French Motherhood

At 5:47 this morning*, my son Lucas let it be known that he had an urgent need.

Mama! MaMA! Maaaaama! MamaMamaMamaMama! MAMA, I NEED YOU NOW!”

Any casual witness (like, say, our next-door neighbors, who most certainly could hear him) would assume that he was either a) dying, b) trapped between the bed and the wall or c) covered in a bodily fluid.

I had my doubts, but nonetheless stumbled blearily into his room to assess the threat level.

And do you know what he wanted? What he needed the way asthmatics need air during an attack? He required that I pick up the half-deflated Patriots’ balloon bobbing near the floor and place it on his bed BECAUSE IT’S MY FRIEND AND IT’S SAD AND I NEED IT.

Had he suddenly lost use of his legs? Were there ropes tying him to his mattress? Had he never shimmied his small self down from his bed between 7 and 9 p.m. to oversee important little chats on any number of baffling topics?

No, no and hell no.

So what did I do? The obvious thing. I let Lucas know how I felt, in a fuming whisper:

“A French woman would never pick up this balloon!”

And then I picked up the balloon, put it on the bed and slunk off, thinking self-loathing thoughts all the way back to bed.

A French woman, meanwhile, would have flashed les gros yeux at her little enfant roi.

She would have said non, and she would’ve meant it, and her son would have thought to himself, “Mon Dieu! Whatever was I thinking?”

According to Pamela Druckerman, anyway. I’ve been reading Druckerman’s new book, “Bringing Up Bébé,” an account of her quest (undertaken while living with her husband and three young children near Paris) to discover what makes French children so well-behaved and French mothers so wise.

French mothers, she writes, do not put up with what they call an enfant roi (“child king”)—an excessively demanding child who is constantly the center of his parents’ attention and who can’t cope with frustration. Often, just a glance with les gros yeux (“the big eyes”)—a look of admonishment French adults give naughty children—is enough to scare French children straight.

What’s their secret?

It’s pretty simple, according to Druckerman. From what I can tell (three quarters of the way through), her book boils down the French parenting philosophy into seven main points:

French parents believe c’est moi qui decide—it’s me who decides. There is no doubt that they are in charge and should provide children strict guidelines.
Those guidelines are immovable; otherwise, French children have much freedom. As Druckerman writes, “they’re strict about a few things and pretty relaxed about everything else … a firm frame, surrounding a lot of freedom.”
French parents believe that no one area of their lives—including children and work—should overwhelm the others.
French parents take full advantage of national services like national paid maternity leave, free preschool starting at age 3 and subsidies for nannies and top-notch day care. All of this better allows them to be calm and patient when they are with their children….Continue Reading

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