February 18, 2012
Enfant Terrible, or Why are American Parents Inferior?By M.J. Braun
When it comes to parenting, I find myself siding with the French. Quelle surprise!
Allow me to turn your attention to an article in a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal: "Why French Parents are Superior." It's a catchy title, but a more accurate one would be "Why American Parents are Inferior," because it appears that the French are simply doing what one might expect of anyone in the role.
We join author Pamela Druckerman after a harrowing vacation weekend in a French coastal city with her husband and toddler, where we immediately get a hint at the nature of the problem.
When ineffectual parents cave in to a toddler's unreasonable and dangerous "demands," you've already lost the war, ma chouette. Let the record reflect, however, that the parental units did the best they could:
Unfortunately, no compensation was left for the other patrons of the brasserie, who were no doubt as entertained as the staff were by these hapless parents' offspring's performance art.
Then, a glint of light in the darkness:
I myself have observed this apparently now-unusual family dinnertime dynamic with Japanese families in restaurants around Detroit. I've also seen it in other flyover outposts -- Iowa, Nebraska, Utah. Think of it: whole families of bitter clingers acting civilized.
It gets better (or worse):
Let's try to noodle this out on our own, as it's a little early in the game to buy a clue.
Nope; still no clue. Unable to crack this perplexing mystery, Druckerman dedicated five years of research to get to the bottom of this conundrum and write a book. Here's what she discovered:
Sooo...children are not the center of the entire universe? Both they and you might benefit from a more balanced approach? Who knew? Apparently almost everybody:
They say recognizing the problem is the first step. Here's a bit of unsolicited advice that may advance the beleaguered author to step two: "If it hurts your head to hit it against the wall, maybe you should stop doing that."
Our intrepid parent soldiers on. Recognizing that French children seem to be better-behaved than her own brats, she conducts some investigative reporting and asks French parents how they discipline their children. It turns out that they don't "discipline" them, as the author understands the term, in the sense of imposing punishment. Rather, they "educate" their children on how to behave. We "old ones" might call that "training," which implicitly involves some form of "discipline" if the "training" doesn't result in the desired behavior. But I understand that that conjures up uncomfortable comparisons to housebreaking a puppy. Developing a properly socialized human being is much more complicated, so "educate" it is.
Here are some of the French tricks of proper "education" that Druckerman uncovered:
Ah yes, the age-old dilemma: to Dr. Spock or not to Dr. Spock.
Three meals and an after-school snack? What a concept! Maybe if more American parents adopted that pattern, Michelle Obama wouldn't have to be carping constantly about our kids' fat behinds.
It turns out that a proper French childhood "education" includes learning the fine discipline -- if I may use that word -- of delayed gratification. Additionally, French children are also "educated" in the equally fine art of amusing themselves sans constant parental interaction. Imagine that! Independence! That sounds very...well, American. Or at least it used to.
Ms. Druckerman discovered that researchers have determined that children who learn how to control their urges by delaying gratification also develop other helpful coping skills:
Could properly "educating" children to be patient, as it used to be known, actually have other beneficial effects? she wonders incredulously:
Well, it's not as if Americans don't want their children to be patient:
Right. Just like with those puppies. You either luck out and get a good one who knows he's supposed to pee only outdoors, or you get a bad one who needs a more thorough "education."
While American parents in general and our author in particular seem to struggle with getting their children to behave, the French have deftly identified for these poor people the (obvious) source of the problem: allowing the children to be in charge. The consequences of this unnatural order of things elude the French's American counterparts.
Wow! This is almost like rocket science or something! Maybe the French really are better than we are! Wait, there's more.
Ah, there's the rub: authority. For a large segment of American parents, authority is anathema, associated with mental rigidity and the exertion of illegitimate power and control. Why this distorted view? Thank our twelve- to eighteen-year public liberal-emersion education system. Those who fall sway to this indoctrination program emerge as liberal adults fully invested in liberalism's first principles: equality, fairness, and non-judgmentalism.
Liberal parents attempt to raise their offspring according to these guiding principles (unlike their conservative peers, who managed to escape with their critical thinking skills intact and raise their kids...well, more like the French do). For liberals, the highest moral standard is fairness, and there is no sin greater than being judgmental.
As parents, they find themselves in constant conflict with their key values. Exercising parental authority to exert control over their children requires inequality of treatment on occasion and near-constant judmentalism. No wonder liberal parents are always stressed. And no wonder the author envies the French, who, au contraire, are genetically judgmental and have no problem whatsoever with authority.
So what exactly is it about French parenting that is superior? This is what I gather: they are not uncomfortable treating their children like untrained puppies until such time as the children have learned to stop peeing in the house. Which is to say: French parents assume the role of alpha dog with their children rather than the other way around.
Seriously, how hard is this? If you feel that you need coaching but can't afford to live in France for a year, get in touch with some of your conservative friends with kids and spend a few weekends observing them.
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