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

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):

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

Umm, Toys "R" Us Has A BOGO 50 Percent Off Deal So You Better Stock Up

After the holidays, you were probably hoping that your kid's massive toy collection would keep him entertained for a little while, at least. But that was wishful thinking, wasn't it? Because now that a couple of months have passed, all those must-hav…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

Turns Out, Kim Kardashian's Favorite Mom Products Look A Lot Like Your Own Faves

Being a mom is really hard work, especially for the first few months, and Kim Kardashian West is no different in that regard. Now the mother of three, Kardashian says that there are a few products she just can't live without when it comes to raising …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

These 9 Instant Pot Recipes Will Make Even The Pickiest Eater Happy At The Table

Like any parent, I've had my share of parenting hits and misses, but one of my favorite "wins" is my daughter's diverse palate. I don't even know if I can take credit for it, but I would like to think I had something to do with her love for lentils, …
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

Soda Might Hurt Your Fertility, Study Says, & Here's What You Can Do

Who doesn't love sugary drinks? I stopped drinking soda years ago, but I still love gulping down those fancy Starbucks coffee beverages. I don't have a big sweet tooth, but I am a sucker for sugar-sweetened beverages every now-and-then. Turns out, th…
By Annamarya Scaccia

10 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 30s

If you're like me, you evaluate the pros and cons of any major life decision. When my husband and I were considering starting a family, I thought about my career, education, and financial stability. I wanted to know how a pregnancy and childbirth wou…
By Steph Montgomery

This Woman Thought She Had An Eyelash Stuck In Her Eye. Then It Moved.

I'm not a person who is easily icked out. As a kid, I collected bugs and thought I was going to be an entomologist and asked Santa Claus for ant farms and nets to catch bees. I'm still super curious about anything that flies and crawls, which might s…
By Karen Fratti

A Hot Mess Mom's Guide To Surviving Winter

As I sit here at my home office in Connecticut, it's cold. Damn cold. Winter is a rough season in New England and it's even worse when you're a parent and have to manage cooped up, restless children. It's even worse when you're a hot mess as it is, u…
By Jamie Kenney

5 Red Flags Your Toddler Isn't Eating Enough

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, at least in my experience. You offer mashed potatoes, they want french fries. You give them crackers, they scream for chips. It's frustrating, to be sure, but it's usually their way of vying for independence. It…
By Candace Ganger

11 Ways Your Pregnancy Will Be Different If You Have A Boy Vs A Girl

If you've been pregnant before, you might start comparing your previous pregnancies to that of your current pregnancy. A lot of things can change from pregnancy to pregnancy, based on a whole host of different factors (including how well you remember…
By Lauren Schumacker

35 Moms Share The Most Disgusting Things Their Husbands Do

I'm a human being who revels in challenges. I like when people present me with one, especially if they don't think I can meet or succeed it, and I like taking a challenge on, especially if it's unexpected. So when I aimed to uncover the most disgusti…
By Jamie Kenney

How Having Kids In Your 20s Affects You Later In Life

For parents, like myself, who had kids in their 20s, there are a number of questions that come to mind. When you're deciding what your future will look like, you'll likely consider what this means for your health, career, and more down the line. Thin…
By Tessa Shull

8 Reasons I Let My Toddler Play Outside Unsupervised

I'm not a helicopter mom, but I'm not exactly a free-range parent either. I like to think of myself as safely ensconced somewhere in the middle. I insist on certain safety measures, like car seats and helmets. I prefer to keep my 2-year-old in my sig…
By Kimmie Fink

12 Moms Share How They Stay Healthy During Flu Season

Unfortunately, we're in the middle of the roughest flu seasons in recent memory. And we’re not totally out of the woods, either. People around the country are still getting the flu, and, sadly, some of them are having to be hospitalized due to flu-re…
By Priscilla Blossom

8 "Mistakes" I'm Glad I Made During My First Pregnancy

As an adult, I've learned you never really stop hating being told what to do. When I was pregnant I was getting instructions at every turn, from doctors, relatives, and complete strangers on the subway. I would nod and smile but then go about making …
By Liza Wyles

Study: Drinking Two Glasses Of Wine A Day Is Good For Your Mind — Here's Why

There’s more scientific proof that a daily drink or two isn't necessarily a bad thing and could have a place in an overall healthy lifestyle. A new study out of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in New York found that — in mice, at le…
By Tiffany Thomas

Research Says Eating Carbs Can Lead To A Healthy Pregnancy, So Bring On The Pasta

In the world of me, no food is better than bread. I know it's supposed to be pretty terrible for you, high in calories, low in protein, and full of that modern-day demon, gluten... but guys, it's really yummy. Especially warm out of the oven, when th…
By Jen McGuire

These Photos Of Prince George Then & Now Will Give You Serious Baby Fever

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their third child in Spring 2018. With all of the excitement surrounding the new baby, it's easy to forget all of the good times that have already passed. The couple's eldest is already well into the sc…
By Azure Hall

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
By Lindsay E. Mack