We began talking because I had my three-year-old with me and talk tends to go to those who spill the most ice cream and giggle most loudly. Mine is a spirited kid and she told me hers were too. She said that when her son was young, the teachers at his (US) schools would chide her that he didn't "respond well to social pressure."" That a teacher of small children in our educational system would find fault with that quality doesn't surprise me; it was her delight in it that suprised me greatly.
I've had German, Greek and Italian acquaintances with young children but I haven't known any French parents that I can think of. But one thing I have read repeatedly is that French parenting is all about training children to respond to social pressure.
|Charming petite Parisienne in her natural habitat, 2004|
An essay I read recently (yes, I'm talking about this book again - there was a lot to chew on in its pages!) looks at French parenting and its differences with "Anglo-saxon" style childrearing. The writer is Janine di Giovanni. Like part of me, she is Italian-American. Unlike any of me, she appears to be a glamorous award-winning international journalist who is married to a frenchman.
Watching a crying child exhaust himself trailing behind his chic, slender (and unrelentingly quick-stepping) mother in Luxembourg Gardens, she writes,
'Well that kid will be in therapy for the rest of his life.'
I joke about these things but it's not altogether funny, One of the toughest things I have had to get used to in an otherwise idyllic Paris is the huge gap between Anglo-Saxon (or Italian American in my case) parenting and parenting French-style. The French are certainly stricter. They shout more. They slap more. And they enforce manners.
As a result, you find beautifully brought-up children, and many of my French friends who are parents will argue endlessly that instilling discipline and setting boundaries is the way to show the utmost love.
All true. Kids need boundaries and they need to be civilized for their own good. But Di Giovanni writes that, despite the fact that French children are better behaved than their American counterparts,
the hippie earth mother part of me still wonders about originality, creativity, and freethinking. (There is no such thing as an earth mother here; it is simply not chic.)
I'm an un-chic earth mother type. I wonder a lot about these things too. And this process of parenting a young child as he moves into a sprited third year on Planet Earth is a challenge: to transmit knowledge and instill manners and social savvy while respecting the dignity and liberty of this small person -- without slaps and without shaming -- is often difficult.
|Free-range American kid in his natural habitat, Sea Ranch CA 2010|