Sunday, February 5, 2012

Is French Parenting Superior?

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal.

The gist of the article is that French parents are better at parenting than American parents. I am not certain that its all French parents versus all American parents, but it definitely showed the author's inability to properly parent her own children. The secret that the author discovered about French parenting is that (1) they set boundaries for their children (2) they stick to their schedules, i.e. bed time is surprises and most importantly (3) when the parents say "no" they mean "no" and the children know it. Another interesting point that the author made is that the French parents "talk" to their children. They do not scream. They do not yell. They do not berate their children. Of course, the author was also discussing parenting small children. I wonder how many French parents actually are turning gray parenting their adolescent children? Something tells me that its probably not all that different anywhere. Truthfully though, if you set limits when the child is young it does make adolescence a little easier, not much easier but a little. However, what this article showed is that French parents know that they are not their children's friends, but the adults who are charged with teaching their children how to happily and healthfully function in society. Sometimes I do think that American parents forget the difference between parenting and friending their children.

The article talks about the fact that French parents teach their children to wait. That there is the good old fashioned concept of delayed gratification. The article goes on to discuss how somewhere in time, Americans have decided that when they want something they need it immediately. There is no ability in the American-way-of-life to wait and no ability to think through whether the item is necessary or not. Well, honestly, I am not sure that is so true. Granted we had alot of issues in this country with people thinking that they were entitled to anything they wanted when they wanted cards did help along that line of thinking. Yet, since the economic crash I don't know too many people who think that way anymore. Something tells me too, that if the French had a more robust economy they would be just as materialistic and bourgeois as some of us are.

Listen there are always gong to be people who can have anything they want when they want it...its just that way. It doesn't bother me. Just wish I was one of them that's all. I don't resent the billionaires and the millionaires. Just wish I could figure out how they did it and do it myself..

Now there are many people in this country who do buy computers, iPhones, appliances and new electronics when they want it. (If you read one of my latest blog posts, you would know that we had to buy a new computer for CM2 recently.And no, we were not happy about it, but it was something he had to have.) Honestly, for the most part, I find that everyone I know is holding on to their older appliances longer, trying to fix things more readily when they break and quite frankly learning to do without the "want to haves" and only buy the "need to haves." Even Christmas and Hanukkah was about the "need to have" not the "OMG must have item." So I think that Americans quite frankly have alot of patience and have learned to wait quite well. It isn't a new skill, its just a reversion to something we had always been capable of doing. Instant gratification isn't so instant anymore. Instant gratification isn't all that it was cut out to be either as we as a society have learned the hard way.

The author goes on to extol the idea that the French system itself makes parenting so much easier, with national day-care, children stipends and national healthcare. She says not having these issues to worry about give you time to work on the really important issues parents face. Well apart from the fact that the socialized version of French society is imploding along with the rest of Europe, it in fact has nothing to do with parents who parent.

Back in the day, when the older generation was being raised, there was no daycare, national healthcare nor government support programs, not in France and not here in the USA. It's not what you are given by a government that makes you a good or bad parent, its who you are and how you handle the situations you are faced with. Having a government tell you how to raise your children is not what I would think makes someone a good parent. It's taking responsibility for your choices, your family and especially your children that makes you a good parent. This is not to say that the system here is perfect by any means, but I for one don't want some bureaucrat telling me what to do, how to do it and what my children are or are not entitled to. Personally I think we have enough of that already and I for one am tired of the so-called experts telling me, my children can't because...It's easier you know to tell people they can't rather than to find solutions to the issues so that they can accomplish...bureaucracies are not set up to "rock the boat" no matter how wrong they are about their preconceived notions. So be careful what you ask for...

The next issue the author talked about, or rather the main issue, was the boundaries and the fact that French children seem to understand the word "no." Actually I think this goes hand in hand with the idea that so many American parents think they need to be their children's friends instead of their parents.

Being able to tell your children "no" and to set boundaries is an important part of parenting. Making sure your children do not run your household and that they learn their "place" in the family dynamics is the beginning of taking charge of your world. No this is not the "children should be seen and not heard mantra" by any means. But children need to learn at an early age that you, the parent are the boss and not them.

What children need are consequences to actions. They need to know that if something isn't done the right way there may be issues to be resolved. They need to know that when a parent says something they mean it.

Case in point: We used to go to restaurants when they were young. Listen I don't care what the article said, you cannot take small children to a restaurant and expect them to sit for hours on end. That the author took her 18-month old to a restaurant with nothing to play with and no way to distract the child, only shows that the author is not very good at parenting. She had an unrealistic view of a small child. I am sorry but I have yet to see any three-year-old, let alone an 18-month old, sit for hours at a dinner table. Yes, they take small children in Europe out to dinner all the time, but from my understanding these children, walk around, talk to people and play at the table too. The difference is that the grownups don't make a big deal out of it. And quite frankly you need to be smart about where you are taking your child. There are child-friendly restaurants in Europe just like here in the USA.

