To me, everything's better in French. Words tend to sound more romantic in French. Croissants are more indulgent than their bland American muffin counterparts. French lingerie is more delicate and lovely than the stuff you might find at Walmart. So, it honestly doesn't surprise me that the French have the upper-hand when it comes to parenting, too. There are a lot of things that French moms do that American moms should try because, well, it at least looks like they know their sh*t. Their kids seem to eat a wider variety of foods, they tend to be better behaved, and their babies sleep through the night earlier.
I've been enamored with everything French since studying abroad there in college. I didn't live a glamorous existence while there; instead I stayed in my "Maids Room" the size of a closet at the top of the sixth floor of an apartment building in a sketchy neighborhood. I shared a toilet with several other people on my floor (and a bunch of strange looking bugs), so I wasn't doing France like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex And The City. Still, I fell in love with the French way of life, and took note of the sometimes subtle, but usually obvious differences between the French and Americans.
The family from whom I rented my room seemed to have the most perfect (four) children. I observed what they did because it was so different from how I was raised, and I guess I filed it for later (when I would eventually have my own children). Of course, not every French family is the same, so what I observed should in no-way be taken as "gospel of French parenting." I was just lucky enough to be in a French home with French parents and French children, learning from (who I consider) to be the best of the parenting best. In fact, when I had my first son I chose a French pediatrician with a rather off-the-beaten-path philosophy when it came to a lot of parenting advice. For the most part, I dug what he had to say because it felt so very, well, French. Unfortunately, once I passed the baby stage, I wasn't able to hold onto "the French way." Still, there are a lot of things from the French Parenting Playbook I would like to make more of an effort to try. Vive la France!
They Don't Restrict Certain Foods When Introducing Solids
The French are very big on developing a variety of tastes in their babies, so they prioritize introducing as many different flavors, textures, and tastes to their babies as early as possible. They do not shy away, as American parents typically do, from feeding their children "adult foods" from an early age.
When we were beginning to introduce solids to my first son, my very French pediatrician literally blew my mind when he told me that, contrary to what I'd read online, I could feed my 5-month-old son anything I wanted as long as it was mushed up super fine. "Whatever you eat, your baby should eat, spices and all." My friends were doing the "first this veggie for a few days then wait before introducing another" thing, and I was going rogue. It was thrilling! It was madness! But we had fun feeding our son scrambled eggs with all the stuff we liked in them, or the tops of our avocado toasts at brunch, and my husband's homemade meat sauce, then sitting back and watching our son's reaction.
They Don't Respond To Their Baby's First Cry
There is this thing the French do called "Le Pause," which is the five minute period after a baby starts fussing, that a parent waits before going to check and see what's wrong. This, according to "the experts" (i.e. smug French people whose babies sleep the night from week two of birth, not that I'm jealous or anything) is the reason why French babies tend to sleep through the night a lot earlier than American babies.
The idea is that if we let our children work out whatever is bothering them, instead of responding at the very first cry, the baby might settle himself back down and go to sleep.
They Don't Allow Their Children To Snack (Except For The Goûter)
Typically, in France, children do not snack until early afternoon (after school). A ritual which is called "The Goûter," that typically involves a homemade crepe or cake, is served as a sit-down meal. When I was studying abroad in Paris for college, I remember seeing little school children running to the bakeries after school with their parents to pick out delicious little pastries for their "Goûter," but hardly can remember ever seeing a child tear into a bag of chips or any kind of snack typical of American children (although I know those exist in France, too).
My children, on the other hand, snack during their meals. My 5-year-old son will be eating breakfast, and demand (two hours later) a cucumber, followed by a "snack" of a pizza bagel. Then, on the way to school, he'll want a granola bar. My kids don't have meals so much as they just constantly eat a bunch of crap all day long. I know. Stellar parenting.
They Don't Drop Everything The Second Their Child Asks For Something
French parents tend to let their children know that they'll have to wait until they've finished doing whatever they were in the middle of – whether it be finishing an email, folding laundry, feeding the baby – before they run over to do what their child or children are asking of them. This helps teach their children about patience, how to deal with frustration, how to remain calm, and also that their parents' time is valuable.
I am so guilty of being the mom who immediately responds to my kids when they scream at me from the other side of the apartment, "Mom! Look at this!" or, "Mom! Can you change the channel!?" or, "Tell (my brother) to not touch my lamp!" I always say ,"One minute!" but I never make them wait; I just drop what I'm doing and start running over. So yeah, mom fail. My kids will probably grow up to be unbelievably impatient, and probably won't be allowed to visit France.
They Do Not Helicopter Parent
The French do not hover around their children for fear of possible injuries or to make sure that every single move their children make is developmentally appropriate. Is Jean Claude's pincer grip OK? Did he use his left hand to reach for the monkey bar, or the right one? Wasn't he a lefty yesterday? Instead, French parents typically believe in giving their kids freedom and a healthy sense of independence, and do not aim to control their children.
Perhaps this is the one French parenting technique I naturally acquired during my time in Paris. I do not stand thisclose to my kids as they navigate a climbing structure or slide. I much prefer to sit by the sidelines and check my phone or chat with a friend while my kids play within the confines of a playground (as long as they are safe and happy and aren't asking me to play with them, of course). I'm not worried about every move they make when they're playing on a playground (as long as its not one of those few city playgrounds that are in a state of horrible disrepair that hasn't been updated since the '80s).