Apparently, Je ne sais pas Jacques-Sh*t.

Well French women, you have done it again. As if it isn’t enough that you stay slim while eating cheese-filled puff pastry and you can pull off short fringe bangs – now, according to Pamela Druckerman, you’ve bested us Americans at mothering as well. Merde.

In the book Bringing Up Bebe, American Journalist Pamela Druckerman makes the case that French women enjoy parenting more than American women do. This is not to say that French mothers love their kids any more, but rather that they find the task of parenting to be more pleasurable and less stressful than do most American women. Druckerman contends that the image of the “harried mom” so common in America, doesn’t exist in France. It would seem that French mothers parent the same way they smoke in public, handle marital indiscretions, or drink wine mid-day – with a restrained casual elegance that smacks of confidence at its best; indifference, at worst.

Here are some of the differences Druckerman noted between American and French mothers during the years she spent raising her kids in Paris:

  • Where Americans orbit around our kids rushing in every time junior needs anything; French women set firm boundaries, but provide kids great autonomy within those boundaries.
  • Where we construct elaborate “play dates” suffering through the indignity of places like Chuck E Cheese’s or Pump it Up!; French women sip coffee and chat at home or in the park while the kids play. By themselves.
  • Where we kill ourselves trying to navigate the desires of our “picky eaters;” French kids eat what they are served during the 3 daily mealtimes and one 4pm snack. Because they are hungry.
  • Where American children collapse into tears at the slightest disappointment; French children rarely throw tantrums or even whine.
  • And my personal favorite: French mothers do not carry around the heart-stopping, soul-crushing guilt that American mothers do when we – gasp – do something for ourselves that has nothing to do with our kids.

I’m not saying I buy all of it, but Druckerman’s hypothesis is intriguing. In her essay in the Wall Street Journal she outlines some of the key points her book explores in more detail. The one that caught my attention most was the idea of delayed gratification and how ingraining the simple ability to wait can produce children who do not interrupt, whine, nag, kvetch, noodge, or otherwise pester parents the instant their needs are not met.

This is a problem in my house. My oh-so-very American children have to be reminded on a daily basis not to interrupt when I’m talking. At dinner, sometimes it is hard for my husband and I to have a conversation consisting of more than 2 consecutive sentences without one kid or other popping off on some unrelated note. Their non-sequiturs seem to scream “Hey! Did you forget about me! How dare you discuss something that doesn’t relate to ME!” It drives us nuts. And we always respond with some sort of impotent admonishment that is promptly forgotten and/or ignored.

So, what’s the secret to French women’s ability to not only teach their kids patience – but teach it so the kids actually learn it?

According to Druckerman: You have to mean it. Like, really mean it. When you lay down the law you have believe to your core that the limit you are setting is the actual limit. Not the “If you do that one more time…” limit. But the actual End. Of. The. Road. If you deem a behavior unacceptable, it must be unacceptable the same way it would be unacceptable for your 5-year-old to drive a car or crack open a bottle of Cabernet. In other words, it is not just something you frown upon; it is something that is not possible.

She says that French mothers divide things into 2 camps: possible and pas possible. When a kid wants to eat a brownie at 9am in America, a mom might respond with a reasonable, rational, 5-minute discussion about how, “We don’t eat sweets at 9am because it isn’t good for your belly. We eat healthy things like eggs and toast and soy milk! So you can grow up big and strong!” In France, the answer is “Ce n’est pas possible.” (It is not possible.) That’s it. End of story. And something about the way mothers deliver this line – their conviction, their certainty, their fortitude – conveys to children that it really is pas possible. In other words, “No means no. And don’t ask again.”

I’ll admit, I fantasize about having that kind of authority.

But here is America, I suppose we have our own way of doing things. Maybe it doesn’t lead to quiet dinners out or leisurely afternoons spent sipping coffee with friends – but I like to think it leads to kids who have spunk, if nothing else. Besides, Americans look downright French when you compare us to the Chinese Tiger Mothers, right? So, maybe the takeaway here is that there are thousands of ways to screw-up parent your kids, and you just have to find the way that works best for you.

For me, any parenting model that involves more puff pastry is worth a second look…

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8 Comments on “Apparently, Je ne sais pas Jacques-Sh*t.”

  1. Lee Middendorf says:

    Once again, you are brilliant.

  2. Tia says:

    Amen ma soeur! (Amen, sister!)

  3. Keija says:

    The title alone made this post worth my while :) You crack me up, Jill!

  4. steph atkinson says:

    Funny.

  5. Shauna says:

    Awesome job

  6. Well, lookee here, both Parssinen sisters in da house! Woo!

    But seriously, don’t get me started on Druckerman. After reading her article on French kids and food, I’m am now so paranoid about feeding baby #2, I’m pureeing beets and leeks as we speak.

  7. Amy says:

    I love how you crossed out screwed up. Just a few weeks ago I had to tell a Mom “I choose to screw up my kids differently than you screw up yours” in order to defend my parenting decision she didn’t agree with. (It did shut her up ;-)


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