Archive for the ‘School’ Category
After seeing so many people in my Twitter feed talking about this book (French children don’t throw food) and asking me if what Pamela Druckerman says is true I had to read it myself to see.
In case you don’t read this blog often and want to know if I’m qualified to comment, here’s some quick background on me:
I am a Brit, married to a Frenchman and I have two half British/half French daughters, we spent the first 3.5 years of our eldest daughter’s life in France and have been in the UK for the last nearly 3 years. In total I lived in France for 13 years and I have lived in the UK for 24 years. I should also point out that I never lived as an expat in France; I have a degree in French, I am bilingual, the majority of my friends in France are French and I had a French boyfriend for 3 years before meeting my husband of 10 years (both of which came with a French family that I became part of).
So that out of the way, here are my thoughts/feelings on the book.
Whilst it is a very interesting read and sometimes has valid points, an awful lot of the book has no truth to it with regards to the majority of France and not a tiny minority in Paris.
I read it whilst on holiday in France last summer, and staying with various French friends who have small children. I loved seeing their faces when I read snippets of it to them – they varied from horror to amusement to utter disbelief.
The book has recently come out in France and has been highly criticised as it is so far from the truth. Interestingly it is entitled “Bébé Made in France”; just the English title made my French friends laugh, as they pointed to their own toddlers throwing food on the floor whilst we were talking.
France has a real problem with “Enfants Rois” (King Child) as Druckerman talks about in her book. But she doesn’t really go into detail about this phenomenon which is getting worse and worse. My MiL is a school doctor in the Avignon region and when I told her about this book she burst out laughing as she told me about the nastiness, aggression and lack of general respect that she gets from children as young as 3 years old pretty much every day, as parents are letting them get away with murder.
So what is true and what is false and what differences are there really?
- Children in France throw food. Children in the UK throw food. There are some children in both countries that don’t, but in general this is what small children do.
- Women in France have a lot more pressure on them to go back to being “a woman” very quickly. This includes everything from weight, to general appearance, to having a social life sans bébé to returning to work soon after giving birth. French maternity leave is 16 weeks and most mums return to work within 3-6 months of having a baby.
- As most women do go back to work soon after having a baby and as childcare is so affordable (with state help) in France, it means that most French children are raised on average 4-5 full days a week by a “nounou” (childminder) or in a crèche (like a UK nursery).
- French babies on average sleep in their own cot, in their own bedroom as soon as they come home from hospital (aged around 5 days). Co-sleeping is almost unheard of and definitely frowned upon. Some parents have babies in their room with them, but nowhere near as much as in the UK and not for as long.
- French parents shout at their children. At home. In the park. In the supermarket. I have heard the following being yelled at small children in public “tu me fais chier!” (you’re pissing me off!), “tu me gonfles!” (you’re doing my head in!) and “tu continues comme ça et je t’en colle une!” (carry on doing that and I’ll give you a smack/wallop you one!) Not exactly the picture that Druckerman paints in her book.
- Our eldest daughter is 6 going on 16 at the moment, as are most of her school friends in the UK, and the other mums and I are often talking about the attitude we get from them. On a recent holiday to France I had the exact same conversation with a French friend about her 6 year old daughter. It’s the same, people!
- School on the other hand is totally different. School in France is super strict, with children being shouted at regularly and kept in place by fear, with creativity shunned and learning done by rote (French children have to learn poetry and do dictations from a young age). I remember our nounou’s 6 year old daughter being terrified one day as she’d forgotten her ruler and would get in trouble for not having it. Her mum and her plotted that she would drive home and get it, the daughter would sneak to the toilet so the mum could get it to her without the teacher knowing. Wow, great lesson in life to teach kids: lying and deceit.
- School in the UK is more relaxed, creativity is encouraged and all the teachers that L has had so far (3 different ones) have managed to keep their classes of 30 children in line through being nice but firm. I have never heard any of them raise their voices to the children. I was recently on a school trip with L’s class and it’s amazing the respect and control that their teacher was able to command.
- Druckerman talks a lot about British parents being “helicopter” parents, but I have rarely witnessed this. I have seen as much helicopter parenting in France as in the UK and I think it depends on the type of person the parent is, rather than their nationality.
- French parents are more willing to leave their babies/children at a younger age and for a longer time than British parents. As an example I went back to work 4 full days a week in France when L was 3 months old, and when she was 2 years old Hubs and I went to the Dominican Republic for 2 weeks without her, leaving her with her nounou, who she called “Tata” (Auntie) as she was so like a member of the family. I have also just left C with Hubs for the weekend so I could have a girls’ weekend with my friends from uni – she turned 6 months on Sunday. (I am still breastfeeding so simply expressed whilst away and Hubs fed her bottles in my absence.)
