In France and elsewhere, the truth about good parenting is probably somewhere in the middle
By now I’m sure many of you have read the Wall Street Journal article about parenting in France and how different it is from parenting in the United States. The thesis of the article is that in France, the family revolves around the parent, while in the States, it revolves around the child(ren). The dynamic this creates (per this article) is that French children, because they are raised with more structure and discipline (used in the literal sense of the word, as in “to teach,” not as in “punishment”), are more disciplined themselves. It’s an interesting read, and I recommend you read it and form your own conclusions. The following is an account of mine.
My first reaction to the article was, “Oh hey great! I’m totes gonna give that whirl! My kid’ll obey everything that I say! And will be super disciplined as an adult! Life will be so much easier!” so I spent the better part of last week attempting to practice the Art of French Parenting. I had a vague, sloppily-formed notion of what I thought that might look like–something along the lines of saying “NO” a lot and really meaning it, enforcing various arbitrary orders like You Can’t Play in the Spice Drawer Right Now Because I Said So, while also making E take some time to play on her own. Many times during the week I wondered whether I was doing it right, because I thought if I truly was doing it right, it would feel authentic and great while making my kid fall into line, right?
Here’s the truth for me: It felt awful. I felt like my parenting had turned into a cross between utter killjoy and ’70s-style benign neglect (An aside: the book “Poser” is a great memoir about this topic of ’70s-style parenting juxtaposed with the hyper-virtuous-style parenting found in our fair city). E didn’t obey me any better than she had been (not that she is ragingly disobedient, but she is a toddler) and my unmet, unrealistic expectation that she would up and fall into line made me feel cranky, which compounded the killjoy thing. I also felt guilty making her spend so much time alone, when my memories of my own childhood involve a lot of time spent playing on my own. (Soommmeoooonnnee’s prrrroooojeeeeecting!!!) To be honest, I don’t know why I felt I had to change my methods when they were working perfectly well for our family. (Please don’t mistake me: I’m not saying I am the most perfect parent ever or that my family is perfect. We are human and we try to do our best by each other but fail often, natch.) I’m not a pushover (I come from a long line of Strong Ukrainian Women Who Do Not Take Sh*t from People; pushover is not in my blood) and I am raising my daughter with boundaries, structure, and discipline, but I also attend to her needs as the situation dictates. I don’t think parenting needs to be an either/or situation. Like in all things, a balance is needed and the truth about good parenting probably lies somewhere in the middle between caricatures of smothering and neglect. In my opinion, good parenting hits a sweet spot between discipline, freedom, and kind and loving attention (not just didactic responses to overstepped bounds).
So, my thoughts about my failed experiment are, to quote the French: “Pfft…” (Translation: Whatever dude.)