On December 22, 2016, France passed an “Equality and Citizenship” bill that outlaws “cruel, degrading, and/or humiliating treatment of children by their parents.” It makes spanking a civil offense and not a criminal one, but effectively bans corporal punishment from the parenting oeuvre.
Then the Conseil Constitutionnel (aka the Supreme Court) blocked the law. So France won’t follow the lead of Scandinavia and 48 other countries. In France, we don’t like the government telling us how to run our families. This is something French and Americans have in common. Did you know that in the US, 19 states still authorize physical punishments in schools? I kind of think spanking is wrong. Most of the time. But a good kick in the arse often puts ideas in the right place and has never killed anyone.
Which brings me to a scene I witnessed a few weeks ago in a neighborhood coffee shop…
An American mum was having coffee with a friend and their children when one mum decided to leave, telling her kid it was time to go. The kid instantly started screaming. Biggest tantrum ever. The mum stayed there and kept repeating, “Come on darling, stop screaming, it won’t get you anywhere, we have to go home, Mummy has to run some errands, we can’t spend all day here.” Quite reasonable arguments she made for 20 minutes.
She spent 20 minutes of her life (and mine because until then, I was actually trying to work) arguing and trying to negotiate with this little terrorist who was screaming nonstop for 20 minutes, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!” In the end, she left the coffee shop without raising her voice or showing anger (or shame), “I’m leaving now. Come.” And she left the freaking kid in the coffee shop lying on the floor sobbing and screaming while she waited outside.
I couldn’t help but compare that to what I and my girlfriends would have done…
French: Try to reason with kid for a minute or two. After that, to preserve the peace of other people in the shop, grab kid and finish the argument outside. Argument ends with the parents beating the shit out of kid* or just leaving him on the sidewalk.**
American: Explain to kid how unreasonable he is and what consequences his behavior will have. Eventually bribe kid, telling him if he behaves, you’ll come back the next day (even if this is BS).
Studies show most French parents spank their kids. A 2009 poll done by TNS-Sofres reported that 67% of French parents said they spanked their children, while 82% of respondents were opposed to the no-spanking ban. I believe French parents don’t have a problem admitting they spank or slap their kids from time to time while Americans won’t go on record saying they do. Because everything can’t be explained by violence, let me tell you why our kids seem so much more well-behaved than yours and why we French think we’re better parents than you Americans.
*It sounds worse when you write it than when you actually do it **They follow. Keep an eye on them while you pretend to leave for a few meters. They will usually follow. Just don’t take it to the extreme like this Japanese dad
French Vs. American Ways Of Parenting
Babies Who Sleep All Night
Do you French friends drive you crazy by telling you their babies slept through the night between 6 weeks and 3 months old? Because it’s true. Is it because we’re better than you or because our genetics are more adapted to sleep? No.
It’s because of the breastfeeding insanity of your culture. You’re under so much pressure to breastfeed as long as possible that you stopped weighing the pro and cons. We know breastfed babies need to be fed as much as they ask for, but thanks to an ongoing anti-breastfeeding habit, we don’t get shamed if we don’t. Even if we do breastfeed, it would never last until the kids enters kindergarten!
I think there is a different approach between America and France. There aren’t as many support groups and assistance for a breastfeeding mum in France as there are in the US. French moms tend to bottle feed because we were told giving formula was easier after a few months of nursing. That explains the sleeping through the night at two months: Formula takes longer to digest than breastmilk so baby doesn’t wake up as often.
Kids Who Behave In Restaurants
From the age of three, French kids can have an aperitif at Café du Flore or tapas at Rosa Bonheur sur Seine with impeccable table manners. How?
Our babies eat at the table with us. Three meals a day plus a snack from six months old. They don’t run around the table screaming and don’t spend their day eating erratically. We put this discipline in place at a very early age. French mothers dictate the rules of food culture:
No food punishment. Food is not a reward, it’s a way of life.
You eat what there is, no substitutions. If you don’t eat what I cook, it means you’re not hungry therefore you can be excused.
Hands must be seen. No hands under the table.
I raise you to be able to have dinner with king. If you wish to have dinner with pigs, please do, but at least you will have manners when you do.
