Archive for the ‘Toddlers’ 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.
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…
If my blog bio wasn’t enough for you, here is some more information about me….
Franglaise Mummy pretty much sums me up: I lived in the UK for the first 22 years of my life before heading to Nice, France after graduating. I had a 3 month return ticket and aimed to spend the summer working in a bar, going to the beach and partying. In less than a month I’d decided to stay on indefinitely….I finally moved back to the UK 12 years and 18 days after going out there as a very different person at 22.
After deciding to stay on in France I set about looking for a serious job and becoming more “French” and less of an expat. Here is a brief summary of my life on the French Riviera age 22 – 34:
I lived in 1 city, 2 towns and 1 village, from the beaches of Nice to the countryside of St Vallier de Thiey which is over 700 metres above sea level and where we had snow every year.
I worked as a barmaid, I cleaned yachts, I cleaned toilets, I worked as a secretary for a man who I later discovered was involved in the Russian mafia, and who I saw on the news in handcuffs one night (whilst I was working for him!), I taught English in businesses, I worked as a PA again and this time my boss was put on gardening leave while the company investigated him for fraud and for stealing company money, I worked in marketing and PR, I ran my own luxury travel agency with my husband which nearly brought an end to our union! My final job in France was running my own business working for a woman who declared herself to be a witch and to know how to cure cancer, and doing some final English teaching to babies and children. After this panoply of jobs I was quite glad to move back to the UK and get a “normal” job in a marketing agency in London.
I had a 3 year relationship with my first French boyfriend, resulting in a mortgage, 2 French cats, an adorable set of in-laws who I still class as my family today and a broken heart. Despite this I decided to stick around in France and I’m glad I did as I then met my husband on a drunken night in a bar in the old town of Nice in December 2001. What I have got out of this relationship is another mortgage, a French dog, 2 English cats, my soul mate and our incredible and fabulous half English, half French daughters.
To everyone’s shock and amazement, in June 2010, fed up with the lack of job opportunities and never-ending petty bureaucracy in France, hubs and I made the huge decision to move (back) to the UK. In the next month we sold nearly everything we had, handed in notices, packed up a tiny van of a few key belongings, booked a one-way flight, had a few drunken farewell parties and headed to my parents’ house with L and our hopes high. I never thought that at age 34 I’d be moving back into my childhood home along with my husband and 3 year old daughter but that’s what happened as we job-hunted and then house-hunted.
In the last 2 years or so we’ve settled into our UK way of life very well and it’s made me realise that whether we live in the UK or France or anywhere else I will now be leading my life the Franglaise way.
So where am I at now? Living with hubs, L (our 6 year old daughter), C (our baby daughter, born in London in November 2012), Courage (French dog pronounced Koo-rarj), Ruby (French cat), Gavin & Smithy (English cats) in southwest London. I usually work full-time while L goes to school but I’m currently on maternity leave, looking after L and C.
This blog is about my personal experiences of the differences in pregnancy, birth and raising babies and children the French and the English way. I am not condoning nor condemning either way, merely stating how it is/was for me, which doesn’t necessarily mean that is how it is for everyone in the UK or France.
With that disclaimer I’ll sign off and say thanks for reading!