Last year, a Chinese-American Tiger Mother told American parents how to raise children who will make straight A's and play Carnegie Hall before they reach puberty. This year, the French are showing us how to raise children who will obey, throw few if any tantrums, and sit quietly in restaurants, listening while adults talk about adult things. Vive la France!
In a nutshell, French parents do such "revolutionary" things as establish early boundaries between themselves and their children, teach them proper manners, expect them to entertain themselves, and make it perfectly clear that they are not to interrupt adult conversations, and set clear limits. In addition, they are not reluctant to deny their children's requests, and when they correct their kids, they speak with conviction. I conclude that my parents were French. All my friend's parents were French as well, it seems.
Pamela Druckerman, the author of "Bringing Up Bebe," one of the year's most talked-about books (to date), is too young to realize that her description of French parenting is also a description of the manner in which American children were raised prior to the psychological parenting revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s -- before, that is, experts (of which I am considered one) came along and ruined everything. In that regard, it is significant to note that French parents, as a rule, do not read parenting books. Instead, they honor the parenting traditions established generations ago by their foremothers and forefathers.
As a consequence, raising a child in 2012 France is no more of a hassle than was raising a child in 1912 France or before. For more than 30 years, I have been trying to persuade America's parents to restore pre-1960s parenting in their homes -- that being the time when chores were a child's No. 1 after-school activity, television was a "boob tube" only to be watched if the weather did not permit outside play, parents did not help with homework (and kids did better in school than today's kids), and children did what they were told simply because that was the clear expectation.
The most oft-voiced retort: "But John! Times have changed!"
To which I point out that times have always changed, but parenting did not -- not until experts said it should, that is (they had new ideas!).
Contrary to what American parents have been led to believe, effective parenting is not comprised of a set of "right" methods (which can only be learned by reading the experts). It is an attitude, a way of presenting oneself to one's children. If the attitude isn't there, then no method will work for long. Furthermore, when it is there, methods will be virtually unnecessary.
This attitude communicates to a child: "I know what I am doing (I do not need, for example, to consult with you to determine what foods will be on your plate at the evening meal); I know why I am doing it (for YOUR benefit, not mine); I know what I expect from you; and I know you are going to give me what I expect." This attitude conveys unconditional love and, equally, unequivocal authority.
Anxiety, worry, guilt, rushing from one "commitment" to another: None of that conveys authority. Cool, calm, collected: that conveys authority. Pleading, bribing, threatening, yelling: nope. An economy of words, clearly spoken: yep.
From Ms. Druckerman's description, it sounds like the typical French parent has an intuitive understanding of this "attitude thing." But make no mistake: The French did not invent this. They have simply reminded us of the way it was and still can be.
Now, if they would only build a decent car.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.