When we went out, the boys had things to distract them. They colored. They read. They played with cards. (This was before the handheld game-systems, now they still take those but have learned to interact better.) However, if they misbehaved and didn't listen they were taken out of the restaurant. They were not allowed to scream. They were not allowed to yell. They were not allowed to disturb other people sitting around us. A friend of mine related a story once that she had heard about a person who when their child had become unruly, they didn't freak out, they didn't yell, they didn't carry on. The mother just sat back and the father calmly stood, picked up the child and left the restaurant. The father and child came back into the restaurant once the child decided to behave. Turned out that that story was actually about us. Manners are manners and you must teach them from an early age.

Case in point: CM1 was acting up in the supermarket. Now, I did distract him with Entenmann's donut holes while I shopped. Sorry, but really just telling a small child to sit still and behave, I am sorry that is not going to work. You need to give them something to do. Either you give them chores to help you with while you shop, which is a good idea or you distract them. In this case, I gave him donut holes. (No emails or comments about the evils of sweets OK.)

Well one day he didn't listen to me in the cart and started to have a tantrum about some purchase to which I had said "no." Instead of giving in to him, I told him he was going to get a time out when we got home. He stopped immediately and asked how long..."Ten minutes," was my response.."How about 5,"  he offered back. My response, "One day you will be a great businessman, but this is not a negotiation. When I tell you ten minutes, I mean ten minutes." The grandma behind me smiled broadly. But CM1 never tried to out-negotiate me when it came to a consequence again. He also learned very quickly to help and behave in the market.

Case in point: When CM1 was first diagnosed we went for therapy on how to help him. We had no idea what we were doing and had no idea how to parent an autistic child. The first thing the therapist did was teach us to set boundaries and how happy CM1 would be to comply. She set a goal of "counting to 5" to get him to listen to what he was told. If he did not then he received a time-out. You have never seen a child move so fast in your life to do what he was told. She told him to sit on the couch and he had to the count of five. I swear the child became the flash. You know the silly thing worked. Noone yelled. noone screamed. noone said anything in a mean tone. But he knew that if he did not listen he would sit in a corner or on the stairs with nothing to do but stare into space. To this day, I still tell the boys, "not to make me count." Odd thing is how happy they are to listen.shush don't tell them they don't have to.
Case in point: When CM2 was three years old, he tried to fire his nursery school teacher because she made him clean up his toys when it was time for circle. He of course wanted to continue to play. (Yes if you have been reading this blog for awhile you have heard this story. It actually is one of my favorites because it illustrates so much about my own philosophy of parenting.) The teacher being very young, was very hurt by CM2's attitude. I told her not to worry about it, that I would take care of it.

I turned to CM2 and told him he could not fire the nursery school teacher because he did not hire her, I did. I did not want to fire her, because she was a good teacher and he needs to listen to her. He then decided to fire me. I told him he couldn't fire me as I am his mother and will be his mother until the day we both died. He then said he wasn't my friend anymore. (So there Mark Zuckerberg, my son unfriended me long before you had usurped facebook from the Winkelvoss twins.) I told my darling three-year-old smarty-pants, that he wasn't my friend, but that he was my  child. That when he grew up into an adult, if I liked him and he was very lucky I would then think about being his friend but not before. Well he never unfriended me again and he never fired me again. But he knew from then on that he was not the boss.

Case in point: When CM2 was given his first cell phone he was not allowed to purchase games without asking. He was given the phone to help with his anxiety about being in school. One month I found that he had purchased a game, albeit a $1 game without asking. Well he was grounded. To this day, almost ten years later, he still asks before he purchases a download, either for his phone or his computer. Even if its his chore-earned money he is spending.

Case in point: CM2 was not allowed to chat on the computer. As I have mentioned it is not safe for a tween or an adolescent at all to have unsupervised time on the computer in today's world, not with cyberbullying and the prevalence of predators. Now he did have a microphone on his computer because he needed to practice his Spanish. It had to do with a program he had from school. One day I heard the computer talking back to him. I asked him what that was and he said it was just part of the computer program. OK, I figured. A few days later, CM2 was playing a game and singing to the computer at the same time. I heard the computer say "shut up and stop singing." Remember the old saying, fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me?  He not only lost the computer for a week for lieing about his computer use but that microphone went in the garbage and it has not reappeared to this day. That was six years ago. And yes I know that he is technically an adult and theoretically can do what he wants now on the computer. However, he is an aspie and needs a little more handholding, even if he resents it and doesn't want it. So noone tell him about the microphone and chatting.

Listen, in reality, French parents are not better at parenting than American parents. These particular French parents in the article may have been better parents than the author, but honestly that is truly about all. Yet, the article's message on parenting is important. Parents need to take control of their home from day one. You do not do it with punishments, but consequences. You do not do it with a belt but with a strong calm voice. You do not do it with an open ended life, but with boundaries and schedules. You do not do it by being your child's friend, but by being their role-model, their mentor and above all their guide.

Being a good parent is the hardest job any of us will ever have. The truth is our children did not ask us to be given this job. We chose this job ourselves. It is up to us then to make certain that the job is done right and that our children know how to function properly in this world. Anything else means we truly did our children a terrible disservice. The shame of course, would be ours, but its our children that would suffer for it.

Until next time,