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On Parenting
Posted at 03:41 PM ET, 02/07/2012

Are French parents really superior?

First it was Chinese moms. Now the Wall Street Journal has pronounced that French moms are superior.

In an essay the Journal published this weekend called, “Why French Parents Are Superior,” Pamela Druckerman describes how the French are way ahead of Americans when it comes to parenting.

“After a while, it struck me that most French descriptions of American kids include this phrase ‘n'importe quoi,’ meaning ‘whatever’ or ‘anything they like.’ It suggests that the American kids don't have firm boundaries, that their parents lack authority, and that anything goes. It's the antithesis of the French ideal of the cadre, or frame, that French parents often talk about. Cadre means that kids have very firm limits about certain things—that's the frame—and that the parents strictly enforce these. But inside the cadre, French parents entrust their kids with quite a lot of freedom and autonomy.

Authority is one of the most impressive parts of French parenting—and perhaps the toughest one to master. Many French parents I meet have an easy, calm authority with their children that I can only envy. Their kids actually listen to them. French children aren't constantly dashing off, talking back or engaging in prolonged negotiations.

 The essay is an excerpt from her book, "Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting," that was published today by Penguin Press.

 The excerpt was published in the same newspaper – and with a remarkably similar title – where a year ago an excerpt from a Tiger mother set off a furious parenting debate. “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” came from the book that set off a thousand maternal teeth clenches,  “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua, also published by Penguin.

Both essays make a similar point. They argue that certain cultural traits are more attuned to raising children. That trait in Chinese households, according to Chua, is an unforgiving attitude when kids bring home anything less than As on their report card. In the French case, Druckerman describes how the cultural weight given to patience has created generations of better behaved and less needy children — not to mention more nutritionally sated.

  My knee-jerk response to Druckerman’s argument is, of course not. Love, attention, patience and well-timed discipline can come in any language. Plus, the diversity that American children are exposed to cannot compare to more homogeneous upbringings.

 Still, any casual traveler can attest to the fact that cultures are diverse and often prioritize values differently. The French really are better at the whole food thing than Americans. Let’s just cede that point.

Part of the French approach to food, as Druckerman points out, is patience and delayed gratification, not traits usually associated with gung ho Americans who take a looser approach to following mealtime schedules.

So is it true? Are the French better parents? Or really, the broader question that the Journal keeps raising is: Are there ingrained habits in certain cultures that create better environments for children?

By  |  03:41 PM ET, 02/07/2012

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