Like many people in my generation, I've more than a bit enamored with all things French. J'adore everything from French food and wine, to art, culture, and the French countryside. In my travels abroad, I've noticed that while my kids sometimes make me want to book a flight to Paris, generally speaking, French kids seem much more like Madeline and less like Caillou. So, I started wondering if there were things French moms could teach me to make my life, as a mom, easier. I've discovered that in many respects, they seem to be onto something.
I'm not alone in my awe. American mom Pamela Druckerman was so impressed by French mothers, she wrote a book, Bringing Up Bébé, about it (which I, of course, read). French moms seem more self-confident, self-assured, and well-rested than their American counter-parts. This might be bi-product of their decision to sleep train their babies, let them fuss a bit before picking them up, and literally believe that "mother knows best." Their kids don't snack all day, so at meal times they actually eat what they are served. It all seems so magical.
Now, I am not saying that I agree with every single French parenting tactic. They do have a reputation for being a tad bit more authoritarian than I am, especially when it comes to things like not validating their kids' emotions and telling them, no (or "non"). But I definitely think French moms can show me a thing or two. As American reporter Jenny Anderson writes for Quartz Media, it might have something to do with the country of France being far more supportive of moms than the U.S. when it comes to creating family-friendly policies around paid parental leave, affordable child care, and health care. So, maybe it's part that they live in France, and part that they are able to make parenting choices relatively free from judgment. Or maybe it's the wine. Either way, here's what us United States moms could learn from our French counterparts:
Fed Is Best
You may be surprised to learn that breastfeeding rates in France are even lower than those in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 81.1 percent of American women breastfeed, and 51.8 percent continue breastfeeding for six months. According to a study conducted by Institut de Veille Sanitaire, 74 percent of French women start breastfeeding at the hospital, but only 23 percent are still breastfeeding at six months, with most of these moms using a combination of breast milk and formula to feed their babies. I learned how awesome combo-feeding can be after my second child was born.
So, why don't French moms breastfeed? They don't want to. According to Lansinoh's Global Breastfeeding survey, French women reported breastfeeding for the shortest amount of time among people from all countries surveyed, and only 58.2 percent said they would feel guilty about not breastfeeding, compared to 68.7 percent of Americans, 73.8 percent of Canadians, and 94.6 percent of Brazilians. Right on.
Try Sleep Training
French moms know something that it took me three babies and nine years to learn — babies are fully capable of going to sleep on their own. As Druckerman told HuffPost, they pretty much sleep train their babies from the beginning. To be honest, I'm a little ambivalent about that, but I am also a tad jealous. Once we started sleep training our youngest, it took my husband three days to get our little one to fall asleep on his own. Why didn't we do it sooner? OMG it's magic.
Give Your Kids Space
As a reformed helicopter parent, I know how exhausting it is to have a child permanently attached to some part of your body. So, the French tendency to, as Druckerman describes, "be involved without becoming obsessive," seems like witchcraft. How do they find this balance?
As Druckerman writes in Bringing Up Bébé, "It turns out that to be a different kind of parent, you don’t just need a different parenting philosophy. You need a very different view of what a child actually is." She posits that French parents don't coddle their kids, but rather, let them be kids and understand that they need to learn to do things for themselves. They are neither free-range nor helicopter parents, but serve to "educate" their kids when they need extra help with a task. This is pretty much how I view my role as a mom.
Let Your Kids Eat What You Eat
The idea that you should feed your kids what you eat, as soon as they start eating solids, is not unique to French culture. A lot of my friends from South Asia to West Africa do the same, but is definitely something I think we American moms should try. According to Karen Le Billon author of French Kids Eat Everything, French moms focus on "taste development," by feeding their babies and young children lots of different foods and textures. As she writes for Karenlebillion.com, the Société Française de Pédiatrie (the French equivalent of the American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends that kids eat four meals a day and be given variety of foods, without being forced to eat.
Meal time is stressful, especially if you have picky eaters. Inspired by my French mom-friends and their feeding routines, I've started serving fewer options and giving my kids the role of choosing if they want to eat what I prepared, rather than having arguments. I'm not completely there, though. I still let my kids make a sandwich or have cereal if they absolutely hate a meal, but at least I am no longer an unpaid short-order cook.
Send Your Kids To Daycare Or Preschool
In my research I learned that France is a totally different place for working moms. As Anderson claims, the country provides support to make it more easily for moms to work outside the home, like free child care, stipends, and free health care. Currently, my partner and I pay more for daycare than we do for our mortgage.
I do, however, think we can take a page from the French mom playbook by not feeling guilty about going back to work or sending your kids to preschool, even when you choose to stay at home. And in the meantime, we can also fight for better policies to support working parents, like paid leave and subsidized day care.
Learn To Set Boundaries
Setting and accepting boundaries is difficult. When I read how French moms set boundaries with their kids, I thought that it sounded wonderful but, well, a little impossible.
I've found that it's important to recognize that kids are still learning how to be people, so, teaching them how to respect the boundaries you set, and teaching them how to set their own boundaries for other people, is super important. Saying "no" with confidence only works if you back it up with consequences, though. As a gentle parent, I will probably never get to a point where I am comfortable being as authoritative as my French friends, but I definitely want to get to a point where my kids listen to what I say.
For a lot of American moms I know, motherhood is synonymous stress. French moms seem way more chill about it, though. When I've hung out with my French friends, it's kind of like watching parents on television. I'm not even exaggerating. I don't think they are necessarily better parents or that we don't have the capacity to get there. I think they just don't feel the pressure to constantly engage with their children every waking moment. It's so hard for me, living in a culture where moms are expected to build pillow forts and make Pinterest crafts all damn day. But, hey, I'm working on it.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.