07 Feb
La Mouthing Off: French Parents vs. American Parents

Here we go again.

Just when we thought we’d survived Tiger Mom and her battle hymn, here comes Frenchified Mom telling us that the French mère 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!)

The Wall Street Journal screams, Why French Parents Are Superior, and writes about the author of the forthcoming Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (le Amazon link). Because calling Americans out on our parenting sells books and gets page views!
Basically, American parents, you’re doing it wrong. According to author Pamela Druckerman, an American living in Paris:
…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.
We’ve all been in situations where we wished parents would exert more control over their children, where we wished children would behave better. Many of those times may have been been with our own children. And goodness knows, we’re all for sharing international tips in child rearing. As parents, we believe that we can definitely learn from each other. But what we don’t like is the broad stroke condemnation of American parents as overly permissive and French parents getting it just right. Surely we can do better.

Druckerman continues:

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.

25 Responses to “La Mouthing Off: French Parents vs. American Parents”


Comment by Carol.

Amen. I’ve taught my kids to always ask questions if they don’t understand something. While I wish they wouldn’t ask ME so many questions, I’m glad they are thinking for themselves.


Comment by Muffintopmommy.

Prolonged negotiations?
That’s how I got my mom to buy me $33 Nike Corky Cortez sneaks (they were fly–especially with my friendship beads)and realized I could enjoy a nice career in sales later in life! To this day my mother talks about how she can’t believe I got her to buy me those shoes.

Has anyone acknowledged why the little French fries are sitting quietly and not talking back under the calm authority of their rents? Because they’re probably drunk. Don’t they drink wine with dinner when they’re like 11 over there? Yeah….ugh huh. SEe what happens when you switch out the Capri Sun for some Bourdeaux! Pfft.


Comment by Bean.

Excellent points! Since when does different equal less than?

(What happened to yesterday’s post?)


Comment by Cecily.

As someone who has lived in the Paris area for 30 years now (I’m old), I hate books written by American expatriates about the French and how they do everything better. I had a work colleague whose young son didn’t wear a seat belt because “he doesn’t want too, so what can I do?” Make him??? Nope, she couldn’t do that. But she started to toilet train him at 6 months.
French parents are just like American ones; some do a great job, some do a crappy job. Some kids are polite and well-behaved, some are out-of-control brats. I’ve seen both kinds on both sides of the Atlantic.
My children were raised the “American Way” and surprise, they were (they are adults now) considered polite and well-mannered by my French friends and neighbors.

Muffintopmommy Reply:

Amen. I think the the way you parent has more to do with you as an individual versus your nationality. I don’t think you can paint any one country with such a broad brush. It’s ridic. But I’m guessing it sells books!


Comment by sisterfunkhaus.

Instead of getting defensive, I enjoy reading about how other cultures raise their children. Of course every culture is going to think that their way is superior and that people in/from other countries do a bad job (how many of us think tiger mom is too harsh and mean?)

I think the author makes a great point about independence. My husband and I value the independence of our child above anything else. We adore her and spend lots of time with her, but she can also do for herself, play by herself for hours, etc… I learned early on that play dates or mommy and child dates didn’t work for us b/c it always ended up with the other person’s child constantly bugging the adults to entertain them instead of playing. I have an ex-friend who has a seven-year-old son who still cannot entertain himself at all, ever. Hell, he can’t even sleep on his own. He can’t even function in a normal classroom b/c he hasn’t learned to be even remotely independent. He is an extreme example for sure, but it is all too common these days for parents to make their kids overly dependent on them. Kids need to learn to do for themselves and play on their own. It builds confidence and allows them to use their imagination more. It makes for more creative kids as well. Plus, it gives mom and dad enough space that they can be happier parents.

I think that instead on instantly getting on the defensive about this kind of stuff, we should take a look at it and see what we can learn.

Muffintopmommy Reply:

Hmm, I don’t think I personally am getting defensive….my comments are mostly tongue in cheek except that truly, I disagree when any country/large group of people/whomever are painted with one broad brush. You have your style of parenting and I’m assuming are AMerican? I’m not going to then say you’re style of parenting is what all Americans practice.

Marinka Reply:

Oh, sure. And the post acknowledges that we can learn from other cultures. And they can learn from ours as well.

What I find offensive though is the idea that Americans are doing it wrong. Yes, all Americans. Because we all (apparently) parent the same way. We’re both helicopter parents and let our kids do everything their way.

And I do think that if there’s going to be a dialogue and an exchange of ideas on parenting across the cultures, it can’t be headlined “Why French Parents Are Superior.”

Muffintopmommy Reply:

Agree 100%.

Meredith L. Reply:

Absolutely, Muffintopmommy. (See my rather extended excerpt from the email reply I sent my husband, below.)

