Petit Madamoiselle

 Did you see the article in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal entitled "Why French Parents Are Superior", by Pamela Druckerman?  It’s another cleverly timed, contentiously inclined piece of prose (a la the “Tiger Mom”) promptly published just days before the release of the book that expounds upon this very premise, “Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.” 

According to the article (and I assume the book as well), there are five key tenets to French parenting success:

·      Children should say hello, goodbye, thank you and please.  It helps them learn that they aren’t the only ones with feelings and needs.
·      Whey they misbehave, give the “big eyes” – a stern look of admonishment
·      Allow only one snack a day. In France it’s at 4 or 4:30.
·      Remind them (and yourself) who’s the boss.
·      Don’t be afraid to say no.

Really?  Is it just me or do these seem more like common sense than yet another shining example of French superiority?  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the French and will be the first to admit that as a country, they produce many superior products – wine, baguettes, brie and croissants come instantly to mind.  But to presume that they wrote the book on parenting?  I don’t think so.

I understand that today’s American parents can be, well, a bit crazy.  I’m one of them.  I have five kids – a seven year old boy, five year old girl and three year old identical boy triplets.  Take a moment for that to sink in.  It’s taken me a few years to be able to say “I have five kids” without stuttering.  I admit I occasionally struggle with parenting and have a lot of not so proud “Mama Moments.” It’s not easy.  It’s loud, it’s messy, it’s expensive and it’s exhausting.  However, I (in fact, we), never for a moment let our kids rule the roost.

Maybe it’s because we have so many of them that we’d be completely overrun.  Maybe it’s because we were both raised in stoic Irish families where discipline (apparently more broadly captured as “education” by the French) reigned supreme.  Maybe it’s because my own mother is a Francophile at heart, even though her maiden name was O’Brien and she married an O’Connor; when I was in fifth grade, she wore a green beret on St. Patrick’s Day and I swear I have friends that still talk about it.  The point though, is that my husband and I are raising our clan of kids the way we were raised.  We were expected to follow the rules, to be polite and to know our place in the family pecking order – which, until we officially moved out of the familial roost, was as the bottom.  For many families today, it seems the kids get a place at the top.  And this, no doubt, is why Ms. Druckerman’s book will sell many copies. 

For anyone who doesn’t have the time to pore through yet another parenting tome, I suggest you take the advice shared here to heart and start by reestablishing the pecking order in your home.  Parents first, kids second. You are absolutely the boss and you probably don’t need a book to tell you so.  It goes without saying that your kids should say please and thank you – not just because it reminds them that other people have “feelings and needs” but, more simply put, because it is the right thing to do and normal functioning members of society all tend to say hello, good-bye, please and thank you.

If you’re afraid to say no to your children, well, I suspect you may need another book altogether.  As for the big, admonishing eyes Ms. Druckerman recommends, that was called the “evil eye” when I was growing up; my mom had it, my grandmothers both had it and, as sure as the day is long (especially the days when I’m home alone with five kids!), I have it too.  The evil eye can stop a trouble-bound triplet in his track and elicit instant silence from my sensitive seven-year old.  It doesn’t work quite as well on my feisty five year old but for her, fortunately, the threat of no snacks – at 4:00 or any other time of day – tends to work just fine.

So, there you have it.  This parenting stuff isn’t easy but it’s not that hard either.  We find that consistency is king, discipline is required and at the end of the day, after the tots are tucked in, it’s great to unwind with a glass of wine.  Possibly French wine -- which, in some instances, is most certainly superior.