Pamela Druckerman, the author of the absolute bestseller “French Children Don’t Throw Food” has proved that French parenting techniques can help handle most parental nightmares.
1. Perfect mothers do not exist
A working woman is always striving to grasp the immensity: to be the perfect mother and simultaneously make a successful career. In fact, she has two jobs – in the office and at home. Every mom making a career knows this feeling perfectly well. So, French women have a favorite aphorism: “the perfect mother does not exist.” Do not try to be perfect. And this is the most important, the basic idea. And do not think of childhood as a start of the marathon that is supposed to finish when the child enters a university. The French, of course, want their children to be successful, but they do not want to come home in the evenings after work and make their child speed up and rush through the natural stages of development. For example, the child is not taught to read and write until he/she is six years. French women believe that it is much more important for a child of the preschool age to develop such skills as concentration, sociability and self-control.
2. You should always have your own source of income
In America, for example, people tend to believe in the fairy tale about the wonderful marriage as a synonym of a calm and carefree life. The main thing is to get married and have a good husband with a stable salary; then you should not worry about a job. In France, this rule does not work. French mothers are convinced that women need their own source of income. Even in the most successful marriage with a reliable and loving man, the woman should think about the day when everything might collapse. She must have a profession, a job or any other stable source of income – just in case. French moms are sure this is extremely important, especially for a child. French women quickly go to work after giving birth because they want to know exactly they will be able to provide the child with all necessary things if they suddenly have to bring him/her up alone.
3. It is impossible to devote your entire life to the child
Maternal care for children is a perfect illustration of the principle of infinity. We will always try to help them, always. This is a voluntary eternal sacrifice. But there is a very important idea at the heart of French culture: anyone (and especially parents) needs time and space for themselves. And it should not be the last thing you think about: if I do this, this, and this for my children, at the end of the day I will let myself… No way! To maintain the balance in the family, it is very important to have some part of your life belong only to you.
This may be your job, although not necessarily. It can be any of your hobbies or socializing with friends. The French are deeply convinced that if you devote all your time to the child, if your world revolves around him/her, it is very harmful and even dangerous, especially for the child.
4. Occasionally moving away from the child, you become a better mother
If the child gets used to your being nearby all the time, your being involved in what he/she is doing and your living every second with him/her, the child will not learn independence. Moreover, he/she will not learn to be attentive to other people and notice their needs, the child will not learn to empathize. Any French woman intuitively feels that moving away from the child from time to time she makes the child an invaluable favour. It’s about admitting that if you spend all the time together with someone – no matter how much you love each other – sooner or later you will start to annoy each other. And this is true not only about you; it applies to your child as well.
Short separation brings freshness into the relationship! And it is a necessary condition for the strength of any human relationship, including the relationship between a mother and her child.
5. Forget the feeling of guilt
There is no point in feeling guilty because of the fact that you work. It is a totally destructive feeling that will change nothing. The main thing that you can do is to truly be with your child when you are free. Do not just be present and talk on the phone with a friend while having a walk with your child. Really spend time with the child. You do not have to worry about the kid all the time, when you’re at work; you do not have to blame yourself for being not only a mother, but also a colleague, a friend, a wife. The only thing you probably should give to your child when you get close to him/her is to be calm and to really be there. And educate patience in your children.
The French perceive patience as some muscle, which can and should be trained from an early age. Do not jump from the table, if you are working, and the child asks to see what tower he/she has built from cubes. Gently explain to your child what you are doing and ask to wait a bit. First, he will wait a few seconds, and then he will wait for a few minutes. He will learn to entertain himself while waiting and cope with disappointment. For a child, this skill will prove vital; according to the French, this is the only way for him to know he is not the center of the universe. This will help the child learn to grow up.
6. Do not become “a taxi mom”
This rule is directly related to the previous one. Do not seek to compensate for the children’s lack of a huge number of circles and developing classes. Parisian ladies always judge how choosing extracurricular activities for their children will affect the quality of their own life. A mother who spends the whole day taking the child from one circle to another can never be called selfless in France. Her behaviour will not be appreciated if she sacrifices her job to cope with everything. This mother will be said to have completely lost her sense of balance.
Of course, it is useful for the child to go to a pool or to music lessons, but there should certainly be left some time for independent home games. Excessive psychological and physical load will harm the child.
7. There is a part of parents’ relationship the child does not participate in
Do not forget: the basis of the family is a married couple. Always find time to stay together with your husband, as a couple. In France, all the parent space belongs to the child only during the first three months. There is an analogy with the presidential term: the French call this period “the first one hundred days.” During this time, the baby can sleep in the same room with their parents, and even in their bed. But later the baby is trained to sleep in its own crib, in its own room. Your bedroom should be the place that belongs only to you and your husband. Children cannot enter their parents’ room when they want. The child should know exactly that the parents have a part of life in which he/she is not involved.
8. Do not demand your husband’s equal participation in housework and childcare
Even if you work as much as your husband (and even if you work more), do not demand his paying as much attention to the house and the children as you do. It will lead to nothing but resentment and anger. Unlike American women, who are marked by their feminist attitude, French women are helped by their old-fashioned pragmatism. Of course, many Parisians would gladly place more household worries on men’s shoulders, but many mothers have long agreed with inequality in the division of responsibilities. And it makes their lives easier. Overall harmony in the relationship is more important to Frenchwomen than equality rights. They see men as a separate species, even the best representatives of which are not able by nature to deal with household affairs. This does not mean that men do not do anything. French moms believe that there will be fewer family conflicts if everyone has clearly marked responsibilities at home, albeit unequal in terms of time and effort. Do not ask your husband to do more than he is willing to do for you. It is better to consider a daily maid service and use the time you save to have sex once again.
9. An evening is the time for adults, and one day off per month is your “honeymoon weekend”
All French parents once a month save a weekend just for themselves. No time for the job or the children. Postpone all your affairs, send the kids to the grandparents, and let the babysitter take the kids to the countryside or drive out of town yourself. Stay in bed, sleep a lot, have a long and happy breakfast, watch movies… let yourself relax and do nothing. All French parents have this home honeymoon weekend once a month. And most importantly, they have not the slightest remorse in this regard.
On any other day, French parents are very strict about their children’s going to bed at the same time. After an evening tale or a lullaby the child should be in bed. “Adult time” is not a reclaimed rare privilege, but a basic human need, a parental right, if you want. The French are convinced that happy and loving parents are the key to a happy family. Sincerely explain this to your children – they will understand.
10. You’re the boss
Pamela Druckerman says this is the most difficult rule of French education. You should realize that you make decisions. You are the boss. A boss, and not a dictator – this is important(!). You give the kids a lot of freedom where possible, take into account their views and listen to their wishes, but it is you who make the decision. Remember this. It is just you on top of your own family pyramid. Neither your children, nor your parents, teachers, and nannies. You decide which way the parade is going. Of course, it’s difficult. It is an everyday struggle.
Children develop better within specified boundaries. They feel much more confident and calm when they know that they are led by adults. Learn how to say a strict and confident “no” at key moments. Learn to calmly but firmly tell the children what you are going to do. You’ll know when you succeed – you will feel like a boss.