9 PARENTING LESSONS I LEARNED FROM MY FRENCH GRANDMA
It's no real secret that the French know what the're doing in life on many fronts. With one of the leadingeconomy in Europe, world renown education system, and don't even get me started on the food and wine YUM! They seem to have the master recipe for creating greatness. I didn't know how much they really perfected until I heard the French also have a well researched and detailed parenting system. Yes, I said PARENTING. I want to tell you all about it here!
But first let me share a little bit of my story
Hi I'm Jamie, I am American, born and raised 3rd generation in southern New England. So I'd say American culture has been indoctrinated in me if in no other way than being raised in American culture all my life... you know, how its typically done. Although, my family has a more interesting history - most of them have long and strong ties to French culture as we have immigrated here from France with some taking a longer route settling down in Quebec and then immigrating into the U.S. a couple generations back... Something I always thought was cool and interesting, but didn't really affect me in any way and I never gave it a second thought really. I assumed how I was raised was just how everyone basically does it in modern middle class America.
It wasn't until I became a momma of 2 that I really saw how my family was a little different. A lot of the concepts my mommy friends were accustomed to and lifestyles showcased in popular YouTube channels from middle America was not how I was raised at all. A lot of them seemed to center around their kids lives and only their kids necessities. Food is also another thing I didn't relate to either, I see kids now eating a lot of processed food. Blogs I've found and recipes for "kid food" flood Pinterest as if we have to market meats, veggies and sauces as space food that came from fairy god dust and will make them have hulk like strength (I have boys :) ) this is something I was never given as a child- we always ate real food and there really was no sugar coating it.
Then I found a book called bringing up bebe and wow! My childhood practically flashed before my eyes. These are the same techniques I remember my parents using with me -and much of what I can remember my grandmother talking about with my parents as they would frequently dole out advice on how to raise us. So what exactly is French parenting?
Modern French Parenting Misconceptions
Americans have moved away from many old fashioned parenting techniques that have tied themselves to stereotypes other parts of the world still use. For some reason when I've heard of parenting techniques that are a main stay in Europe I've always thought it was synonymous with spanking, and neglectful parenting that does not fit well into the in-depth child development researched parenting techniques we now use in America today. And when doing my own research on parenting styles seeing the term "French parenting" led me to immediately stereotype it and I thought French parenting is bad.
But, I don't think we are really embracing what French parenting is in assuming it's the same as old fashioned parenting which is the seemingly neglectful and arguably slightly abusive parenting styles of the 1920's and beyond, a time when there was far less education surrounding motherhood, postpartum depression, child development and the long term effects of emotional abuse.
The French are notoriously known for well thought out, structured environments. They spend lots of dedicated research curating the best systems for their citizens and that structure spills over to their social lives as well. The French "system" and their rule structured culture provides a reliable guide to raising babies, parenting and long happy lifestyles.
So is "French" parenting bad? The short answer is NO! It is a well thought out system in which children thrive and become their own people - void of helicopter parents and where children grow to be high functioning, independent and well adapted members of society. The French way prioritizes manners, etiquette and independence. Which are things that, in my humble opinion, is slipping through the cracks in modern America today.
So, without further ado - Here are the ten lessons I've learned from my own upbringing by my French-American family!
#1 Kids aren't kings/queens of the castle
Children are taught from day 1 to be patient and instant gratification hardly ever happens. The French are seemly famous for their babies "doing their nights" as they say (that's fancy for sleeping through the night) very early on. How do they do it? In infancy when a baby cries mommy and daddy will wait momentarily before tending on the baby. From a very early age this teaches the child to self soothe, if the baby is truly in need their needs are met in an acceptable amount of time - but hardly ever right away (exceptions being emergencies or scheduled feedings etc.) And as the child grows, French parents don't jump at their children's every whim which teaches the child to have respect and patience in what they want.
#2 Manners are key
The big lesson here is that age isn't really an excuse for poor etiquette. From a very young age small children are taught to interact and greet adults as a matter of respect. When you see someone or have company over they address all people to say hello and goodbye. Children in France are also taught to sit and be well mannered at a dinner table - and you'd hardly see a child misbehaving in a public place running round or crawling under the table in restaurants.
#3 Kids are PEOPLE
Kids may not be the center of the universe in French households, but, they are treated as people from infancy. For the French, kids and babies are equal members of society who can learn and understand the way the world works through existing in it. The French speak to their children even as babies explaining why they weren't allowed to do something, or how things work... even at times when its questionable whether the child understands the concepts - but the French believe children understand much more than we give them credit for and they treat them as such.
