of French parenting from a US perspective – but to give it more depth you have to know more about the author – she is a well-known, very respected foreign correspondent (if you want to know more look at – her book ‘madness visible’ will sear some scenes into your mind you will never forget, she has witnessed the worst of war AND she has written some very interesting articles about the challenge of being a war reporter and having a child which resurfaced in the UK recently with the terrible assault on Lara Logan ( I think seeing the worst of humanity and then having your own child, to protect and cherish … gives her a unique perspective on the world. As far as the challenge of combining children and career (as well as raising children in France : ) she is one of my favourite commentators.

    BTW your comment on ‘commonplace’ boarding schools in the UK just made me giggle – I agree with Sophie and Chi as well as Wikipedia which says 6.5% of UK children go to boarding school. My entire family and circle of friends belong to the other 93.5%. In fact, in 40 years, I have only met one person who went to boarding school. I now feel I should have made more of a fuss of her.

  39. Two thoughts: maybe this is why my husband’s family of French descent (although they’ve been in the states a while, his great-grandpa only spoke French!) seem so “mean” and heartless to me in their parenting and
    2.) when I lived in France as an 8 yr old I sure never saw other kids’ moms being mean to them! And all the students went home for an hour for lunch each day and there wasn’t school at all on Wednesdays, so someone (I guess possibly Grandmas) was watching the other kids, right??
    I did know a girl who ate some sand and got worms. Perhaps her maman cherie thought it’d teach her a lesson like the mom in this article?

    Anyway, I’ll stick to attachment parenting :)

  40. This is such an interesting topic. I’m not really sure what my parenting style is because I pick up influences from so many places, including articles like this. But I do agree that discipline comes from love and I admire parents who have very obedient children.

    Thanks for sharing, Gabby, great food for thought! :)

  41. A few things come to mind after reading the article and your post.

    1) Dr. Spock? Really? Does anyone really follow his advice anymore? I thought it was more Dr Sears in 2012 than Dr Spock…?
    2) My 2yo can get her own banana, peel it, eat it (not cut it, although she could) and put the peel in the compost. She can also get a container of yogurt, open it, eat it with a spoon and put the container in the sink to be cleaned out for the recycling bin. And so on… this is all because I believed that she was capable of it, taught her to do it and empowered her to do it. Montessori! Do not do for a child what she can successfully do for herself. This is not to say we don’t have messes because we certainly do.
    3) I don’t believe that being mean is a good way to treat anyone. Firm, but kind, right?!

  42. I am US born and raised both of my children here. When I lived in Italy I marveled at the gentle attention the children received in public places…and how marvelously well behaved most Italian children are…at all ages. The attitude was more on making the experience work for all around and including the child. In the US it seems that the focus on a child in public is either total indulgence in allowing any behavior or much concern on controlling the child for the sake of others. Maybe if I have another child, I might move to Italy because it was quite nice to be around children there.

  43. Here in San Francisco there is enough nature that it is possible for some preschools to embrace the outdoor school philosophy. My daughter attended an immersion preschool where the children are allowed access to the outdoor play areas, garden and chicken coop all day long, regardless of weather. And every Thursday they hiked a nearby canyon, rain or shine. That part wasn’t as fun for me, as a parent volunteer, but the kids loved it.

    I vacillate on the topic of manners. For all intents and purposes, my daughter is a very well behaved six year old, actually much better than many of her classmates. But I wonder if it came at a price. Did we teach her to be a little too demure, a little too considerate, so that later she might become soft spoken or a pushover? She still knows how to get what she wants in a situation, but when I compare her to some of the other kids who couldn’t care less about manners (but are still very smart kids) I start to wonder.

  44. I read a post above that is similar to my thoughts, but I thought I’d give my two cents. Often, I feel like an outsider in comparison to how many of those around me parent. By nature, I am not an overly “motherly” mom. I adore my kids, but the way I parent may come across as harsh to others at times. My husband and I have four children, ages 7 and under, in the US. We believe that what we expect from our kids is what we get from them. So, from the beginning we work on our manners. Why is that important? Because I think having manners is being respectful of others. So many children that my kids go to school with believe that they are the center of the world. I just think it’s good for them to learn early on that is not the case.

    Also, we believe that our job as parents is to raise our kids not to need us. Having four kids in five years has probably forced me to make my kids more independent than maybe I would have if I had fewer kids, or more spread apart. But they know that they have boundaries and that there are rules in place and behave (most of the time! haha) accordingly.

    This is not to say that they are forbidden from creativity and free thinking. Maybe this goes back to my days in Catholic school, but within the confines of structure, creativity flourishes. (I had to figure out how to still be “me” in the uniform of the school :) Wow! That may be the longest “comment” I’ve ever left, but obviously this is something I often think about. Regardless, loving a child, making them feel secure in this world is the most important thing. And I’m sure that even if it looks like awful parenting to some watching, there’s another side to the story.

    1. I love this….”we believe that our job as parents is to raise our kids not to need us.” My parents’ philosophy has always been “work yourself out of a job.” It used to shock me how heavily some old college roommates still relied on their moms. I’ve lived away from home for 10 yrs and still call my mom for advice on cleaning this or how to cook that, but some of those girls would not have survived a week without mommy’s help!

      All in all, I think it’s about balance. What an amazing, but tricky job!

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