It would have been one thing to title the article, “What American Parents Can Learn From Our French Counterparts,” and list ways in which the majority of French parents might have some insight we don’t have; it’s another thing entirely to title the article “Why French Parents Are Superior” and then make ALL American parents feel like c-r-a-p every time we indulge our kids or tend to their needs.

Emily Reply:

sisterfunk, I understand completely. Sometimes I think some parents prefer their children to be so much like babies that they still have their ‘babies’.

That being said, my child is very independent when it’s us at home or outside, but if we’re in a crowd or a playgroup, she generally wants to be with mommy. She’s not really into social groups yet (and if she’s the product of her two introverted fairly antisocial parents, then she might never be) and she gets overwhelmed with the noise and wants the comfort of her parents.

So, some people think I should stick her in a daycare and make her deal with it, but that’s not why I became a SAHM.

About the article in general, obviously it’s offensive to rule that all American parents are inferior. But, to be fair to the French, my experience with many non-Americans is that they think Americans are inferior at everything. We’re fat, lazy, egotistical idiot lemmings. You don’t have to hang out in multinational chat rooms long to figure out that we’re viewed that way.


Comment by Wendi.

I saw the author of the book on the Today Show this morning & she had a beret nailed to her head. Maybe that explains her attitude.

Muffintopmommy Reply:

I saw that! She looked like she should have been clutching a baguette!


Comment by this side of typical.

Except when it comes to Autism. Autism is still treated like it was here in the us 50 years ago, the mothers are still blamed and the children carted off to institutions instead of (quel horror!) adopting the “American” way of therapy which has proven successful.

I will take my poor american style of parenting my child with Autism, thank you very much.


Comment by mtwildflower.

Since when are the French the only ones who can give “the Look” and make their kid comply with their wishes? ( I read this article a few days ago) Hell, I GREW UP with “The Look” and God help any kid I raised who ignored it!


Comment by Meredith L..

An excerpt from the email I sent to my husband when he sent me this article link along with the question, “Should we just move to France and raise child #2 (not yet born) the French way, and write off child #1 (3 years old) as a loss?”:

“Last I checked, American parents are already pathologically insecure; a title like this might as well be, “Why You Suck At Parenting.” I am wary of over-generalizations, and to claim that all middle class French children are well-behaved while all middle class American kids aren’t, is insulting.

…Second, this article does not take into account the varying differences in French and American cultures in general…Most American parents I know who work do not want to spend their precious few moments each day with the kids being disciplinarians, or are too tired to strictly enforce some big-eyed warning looks.

…Third, it’s one thing to teach kids good manners and how to behave themselves; it’s another to be so strict and rigid that they don’t feel comfortable speaking up for themselves or disobeying authority.

…I do think that helicopter parenting, and parents being doormats to their children, is a problem in this country. But I don’t think the solution is to reprimand us all to be more like the French.

…I think the article had a few good pointers and suggestions, but overall I think it’s a gross over-generalization and one that American parents don’t really need right now.”

So there, Frenchies.

Josette at Halushki Reply:

Here you go: All Parents Are Better Than You Are.


I’m going to expand it into book version and then a reality show. 😉


Comment by hokgardner.

The wild, rash generalizations in the article made me so mad. My kids are enthusiastic, active kids who also know how to eat politely in a restaurant.


Comment by Amy.

The French kids surrender. Big surprise.

*rim shot*

I’ll be here all week, try the veal…

I'm a big ol' b with a captial B! Reply:


Ace Reply:



Comment by Lisa.

“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.”

Those are not the same things. You can think, engage and participate and be respectful, know that parents are in charge and you are not. My parents managed it fine. Bedtime is not negotiable but they did ask for my input on things that affected me, like where to go for vacation. You have got to learn when to be the parent and have no discussion.

Stop trying to fool yourself into thinking letting kids get away with crap is doing them favors. Engage and discuss politics, come up with to overcrowding. Ask their opinion about a work problem. for the love of humanity teach them to follow rules.
My friends in management are already seeing the Entitlement Generation that can’t DO anything but thinks they are a super-star and the special, special snowflake and the rules don’t apply to them. It is hurting their career before it starts. I’m sure they negotiated a lot with their parents, too.


Comment by Plano Mom.

To me, the only difference between this book and the comments of and about the gay-marriage-uncomfortable Mom before is the matter of degree. Both are still taking their fear of something different and translating it into an opinion of the familiar as superior.

With that said, I still have a hard time being non-judgmental about those judgmental authors.


Comment by red pen mama.

Oh, thank you for mouthing off on this. I listened to a radio interview with the author about this, and I did not recognize myself as the American parent she was talking about. We set boundaries, my kids play independently, they eat all kinds of food… I was just stunned listening to her disparage American parenting.


Comment by Mouthing Off: Take Your Kids to the Park and Leave Them There Day Nonsense | The Mouthy Housewives.

[…] up with all the parenting trends out there. If we’re not Tiger momming our cubs, we’re Frenchifying nos bebes, all in an effort to raise the best kids we […]

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