It seems the French do so many things better than Americans. The cooking is superior. Chicken nuggets? Non! The women are skinnier even though they eat their weight in cheese annually. And now we find out that the French are more successful parents. At least according to Pamela Druckerman, an American journalist who lives in Paris with her husband and three children. She details her anecdotal findings in her new book, “Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.”
The book is a breezy cross between parenting manual and personal memoir. The takeaway is that French parents don’t sweat the small stuff and their kids are better adjusted for it. For example, I was impressed that French babies “do their nights” far earlier than their American counterparts, sleeping through the night on average at six weeks old. I guess French babies don’t get “le colic.”
French parents’ success continues by cultivating patience in their children. From the beginning, French children are taught to tolerate frustration whether it be discovering ways to amuse themselves or waiting until a parent finishes a phone call. The French are also visibly less child-centric. Play kitchens and matchbox cars don’t take over a living room in Paris. At least not the ones Druckerman has seen.
About halfway through Druckerman’s book, it suddenly hit me that she should meet Tommy Jordan. He’s the guy who tried to teach his very American teenager a lesson by shooting up her laptop. Furthermore, he videotaped his serious lapse in judgment for the world to see. It wasn’t so much the shooting that scared me (although that was very disconcerting), but it was Jordan’s eerie calmness on camera – a saccharine-like calm studded with emotional landmines that could go off at any moment.
The catalyst for this brouhaha was daughter Hannah’s rude Facebook post in which she bitterly complained about her chore-laden life. Laced with adjectives unfit to print here, Hannah was sick of cleaning up after her siblings and making coffee for her parents. As she points out, her family has a cleaning lady and her name is Maria, not Hannah.
Jordan was also miffed that the day before he read Hannah’s post he had put time and money into fixing his daughter’s laptop, for which she didn’t offer a single word of appreciation. The man clearly was pushed to the brink. What else could he do, but shoot his kid’s laptop at point blank range nine times? I don’t know what 18 million-plus viewers felt when they watched the gratuitous shoot up on YouTube, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was witnessing a crime.
If my daughter had written a churlish screed like Hannah’s, I’d be pretty angry, too. By the way, someone should tell Hannah that emptying the dishwasher and making the bed does not qualify as indentured servitude. But here’s where Pamela Druckerman could be useful to Tommy Jordan. First, it’s helpful that they have some cultural commonalities. I don’t think his cigarette smoking would put her off. Everyone smokes in Europe. (I can generalize too, Ms. Druckerman.) And they both like hats. Druckerman appeared on the Today show wearing a beret to emphasize the oh-so-Frenchness of her book. As for Jordan, he sports a ten-gallon hat.
My guess is that mistakes were made with Hannah from the beginning. She probably didn’t do her nights until she was at least 1 – embarrassingly late for a French child not to be sleeping through the night. She was probably never told to be sage. (In French, the word sage rhymes with Taj). Druckerman explains that when French parents urge their children to be sage, they are telling them much more than just to be good. They are exhorting their children to use their discreet judgment and to be in control of their emotions. For example, if Jordan had told his daughter to be sage early and often, she might not have impulsively posted that letter on Facebook.
As for Hannah’s appalling language, the French have solved that problem, too. Preschoolers have their own swear words. That’s right, there’s a lightly scatological phrase particular to kids that allows them to use naughty language in a controlled (there’s that word again) and, albeit, civilized way. I’m sure Jordan would not have minded Hannah’s foul language nearly as much if she were using parent-sanctioned epithets. Hannah’s overall rudeness might have been considerably less offensive if she were taught at a very early age to look an adult in the eye and politely greet them. “Hello” and “goodbye” in France get top billing with “please” and “thank you.” (I’m with the French on that one). Yes Hannah, that means that Maria the cleaning lady must be properly greeted and seen off.
As I think about it, maybe Druckerman should first use French parenting techniques on Tommy Jordan. After all, he acted like the more petulant child.