Kids Can Be Bored
The kid: “I’m bored.” Me: “It’s good to be bored. The next time you’re not, you’ll appreciate it more.”
Americans drive themselves crazy to occupy their kids while French parents just let them be. Most French parents don’t let kids under four years-old in front of the TV. There’s the occasional episode of Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol or Octonauts, but in general the French don’t leave their babies in front of a screen. (I had very strict rules for #1 and #2. Poor #3 is being raised by wolves and cartoons.)
Without TV as an easy way out of boredom, my kids learned to occupy themselves, no mama necessary.
Moms Take Care Of Themselves
As soon as baby’s arrived, most French women go out again, either to a restaurant, the movies or on a long weekend. When finances aren’t an issue, a mum no has shame booking a babysitter so she can have Me Time: going to the hairdresser, shopping, manicure, museum, anything. In France, being a nonworking mum and not having your kid with you 24/7 is considered normal. We don’t stop being ourselves when we become parents.
I remember my parents went away without us kids for long weekends. I always thought it was terrible of them and that I would never do that to my own kids. Until I gave birth to three of them. Now I can’t stop thinking about my next weekend away with the hubby sans kids. Not having to check if the restaurant serves hamburgers or pasta; not waking up with my son’s foot pushing me out of my own bed; not having to lock the door to have wild sex.
I know most Americans (at least the ones Stateside) have issues about being a “bad mum.” Maybe that’s why the movie was such a hit. It’s so good to let loose and I believe French mums are way better at doing that than American ones.
Finding the balance between our personal needs and our child’s needs is never easy. It’s hard to be compassionate with our child if our day has already been crap. Always being in parent mode (instead of doing regular self-care) makes it easier to explode at our kids out of frustration and then indulging them out of guilt. This is a failure in our roles as educators.
The Last Word
My kids obey to me. Is it because they are a bit scared of me? YES. Would I hit them if the disobey? Probably not.
But I mean business. When I issue a threat, I follow up, meaning there is a punishment. Not necessarily physical, but my kids learned early that there are consequences to your actions and I believe it’s a very important part of my parenting role. In all honesty, I’m not a big spanker. I regret it right away.
As always, the importance is to find a balance between who you are and where you are. Know the rules and advantages of the country you raise your kids in to. So in France, grab a paddle and enjoy! (Kidding.)
I admit to smacking my son. I don’t do it out of choice but necessity. Why? Because he can be such a little shit! And doesn’t listen to reason.
When he’s just lobbed a metal truck at his little sister’s head and is about to knee her in the neck, one quick and meaningful smack on the thigh soon cools him down and can avoid another murderous attack for up to a week. Basically, the only thing preventing the urge to staple her hair to teddy is the suspician that it will not end well for him.
Is he afraid of me? Yes I hope so, one day soon he’ll be 1m85 and if he’s not a bit afraid what the heck will I do? If I’m not tough now how can I be credible later?
I don’t spank my daughter, I don’t need to, she listens and is mortified if she gets told off. I just think it depends on the child.
Also when its time to go I give one warning and then walk away. They always follow in seconds. The trick is that they really have to believe you will leave them there. Oh and that the witches will soon pick them up if you do.
No doubt I will get grief for this but on a more positive note public tantrums are very rare, they look on other children crying in public with utter disdain, share everything with everyone, and when people praise them for their table manners at xmas their little faces beam with pride.
Love your honesty, Gaby! And yes, I also believe the kids should be respectfully scared of mama.
Very well observed & nicely written. Being mum of a 6 year old who argues with everything, I tend to agree with & occasionally follow the ‘A good kick in the arse often puts ideas in the right place and has never killed anyone’ thing.
Never hit out of frustration -only smacked my children if they did something that put them, me or other kids in danger. I was shocked to see how much French parents whacked In my experience French parents are obsessed with presenting a perfect image. This along with a repressive education system makes for anxious and sad children and teenagers. And the obsession of making 3 year olds speak in English come on! Yeah we all want a break from our kids but if you want a great relationship with them when they are older nurture not torture.Let them breath.
Oh and yeah French kids are always as miserable as the little girl in the picture I wonder why?