Why Are We So Obsessed With French Moms?

Ad failed to load

If you picture a French mom, you probably imagine a woman who looks like a young Catherine Deneuve pushing her sleeping baby in a stroller down a narrow, cobblestone street. She's wearing bright red lipstick, a tight black dress, big sunglasses, and, of course, five-inch heels—despite the cobblestone. She nibbles a chocolate croissant and gazes in shop windows as her child sleeps soundly, the Eiffel Tower glistening in the distance.

This image of a picture-perfect Gallic mom is supported by popular culture, including books like Mireile Guilano's French Women Don't Get Fat and Pamela Druckerman's French parenting manual Bringing Up Bébé. According to these best-sellers, French moms are calm, composed, and almost always a size 2, while their children are polite, good sleepers, and never, ever picky eaters.

In short, we’re obsessed with French moms because they appear to do everything better than us, and all with exceptional amounts of style. When it comes to just about anything French, the average American associates an innate sense of sophistication with the country's food, clothing, and language. But does the country that produces the world’s best cheese and wine also produce the world's best parents? Or is our obsession with French moms as insubstantial as the last spritz of your Chanel No. 5?

Ad failed to load

How French Parenting Differs From American Parenting

To hear pop culture tell it, the difference between France and the United States when it comes to parenting boils down to one key difference: French parents are calm and collected, while American parents are frazzled, hyper-organized and constantly driven by chaos. According to the media, French mothers yell much less than American ones, trust their instincts, and suffer from far less guilt. Their children eat fish and vegetables, learn to self-soothe as babies, and don't put their elbows on the table.

Ad failed to load

"If I was only given only three words with which to advise American parents based on what I'd learned writing the book, they would be 'be more strict,'" Catherine Crawford, author of French Twist: An American Mom's Experiment in Parisian Parenting, told Romper. Published in 2013, Crawford's book tracks her attempts to use French-inspired parenting to raise her two daughters in Brooklyn.

The French parenting style encourages children to behave (i.e: use "please" and "thank you," act in a disciplined manner, learn to self-occupy their time, and avoid interrupting parents and adults who are conversing), Kerry Halferty Hardy, a Paris-based mother of two, told Romper. "As a whole, it perhaps could be said that parents see their role as directing and teaching their children to act responsibly and appropriately in society," she says.

"Adult time is adult time. Mothers can also be women, not sacrificing femininity and self-care in the pursuit of perfect motherhood."
Ad failed to load

Perhaps most importantly, research seems to suggest that French moms actually enjoy parenting more than American moms. In a recent paper published by a sociology professor at the University of Texas in Austin, Americans (including parents and non-parents) on average ranked their happiness levels significantly higher than the French, but a 2009 study from economists at Princeton found American parents are twice as unhappy as the French when dealing with their children.

Some of this gap can be attributed to French moms achieving a better balance between parenting and adult life. "While French parents love their children and do what they think is important for their future success and happiness, they are not slaves to their children," Hardy told Romper. "Adult time is adult time. Mothers can also be women, not sacrificing femininity and self-care in the pursuit of perfect motherhood."

Ad failed to load

For Crawford, one major difference between French and American parents comes down to respecting children's developmental stages. The French, she noted, are more age-appropriate when it comes to disciplining their kids. "Parenting [in the U.S.] can be a little backwards, where parents negotiate for hours with a two-year old, and yet when their kids are twelve, they are hovered over like toddlers," she says.

Former New York Times journalist Pamela Druckerman made a big splash in parenting media when she published her Bringing Up Bebe in 2012. She spent several years studying the difference in parenting styles between the two cultures. And when she moved to Paris, the first difference that struck her was in food. While most restaurants in the United States offer mac 'n' cheese or chicken strips for kids, French restaurants expect kids to have more mature palates. "There is no category of food called kids' food," Druckerman says in an interview with NPR. "Kids and adults, from the start, eat the same thing."

