Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I'm Really Sick of the French

Please don't be alarmed - I have nothing against French people (I'm talking about France-French here, not les Quebecois).

What I'm really tired of is people telling me that "the French do it best." Here's just a sampling of some books I've come across in the past few years:

French Women Don't Get Fat

Bringing Up Bebe: One Woman Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

French Kids Eat Everything

The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women

Everywhere I go, I'm hearing interviews and commentary from authors and blog writers that somehow, French women know best - they know how to dress better, eat better, lose weight faster, and even have better sex. Somehow, French kids are better behaved, are not picky eaters, and don't throw tantrums.

French women seem to be the authority on everything to do with life and parenting these days, and it's really starting to piss me off.

It's like the "African babies don't cry" myth. Or the "rice paddy birth."

Somewhere along the lines, North Americans have decided that we just don't do anything right. Apparently, millions of years of evolution have done nothing to help us learn how to birth babies and raise children. And we have to turn to other cultures to get a healthy dose of judgment and guilt.

Look, I have nothing wrong with getting advice from others. I think it's a great idea to do some personal exploration, and as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it "cherry pick" what works for you. I've read many parenting books, and always seem to find one or two helpful pieces of advice that I can put into practice (some with success, and some with dismal failures!)

But I have a real problem with the fact that mothers in Canada and the US seem to believe we are inherently flawed. I have a problem with the fact that mothers are ignoring their own instincts (and perhaps ignoring what their children are telling them), in order to follow some shoddy advice from authors who are basically just writing about their own opinions. All mothers are doing the very best they can, and although we certainly have cultural norms that we follow, I find it hard to believe that we can peg entire societies as being "better" than others at parenting.

These books are NOT fact, and they're NOT real life. Sure, maybe some French women do eat well, and maybe some French women do raise well-behaved children. But I'm certain this does not pertain to every person in the country. And if I wanted to start claiming something in defense of our culture, I'm sure I could write a book on things that I believe are problematic in French society.

But instead of mud slinging, I think I'll turn it over to you. Have you read these books? Do you buy into the belief that the French (or other cultures) do it better than we do?


  1. This is really interesting, Misty!! I saw that book 'French Kids Eat Everything' and wondered about it.

    Take what I say with a grain of salt, because I don't have kids, but in the past few years several of my Dutch friends have had babies, and I have noticed differences in parenting styles compared to my Canadian girlfriends! First, it is definitely more normal than not to have your baby at home here (it has to do with insurance coverage). Most women I know don't bat an eye at this, whereas most of my girlfriends at home have worried about if they are making the right birthing choices, and if they'll be pressured into other ones. In general, women here are much more comfortable with their bodies-- in general, the Dutch are quite open about sexuality. One of the biggest difference I've noticed with child-rearing itself is that the Dutch women don't seem to worry about if they are doing it 'right' or not. I know for a fact that two girls haven't read any books about what to expect when you're expecting, or have bought into any belief about what is the 'best way'. They just seem to take each day in stride, and as you said, trust their instincts. That's not to say their children are angels! However, they do encourage independence here, from a quite early age. However, that's easy to do when everyone rides a bike everywhere, and everything is so close!! Also, families here have so much more free time/vacation time, that it's easy to make certain choices/have family time etc. I think if someone wrote a book about how Dutch women (generally) parent, it would be different to translate to a Canadian lifestyle!

    1. I've heard about these Dutch women! In fact, think I read a study about it :) It sounds like the Dutch have a much better social support system (i.e. benefits paid, time off etc.) I think this is something that we could see as positive, and perhaps learn from. What gets my goat are all of these opinion pieces written by people who feel like they need to give us advice, because somehow we're failing at everything. I think it discounts the fact that we already know what we're doing, and many of us feel quite confident about that. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts from across the pond! I definitely wish we were more sustainable here, and that my children could bike everywhere :)

  2. I meant to say, ''difficult to translate to a Canadian lifestyle'' :-)

  3. I admire your confidence and agree that we should not throw the baby out with the bath water, etc. Although (disclosure: I have a full weakness for all things charming and European, particularly food, wine, and seemingly, a more relaxed attitude with life) I have enjoyed French Kids Eat Everything and long ago, I think I enjoyed French Women Don't Get Fat (stupid titles aside - I blame the publishers).

    Perhaps this is indicative of me not trusting my instincts, or perhaps feeling frustrated/worse off when my instincts have led me astray. I'm a reader and like to get my knowledge from books (or at least feel more comfortable when they reaffirm my instincts/values). With regards to weight, I have enjoyed food more and been stressed about weight less when I have practiced the french way of eating fresh delicious food, moderation, positive mealtime aesthetics, etc. This is reiterated in the French Kids Eat Everything. Although it does outline '10 rules', its less of a parenting (read: prescriptive) book, but more the reflections of a Canadian mom, married to a French man and her experiences living in rural France for a year. Its a very honest account of her struggles to deal with picky eaters in a culture where picky eaters don't seem to exist. She tries to emulate, fails, revises, has small successes, more failures, etc. She tries to learn from the French, but not without intense introspection and critique. For example, she learns quickly that training children to eat extends beyond just mealtimes, and grapples with implementing aspects French parenting (which she doesn't always agree with) into her own style of attachment parenting. Although I haven't reached the conclusion yet, I have found the 'rules' to be incredibly helpful; as compared to the desperation and fear of dinners l felt when I sought out the book, we've been enjoying meals a lot more, Juli is eating far more variety, and there are less tears.
    Having said all this, I applaud you applauding others - I agree that we are all just doing the best we can, and there's no benefit to saying one parent or culture has it figured out better than the rest. Vivre toute les meres! (um...I hope that sounds right...)

  4. Hi Ladies,

    As I am from Germany with German friends having kids and my kid being born in Canada I can say that there are definitely differences in how to approach the whole topic about parenting/eating/raising a child which I only noticed when my daughter was born.
    I guess the German moms are similar to the Dutch as described above and what really striked me was the opinions that were put on me here when I had my daughter in the hospital. All of a sudden there was a huge fuss about me having to nurse my daughter basically 24 hours a day, I was being told off when I put her back in her bed to get some rest myself.
    In hindsight I can say I felt so pressured in the hospital to do certain things. Me with my European background I was much more relaxed when it came to when and how often my kid should be nursed and felt the pressure from the nurses that I was too relaxed about it.
    The whole eating approach for me is also different than I experience it here often. I am constantly told my kid should be snacking this and that and should have food basically all the time. I was raised and still believe that it is a good way to just stick to regular mealtimes without snacking in between. It works for us and I don't have to worry about having cookies, food etc. with me everywhere I go. Also the whole juice thing...give kids juice several times a Germany the kids get baby teas or water. Juice is introduced much much later. That spares them of a lot of sugar at the early ages.
    So to sum things up yes I think there are differences here and in Europe but I agree with Misty that cherry picking is the best approach. There are also nice things here in Canada that I would certainly miss in Germany e.g. the status that moms and kids have here. Everybody takes them seriously, stands up in the bus, talk to you and sometimes even admire you when you stroll along with your baby. In Germany people on the street are much more annoyed that you take up so much space, in the bus they are annoyed that you had to bring a stroller and moms who want to work part time after having a kid don't find a job because part time jobs are just not is very hard to survive as a mom over there, so there you go, I like that about Canada! :-)


I love comments and emails, as most bloggers do! You can reach me by clicking on my "about me" page and sending me an email, or leave me a note below a post and I'll be sure to get back to you!