- From experience I would say that the French are far more open to smacking (bottoms) than the British. I don’t know anyone in France who this shocks, yet a lot of my British parent friends would never do this and frown upon those who do it.
I don’t mean this to be an attack on either France or the UK. I love both countries, have great French and British friends (most of whom are parents these days), I think that both countries have pros and cons in their parenting styles, hence us raising our children the Franglais way (taking the bits of each culture that work for us). However at the end of the day babies are babies, children are children and some will be livelier/better or worse behaved than others, I’m not sure how much culture has to do with that, I’d say it’s much more down to the child’s and parents’ personalities than anything else.
One final thing to point out, this is based on my experience which is in the southeast of England and the French Riviera and Avignon area of France. Social class also plays a big part but I have friends from quite broad social classes, encompassing cleaners, bar-tenders, secretaries, teachers, computer programmers, lawyers, managers and business-owners.
So all in all I’d say you’re probably doing a good job with your kids, whether you’re British or French or any other nationality. It’s a war zone out there and if you can make it to the end of the day in one piece then you’re doing well. French or British or other – go and celebrate that with a glass of wine! Cheers!
If I can find the time (and energy) I might write my own book one of these days on my personal experiences of the differences in British vs French parenting, if you might be interested in hearing more then sign up for blog updates via RSS or email on the top right hand side of this page.
I have two daughters, the eldest, L, is 6 years old, and this weekend this is what she came out with. Once I picked my jaw up off the floor I asked her where she had heard this, but she didn’t remember hearing it in any one place which therefore implies that she has not come across this idea just once.
It is safe to say that there is no way you could call me skinny once I hit puberty, I would say I’m average (mostly a UK size 10-12 over the last 20 years or so), but with big old boobs and a big old bum, so skinny is not a word I’ve ever heard to describe me.
I’m lucky that growing up with my mum and two older sisters there were never any issues with food, size, weight or dieting, so I’d say I have a fairly healthy attitude to food and have never really dieted (except a 3 day dabble at Dukan that made me feel more ill than with morning sickness).
So I’m pretty certain she’s not picked up this idea from me, my family or my friends. We watch limited TV and for the last few months all L has wanted to watch is Harry Potter films, which are not really well known for their skinny=pretty message. We don’t buy newspapers and I read one women’s magazine a month which in general is not around for L to see, especially not since she’s learnt to read!
All I can think of is that this idea has come from the school playground, which means that the media portraying Angelina Jolie as a beautiful woman we should aspire to look like (I have nothing against her, but how skinny?!?), and Samantha Brick making headline news by telling the world you have to be skinny to keep your man, must be seeping through all the way down to 6 year old girls.
I could understand this more if she were overweight and being bullied at school, but at 18kg (2 stone 11 lb), she is right at the other end of the scale.
As you can see, in her school PE kit here, she doesn’t need to worry about getting any skinnier!
I have no recollection of worrying about my weight until at least secondary school, or more likely when puberty hit. Why are our children (daughters) already being subjected to this false message that you have to be skinny to be pretty? I loved Mummy Barrow’s retort to Samantha Brick on this subject (being a big fat failure), but it seems to be hard for this message to get through the “we love skinny” media.
So where do we go from here? Hubs and I talked about it and here is our plan:
- Make as little reference to size/weight (hers or ours) as possible. No talk about I’m getting fat/I need to go on a diet, even if said in jest.
- Whilst we already eat a very balanced and varied diet at home (you gotta love a Frenchman who loves cooking!), we do eat junk food too on occasion (who can resist an apéritif before a Sunday roast?), so instead of saying “eating crisps will make you fat” we’ll say things like “eating crisps is bad for you”. (Even though I can’t think of situations where this might have been said in the past.)
- Fortunately L has oodles of self confidence, but it’s up to us to instill in her that looks aren’t everything, and that it is how she acts that counts the most.
I explained that what is important is how we act, who we are, being kind to others, and that skinny is pretty, big is pretty, straight hair is pretty, curly hair is pretty, brown eyes are pretty, blue eyes are pretty, green eyes are pretty. The difference between pretty and not pretty is all about who we are inside.
