Life & Culture

Successful parenting? She's discovered le secret


Anyone who has ever attempted to dine out with a toddler in tow will know that it can be a stressful experience. Small children have a tendency to shout loudly, to refuse to eat unfamiliar foods, and occasionally to jettison unwanted items on the laps of people at neighbouring tables.

Sadly, there is nothing to be done until the children are old enough to behave in a more adult fashion - or so Pamela Druckerman thought as she sat through yet another fraught restaurant meal with her husband and young daughter at a French beach resort. Yet while she was enduring hell over the hors d'oeuvres, she noticed that her French counterparts, with their well-behaved children, were having a completely different, not to say enjoyable, experience.

Druckerman, an American journalist who moved to Paris to be with her British husband, Simon Kuper, says: "It was an epiphany. It got me thinking that there was something going on in France that was not immediately obvious."

This thinking turned into research and ultimately a book, called French Children Don't Throw Food, which explains how French parents tend not only to have more authority over their children but also manage to be less stressed.

Druckerman, who has attempted to adopt French ways with her three young children, notes: "French parents don't think they are doing anything special. But their methods are very different."

One example is the French attitude to feeding their children. Druckerman says: "When I tell French parents there are all these British and American children who will only eat white rice or pasta, they are really shocked. Anglos tend to assume that you shouldn't give your kids really challenging flavours because they won't eat them. This is refuted by the French case where kids eat all the same foods their parents eat."

The French approach to parenting is, in some ways, old school - discipline and boundary-setting tends to be more severe than in this country, with a big emphasis on politeness. In other ways the approach is progressive. Independence is encouraged by giving children as much freedom as they can handle. And this means that the parents are more willing to let go - French schoolchildren go on lengthy school trips away from their parents from a very young age.

French parents seem to benefit from this approach. Surveys suggest they are happier (or least less unhappy) than their Anglophone counterparts.

"US and British parents can tend to feel they have to do this very intensive form of parenting that requires them to play with their children for many hours a day. The attitude is: 'It might not be very good for my waistline or my marriage, but I'm going to do it because it will be better for my kids down the road'. The French also care about the long-term results but they also think that the experience of the now is equally important"

Druckerman's own parenting style is inevitably a hybrid . "I don't have the same authority that French parents have - we are somewhere between the two models. But I have a vision of what's possible and that's due to what I've seen in France.

"But the fact that we're a Jewish family adds a whole new level of concern. I would like my children to have a strong Jewish identity and that is tougher here because I don't naturally fall into a Jewish community. But they will go to Hebrew classes when they turn seven."

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