98: French fils et filles – c’est bon or non?

A French child playing quietly at an outdoor cafe' in France.

Yesterday’s one-day research project into the conduct of French children and the efficacy of French parenting was carried out over the cobblestoned medieval square at Mulhouse, a museum-laden town in France’s eastern Alsace region. Pity me, working so hard.

The task was triggered by American author Pamela Druckerman’s assertion in her hit book Bringing Up Bebe that the French know more about parenting than do Americans.

Joanna Goddard, Manhattan-based blogger at A Cup of Jo summarized Bringing Up Bebe in this way (this is a summary of her summary):

  1. You can have a grown-up life, even if you have kids.
  2. You can teach your child the act of learning to wait.
  3. Kids can spend time playing by themselves, and that’s a good thing.
  4. Believe it when you tell your child “No.”

This dog raised two boys, neither of whom turned to a life of crime.

It’s worth noting that these four tenets are nothing new. Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson wrote the same stuff back in the 1970s. Before then, my mother took #3 to an extreme level by pushing us out the door immediately after breakfast and not letting us back inside until supper.

I took the practice even further with my own children who spent their summers outdoors under the supervision of a yellow labrador retriever that I trained to deliver notes to them that read “Dinnertime!” and “Don’t let your brother play near the shore.” Come to think of it, I should have penned a book “Retriever-Raising Your Rascals.”

Outdoor cafes in town squares are lovely car-free zones to teach children about restaurant manners. They can sit quietly with the adults, or safely blow off steam by running around the square.

In our afternoon of observing the French, we saw many children dining quietly at street cafes, trundling contentedly along the pedestrian malls and frolicking in the cobblestoned squares. Recalling the wailing kids we had seen in North American Wal-Mart stores, it seemed that Druckerman might have a point.

Then Dave saw a fussing four-year-old girl whose mother delivered to her a solid whack on the bottom and a stern reprimand.  A little later, another siren-whine of  some random child cut through the crowds. Two whiners in one afternoon seemed on-par with North American over-bored and stuck-in-stores-too-long child stats as reported by the unscientific commission of me and my friends.

Here in Switzerland, the scene is very much the same, although overall the Swiss are a more restrained people than North Americans and it shows in their youngsters.

There is another constant at work in this. The popularity of Bringing Up Bebe shows that not only the French are concerned about how to raise children, but that as a society, North Americans are, too. Otherwise, Druckerman’s book would never have made it to the New York Times bestseller list.


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99: Off to France + Are French Children Really That Well-Behaved?

Bringing Up Bebe is a book I’m not likely to read. I’m still recovering from my two pregnancies (1979 and 1984) that have left me too tired to open another childrearing book, but a friend asked what I’ve noticed about French children, and what with being just a sneeze away from France, I’ve decided to investigate. Today we’re skipping over the border to spend the afternoon in Mulhouse.

I am too lazy to even provide a link to the book itself, but found an articulate blogger who gives a great synopsis, which, by the way, she has not read yet either.

This is something journalists like to do, judge a book by its buzz.

Shocked? I was, too, the first time I saw a veteran journalist review one of Republican-princess Ann Coulter’s books without actually ever having touched the book itself (he saw it on my desk).

I read the book and reviewed it, which, given that I was in a newsroom, was a hearty display of adherence to investigative journalism, balanced reportage and a bold statement that I did not care a fig what any of my cohorts thought of my reading choices.

This was too much for the other veteran journalist who lacquered over Coulter in his own unencumbered-by-fact and emotionally laden flame-throwing review. The dangers of such were evident early in his piece, which had a glaring gaff easily recognized by anyone who had read the dust-jacket.

Ann Coulter. Polemicist with good hair. Dissed, but not discounted. Do not be fooled by her looks; she is everything you would expect from someone who made it through Cornell's law school.

Newspapers don’t often run two reviews on one book, but the editors may have felt that I was leading the readers astray and needed to institute a course correction, however, lacking in information that correction might have been.

For those gasping in shock, I also read Rev. Jerry Falwell’s autobiography and Betty Friedan’s books cover-to-cover.  Judge me however you like.

Betty Friedan, another polemicist whose illustrious career as a feminist was colored by late-life allegations that she had stayed in an abusive marriage for 22 years, making women everywhere say "What?!" Her ex denied the claims and she put out a half-hearted retraction.

But all of that is not my point. My point is to report on the conduct of French children, and to put some real observation into it. Our French-border-hugging side of Switzerland is packed with Frenchesque families, but this is not good enough. I must see real French children supervised by real French parents.

Important Note: The articulate blogger Joanna Goddard openly admits she has not yet read the book and her post about it is thusly neutral and open-ended. This is technically still fair journalism because she has hidden nothing from her readers and will probably write more once she’s had a chance to see the book (which was on order at the time she first wrote about it).

Second Important Note: The “veteran reporter” of whom I speak is actually a witty fellow who covers his regular beat with vigor, intelligence and all the diligence one hopes for in a journalist. In this incident, his brain was short-circuited by his overwhelming hate of all things politically right-of-centre.

Third Important Note: 99 days to go!