I’m scared about where we are going in society when I am having to have this discussion with a 6 year old, so please people in the media, can we stop obsessing over celebrities’ weights and looks so that it doesn’t filter down to young girls? And more to the point, can we let our kids enjoy their childhood a little bit more and a little bit longer?
L will be 6 years old in December and with the imminent arrival of her baby brother or sister have come various questions about where babies come from and, what she is more fascinated with, how they come out of mummies’ tummies.
The first time she asked me about how they come out of their mummy’s tummies I was completely caught off guard, I hesitated for a milli-second, wondering if I should go with the “zip on mummy’s tummy” theory, but decided I couldn’t carry it off believably; I did also wonder at what stage you then tell them the truth. So I simply said “babies come out of their mummy’s foufoune (this is the French word that we use)”, she replied with a passionate “yuk” before moving onto something different entirely.
Since then we haven’t had much of an issue with it, so I tend to think that the honesty is the best policy. I do have friends who have told their children that babies come out of their mummy’s tummy but are now struggling to back-track, and that gets tricky.
Whilst I love the fact that L is grown up enough to take it all on-board and in her stride, it does make for fun times when she wants to share this knowledge with others in the playground.
Today she wanted to take this book to school with her for show and tell:
This is a classic book from the 1970s that my parents got to share with my siblings and me. The funny thing is that at that time my dad had curly ginger hair and beard and my mum had long blonde hair, so for us it was pictures of our mum and dad! Then when L got to asking these types of questions my mum passed me the book to help out.
I’m quite happy for L to look at the pictures and ask me questions, but I’m not sure the other parents or the teacher would have appreciated her sharing it during show and tell, as you can see by the clarity of images and description in this children’s book:
Maybe a little bit intense for Year 1 show and tell.
I’m pretty certain that this picture is the main reason I didn’t have my first baby until I was nearly 31, it haunted me for years. Could this be any scarier?!?
What is your take on telling your children about the facts of life? Do you go for the truth or not? At what age would/did you tell them? Did you use any books/films etc? I’d also be very curious to know if any men have told their children about the birds and the bees at this young age, or does it always fall to the mums? As L will always ask me and not B.
I’d also love to know if anyone else had the facts of life explained to them by this book, as I’m pretty certain it’s a classic!
As a Brit, married to a Frenchman, raising our children first in France and now in the UK in what we call our franglais way, I know that we shock some people with our style of parenting. It is amazing to think that so few miles separate the UK from France but that culturally these two countries are so different.
Before I go on to explain our style of parenting it’s probably good for you to get some background on B and me, and how we were raised, to see where we are coming from.
- B and I were born 6 weeks apart in the mid 1970s: him in the south of France and me in the south of England.
- B’s parents are both doctors (a retired GP and a school doctor); my mum is a (retired) nurse, who trained to be a midwife and set up a local NCT branch in the 1970s, as well as being a breast-feeding counsellor for the NCT, my dad is in IT.
- B is one of twins; I am the middle child of 5 (all from the same, crazy parents!).
- B’s mum went back to work when B and his brother were still very small; my mum stopped work for 15 years to raise us 5 unruly children.
- B’s mum, like most of her generation in France, didn’t breastfeed; my mum breastfed all 5 of us.
- B’s mum weaned B and his brother on pots and purées; my mum weaned us the BLW way before it even had a name, as otherwise nobody would have got fed.
- B and his brother slept in their own bedroom from birth; my siblings and I slept in my parents’ room (but not bed) when we were small babies.
- B and his brother only ever had disposable nappies; my siblings and I only ever had washable nappies.
So that gives you an idea of the parenting style we grew up with, this is the one we developed for ourselves, and that shocks the French in France and the Brits in the UK:
- I breastfed L. This shocked several of my French friends and in particular my MiL who warned me “it’ll ruin your chest”.
- L slept in her own room from day 5 when we came home from hospital. This shocked pretty much every single Brit and Anglo-saxon I know, but was accepted as the norm in France.
- For the first 3 months I did everything on demand and had zero routine. This shocked my French paediatrician and numerous French friends. The only reason we got into a routine at 3 months was because L was going to the childminder’s…
- I went back to work 4 full days a week when L turned 3 months old. This was very early for most of my friends in the UK, but was standard for France.
- We put L in washable nappies from about her first week onwards. This was very uncommon in France and I kept being asked why I was doing something so unhygienic.
- When L was a few months old I started thinking (worrying) about weaning and I came across Baby Led Weaning (BLW) on the internet, I loved the sound of it and this is what we did with L. You can’t imagine the reactions I got in France, “are you trying to kill your baby?” and “she’s got no teeth, she’s going to starve to death” etc. I had to lie to my paediatrician about it, translate Gill Rapley’s report on it into French for our childminder and basically defend this decision every single day. It was very hard and it’s funny to be in the UK now where BLW is just another totally accepted weaning option.
- Whenever we were invited out we took L with us, and when we had parties at our house she generally stayed up and partied with us until the small hours. Fortunately she wakes much later if she goes to bed late which makes this doable. This is not a big deal in France, whereas many of my UK friends are shocked at us letting her stay up late.
- We first left her to go out for the night when she was 5 months old, we drove for an hour to meet up with some friends for a night out. We first left her all night when she was 9 months old as we had been invited to try out a posh hotel in Cannes for the night. When she was 2 years old we left her for two weeks to go off on holiday, just B and me, to the Dominican Republic. Every year we try and leave her for a week to go off on holiday as a couple, to reconnect, and to be simply B and me again, not Mummy and Papa. Now this one shocks the hell out of 90% of my UK friends, but all my French friends do this regularly with their kids.
- When L was 5 years old she flew unaccompanied to Marseille to spend a week with B’s mum in the run-up to Christmas. French parents frequently send their kids across France by plane as the school holidays are so long and everyone works. My UK friends were astounded that I might consider this.
- L started school in France when she was 2 and 3/4. This was 4 days a week, from 9am until 4pm; as B and I worked, she also went to the before school club, the after school club and the Wednesday club (no school in France on Wednesdays) at the same place. So Monday – Friday 8am-6.30pm she was at “school” from the age of not even 3 years old and she loved it! I know many British friends who think this is far too early, but it worked so well for us and for L who excelled there.
- When we moved to the UK, L was 3 and 1/2 so was too young for school. She started full time school when she was 4 and 3/4 and my French friends and family kept asking why she was starting so late.
I am sure if you are French then parts of the above shock you, and if you are British then there are certainly areas you disagree with. But this is what works for us and for L, it’ll be interesting to see if we end up raising baby number 2 the same way too seeing as he/she will be raised in the UK and not France. Watch this space…
My Facebook and Twitter timelines are awash with photos of children going back to school today on both sides of the channel. As today is my first “free” day of maternity leave it seemed like a good time to return to my blog and to compare “la rentrée” (the return to school) in France with what back to school means in the UK.
We have just returned to London after 2 weeks on the French Riviera, catching up with old friends and enjoying some down time as a family of 3 before the baby arrives. Whilst we were there literally everyone was talking about “La Rentrée”. In France it’s a really big deal and even has its own name – la rentrée literally means to return or re-enter.
La rentrée tends to strike fear in parents’ hearts as it comes hand in hand with the dreaded list of “fournitures scolaires” to be bought, this is the list of all the stationery and equipment that parents need to provide their children with. French parents don’t need to worry about uniforms as these do not exist at state schools, however they do need to spend a ridiculous amount of money to buy brand new pens, pencils, notebooks, textbooks, sports equipment and so on from a very specific list that is usually only sent out days before la rentrée.
French schools do not provide pupils with any of the basics, so they all need to be bought each year. Unfortunately the specific list tends to change each year, so the fountain pen from last year will no longer be any good this year, and will need to be replaced with a new one, the same goes for the pencil-case, the ruler etc. So the last week of August sees harassed mums rushing round the aisles of hypermarkets like Carrefour, Auchan and Leclerc, clutching their lists and desperately trying to find all these items.
Fortunately we left France before L got to a stage where she needed lots of equipment so I was saved this.
This is L’s first ever rentrée, aged 2 and 3/4 into the “petite section” of “maternelle”, basically the first year of nursery school.
So how does this differ from “back to school” in the UK?
I personally find that British parents are more relaxed about the return to school (unless their child is starting a new school which is often daunting no matter what country). Maybe this is due to the fact the British children have only been off for 6 weeks as against 2 – 2 and 1/2 months in France. Maybe it is because they just have to check that uniforms still fit and can buy more from a variety of places if they don’t. There is less stress over getting specific equipment which must conform to “la liste”. I certainly feel much more relaxed in my back to school preparations here which helps when you’re 7 months pregnant!
Good luck to L’s French friends who have left nursery school and are starting French primary school today in CP class (“Cours Préparatoire”), this is one year later than in the UK as the Reception class equivalent in France is in the nursery school and “big school” starts in the equivalent of Year 1. As for L she skipped off to Year 1 this morning without so much as a backward glance.