French children don’t throw food. Really?
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.