Ad failed to load

Comparing Apples to Oranges

Of course, it's impossible to draw firm lines between parenting styles of entire cultures, but Druckerman's findings had a powerful impact on many American parents. Some moms dedicated entire blogs to the French approach, while others took Druckerman's findings with a grain of salt.

Laura June summed up our obsession with the French and French parenting in response to Druckerman's book for NY Mag’s the Cut. In her piece, June argued that while Druckerman's book might make French parenting seem more appealing on the surface, it glossed over a number of crucial differences between French and American culture, such as the fact that mothers in France have much more maternity leave than their American counterparts:

Ad failed to load
I agreed with everything I read. It seemed sensible, more laid-back and yet more structured about things like eating and sleeping that particularly seem to drag my American parent friends apart... [But] because Druckerman was living in France, she had access to the French government’s incredible services for families. In France, mothers get 16 full weeks of paid leave (26 for your third child), and the government pays an allowance to parents for each child.

The United States is one of the few developed countries in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. In the United States, 33% of women do not receive pay during their maternity leave, and less than 56% of employees who work for a private company are eligible for leave at all. (Dads are left high and dry, too. While in France, they receive at least 11 days — and up to six months — of leave, it is rare for American men to receive paid paternity leave.)

"Perhaps they're a bit worn out with the competition of perfect parenting."
Ad failed to load

In the United States, when it's time for working moms to return to the office, the cost of childcare can quickly drain their savings accounts. Most can expect to spend more than 10 percent of their household income on childcare alone. And the average cost for one week of care? Nearly $800 per month, just for one child.

Meanwhile, June writes, France has a national childcare program (albeit with a very long wait list):

[It's] staffed with trained child-care workers who are paid better than their American counterparts. It provides full meals for children (most American day cares do not, adding to the time burden at home), and it’s funded at a rate of about 80 percent by the state. Some parents pay nothing. Nothing at all.
Ad failed to load

By placing such a high priority on child care from the start, French parents have something we should all envy. Unlike American parents, who arguably strive to make up for lost time with their newborns by doling out too much praise and behaving like "helicopter parents" later on in life, mandating family leave gives new parents time to devote to their newborns and shape their children's behavior from the very beginning.

The Real Root of Our Obsession?

It's true that there are day-to-day cultural differences between French and American moms, and if American mothers want to try to encourage solo play, self-soothing methods, or less picky eating habits, more power to them. But the real root of our obsession lies in our admiration —or even envy — of other, arguably more "sophisticated" cultures.

Ad failed to load

American moms are fascinated by a vision of chic French women with impeccably dressed and well-behaved children, Hardy tells Romper. French moms would never be caught dead in yoga pants, wearing a hair clip, and carrying a to-go mug of Starbucks. That, she tells Romper, creates a countervailing pressure to be slim, attractive, and "the perfect woman" shortly after giving birth, which is exhausting. "Perhaps [American mothers] are a bit worn out with the competition of perfect parenting and how many awards, activities, firsts, and bests they're seeking for their children and feeling frustrated with an imbalance in the parenting role versus the spousal and personal roles," she said.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

The Entire Family Can Enjoy These Movies & Shows Coming To Netflix In June

It's just one of those sad facts of life: every month, shows and movies vanish from Netflix, their varied excitements no longer at your fingertips. But luckily the streaming service is always prepared to fill that content void with lots of new things…
By Megan Walsh

The Reason Why Babies Smile At You Will Seriously Make You Smile

Whether you're currently the recipient of your own baby's sweet smiles or you just seem to be a magnet for baby grins in general, you might find yourself wondering why babies are always smiling at you. Sure, you could be a 'smile whisperer' but scien…
By Kate Miller

8 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say That, Yes, You Are Their Favorite

For a baby to show a preference for a specific person is not only normal, but an essential part of their development. Babies need to form strong attachments to their caregivers for their emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. Usually, but not alw…
By Kimmie Fink

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills