Just when we thought we’d survived Tiger Mom and her battle hymn, here comes Frenchified Mom telling us that the French mÃ¨re does it better. And by it, we don’t mean walk down cobblestone streets in stilettos, but rather raising le bebes. Quelle horror! (And now we will stop with the French language references. We studied Latin in high school, and as soon as the Ancient Romans come out with a parenting guide, we’re on it!)
…it struck me that most French descriptions of American kids include this phrase “n’importe quoi,” meaning “whatever” or “anything they like.” It suggests that the American kids don’t have firm boundaries, that their parents lack authority, and that anything goes. It’s the antithesis of the French ideal of the cadre, or frame, that French parents often talk about. Cadre means that kids have very firm limits about certain things-that’s the frame-and that the parents strictly enforce these. But inside the cadre, French parents entrust their kids with quite a lot of freedom and autonomy.
Authority is one of the most impressive parts of French parenting-and perhaps the toughest one to master. 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.
Ah, oui. Pretty enviable if you are trying to have a peaceful dinner. But are these qualities necessarily better for children in the long run? If questioning authority is an American trait, then let’s hear it for Old Glory! Because for all the times that we’d like our kids to stop negotiating, asking and interrupting and bend to our will there is a glimmer of appreciation that they are thinking, engaging and participating.
No, it’s not necessarily better.
But it’s not inferior, either.