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‘No fussy eating, strict bedtimes - my French parenting rules’

‘Adopt what you like and leave the rest’, says Columnist Cynthia Spillman as she points out some differences of bringing up children in France

‘One of the refreshing aspects of France is that children are allowed to socialise at family and other events’ Pic: Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock

I was brought up ‘the French way’ and it continues to serve me well.

While what I am about to say is in no way meant to denigrate the British or American way of bringing up children, I do feel there are certain aspects of French parenting that we can benefit from adopting. 

Respect and discipline are paramount

My parents were authoritarian and my mother ruled the roost in terms of discipline and instilling respect in her five children.

We were taught to respect our elders, not to interrupt and the basics of “please” and “thank you”.

When I was a child we had to ask permission to leave the table, and every night before bed we went round kissing everybody goodnight on the cheeks, wishing them bonne nuit

This could take a long time and, of course, the next morning we had to repeat it, wishing them a good morning. 

In France, politeness and manners are non-negotiable.

We also had duties drawn up on a chart, such as laying and clearing the table, washing the dishes and general domestic chores.

Once a week, my grandfather would sit at the head of the dining table and distribute our argent de poche (pocket money) – if we had been well behaved. 

Read more: How do bank accounts for children in France work?

Socialising with adults

One of the refreshing aspects of France is that children are allowed to socialise at family and other events.

This way of relating provides the child with social skills that will last a lifetime. 

Children, on certain occasions, are allowed to stay up well past their usual bedtime and they must fit in with the adults, rather than the other way round.

However, in France parents are strict about having their own time too. 

Boundaries are enforced and children must comply with them. When it is bedtime, there is no room for debate. Parents demand their own space in the evening.

French parents also expect their children to sleep all night as early as possible. 

This does not mean leaving them to howl, but the expectation is that the child should at least be given the chance to self-soothe before the parent rushes to their aid. 

Fussy eating is out

From the start, French children are expected to eat vegetables, fruit, and adult foods, albeit puréed when they are tiny. 

They are repeatedly served the same as adults. If they do not eat it, they will not be offered anything else.

Perpetual snacking is also frowned upon. Food is to be savoured and enjoyed. Treats are permitted, but within reason and at the right time.

No mollycoddling

French parents believe in instilling confidence in their children. 

They learn by experience. Children are allowed to master skills and develop tenacity. 

They are raised to accept that life can be challenging, that difficulties will come and that there is no need for self-pity.

Experience is the best teacher, and French parents are there to support, when necessary. However, French children are expected to first have a go themselves. 

Credit is given only where credit is due. When they are given praise commensurate to their achievements, then they can develop a true sense of pride in their accomplishments. 

Parents have their own lives

My mother came from a generation of women who generally did not work, but that did not stop her being one of the chic-est people I ever knew.

Despite having five children, she never had a hair out of place. She was always beautifully dressed and everything coordinated.

It did not have to cost a fortune either. My mother crafted a full life for herself, pursuing her interests in fine arts, volunteering, and socialising with her many friends, English and French.

Nowadays, most Frenchwomen work. There is an expectation that they will go back to work as soon as possible and childcare is lined up to allow it.

The French extended family still exists, but parents resume their lives, a part of which is centred around caring for their children.

Read more: France announces more time off work for new parents

To conclude

French parenting methods have their advantages but you do not have to be a slave to them. Take what you like, and leave the rest.

  • You know what works best for your child. While it is beneficial to learn from another culture, if your child is happy, then you are doing a great job

  • No parent is perfect, so do not be consumed by guilt

  • Do not compare and despair. Children are all different and there is no law which says you must raise your children ‘the French way’

  • Look for the similarities in child-rearing and not the differences

  • Children will always be unpredictable. Do not beat yourself up!

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