#4 Parents put themselves first
For some of us it takes a while to fingure out that youre just not going to survive motherhood without self care. Selfcare is key - motherhood is so often accompanied by anxiety and depression and it can be very easy to go down a rabbit hole of doing everything for everyone else and putting yourself last. The thing is that life isn't sustainable that way. In France, parents know that their needs matter, and can get the extra time they need to either work or have a few hours to themselves due to government subsidized childcare which is open to all families regardless of income. It's a way that the government recognizes and supports families. In fact, parents in Paris don't consider there being any other way really. The state run child care facilities are designed to support all citizens right to work and earn a living, making it easy for kids to be socialized early on and allow caregivers some down time.
#5 Let kids be independent
American parenting culture is infamous for the helecopter parent, the hoover parent, Authorotative parent.. the list goes on. We've become so controlling over our children's lives that headlines will blasted on every news channel if there is a child that was caught doing something like riding the subway by themselves because they were "too young" to be that independent. The French parenting style allows kids their independence- within structure of course, but much more hands off than most American parenting, letting kids learn as they go and learn from their mistakes.
#6 Adult bonding creates stronger family units
In France it's not uncommon for your adult children to still be living at home in their 20's and for many until they marry.
American kids tend to leave home at a younger age than our European counterparts. While it is typically viewed negatively for someone (man or woman) to be living with mommy and daddy into their mid 20's the typical French family are still somewhat parenting their children well into their 20's! Don't get me wrong, we're not talking about freeloaders here... most French young adults are raised to be independent and highly functioning adults that most likely work as well as manage their own finances. But, they are also developing stronger ties to their parents sharing adult like experiences and responsibilities by living at home.
Adult children in France are learning by example as their parents navigate work and home life and are able to connect with their parents on a whole different level.
And while we are on the subject of 20 somethings - the French may be onto something here, adulthood does not actually start at 18 - in fact your brain isn't truly fully developed until your mid 20's and pushing 30 for some. Your 20s are still a developmental phase of life filled with learning adult lessons and growing into the person you're meant to be. not only that, but, younger adults are increasingly more deceived and manipulated by much of modern culture today such as social media, peer relationships.
#7 Kids eat ALL food
Food is a cornerstone of French culture and they take it seriously, from toddlerhood, and even in the public school systems health and food awareness is not only taught, but the government provides balanced meals for children to at school. Parents cook a balanced meal at home almost always consisting of fresh foods not frozen or processed, and there is no such thing as "kid food" kids are encouraged to eat a wide variety of food. Meals typically and continuously rotate hardly ever repeating. This means French kids get more quality food, and quality time with their families since their worlds don't revolve around extra curricular activities and fast food.
#8 Sharing meals
Being on the topic of food, family unity is also something that comes at the dinner table.As I previously mentioned not only do French parents place importance on eating balanced healthy meals but so do the public school systems, in the book Bringing up Bebe the author talks about how the schools hire professional chefs to prepare healthy and balanced school lunches for all children. When children come home, they are fed home cooked meals and the entire family gathers at the dinner table. Eating as a family has so many benefits for children, for starters it allows conversation and family bonding, it can also instill a sense of routine for kids which as been proven to benefit children greatly.
They say here in America if you want to eat a healthy diet eat the way your grandmother ate.... I think this applies here too.
#9 Work. Life. Balance.
Ever since I had my child I have been consumed with mom guilt. Guilt for staying home and not going back into the workforce, guilt for not giving my kids good preschool / day care socialization, guilt for going out with my friends, guilt for not spending every waking minute teaching them valuable life lessons or ABC's (they are 4&5 btw).... so much mom guilt. And while the French probably suffer their fair share of mom guilt it seems as though they know that their personal lives and life fulfillment are equally important as the parenting of their children and the quality of their work in the office. The French prize themselves for the ability to compartmentalize their lives- work is for work time and they don't bring it home. Fun is for personal time and very rarely does it ever mix with work or obligations. They have created yet another well oiled machine in which priorities are prioritized at the right times and you are able to enjoy all of it- guilt free!
So how do I parent now? Admittedly a bit of French - Americana mix. I try to take the best from both to be honest. I enjoy digging deeper into the French culture and carrying down and elaborating on how my family raised me, it makes me feel like im passing down heritage that is special and unique. This has certainly opened my eyes and really made me embrace a parenting style that has worked for me and my parents.
How do you pass on special parenting techniques in your family, let me know in the comments.