Could the cure for your child's picky eating or frequent tantrums really be as easy as booking a few plane tickets to France? In a country where les bébés are expected to eat pâté and escargot while they're still in diapers—and where there is no such thing as "the terrible twos"— the allure of raising a well-behaved, adventurous eater could be enough for many American moms to consider packing their bags.
Or at least enough to try out some French-style parenting practices right here at home. That's what Brooklyn mom-of-two Catherine Crawford decided to do after observing the differences between her two young—and slightly unruly—daughters and the impeccably-behaved children of some French parents she knew.
The result? Crawford's foray into parenting like the French is now the subject of a just-released memoir, French Twist: An American Mom's Experiment in Parisian Parenting, in which she describes her attempts to mitigate her daughters' bad behavior with a little help from the French.
For Crawford, ending her daughters' meltdowns boiled down to the key French belief that mothers and fathers are the ones in charge, no questions asked. As Crawford describes in a recent interview:
"The thing that has had the biggest impact on our home life is the French-inspired idea that I am The Chief. My husband is also The Chief. And our kids are not chiefs; they are kids. I am a benevolent chief, but just this simple act of defining our roles has cut out so much confusion. It truly has been a relief for the whole family because my daughters no longer feel like they should negotiate over everything. We are all much more efficient and happier."Crawford explains how the "I am The Chief" mantra trickles down into everything from simply expecting children to eat the food you put before them to wearing the clothes you choose for them to not accepting anything other than polite behavior. It also means no bargaining for good behavior with promises of treats or allowing rules about things like snacking between meals to be broken.
"For example, when I wasn't The Chief, I didn't really have the power to control the constant snacking that went on after school. As soon as I stopped caving and my daughters snacked less, they evolved into better dinner companions. They were excited about dinner, they tried more things, and they ate," Crawford tells the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
And as for the all-too common American habit of helicopter parenting, French moms and dads keep themselves firmly planted on the ground—or the playground bench, as the case may be. In fact, part of what got Crawford thinking about using more Old World ways came from a comment by one of her French friends concerning Parisian playground etiquette, "If there is no blood, don't get up."
Does all this make you curious about giving French parenting a try?
"If I'd started when my girls were younger, I'm sure the enterprise would have been easier. So, if you have an infant, don't wait. However, if you are, like I was, with a tumultuous toddler, there are some easy steps you can take," Crawford tells BabyZone.
Some of her favorite tips include:
- Stick to your guns and not the bribes.
- Remember, you're a parent—and not necessarily a pal.
- Avoid always asking for your child's permission. OK?
- Teach your child to wait. It comes in very handy.
- Point out the difference between a privilege and a right.
- Be The Chief!
Crawford says that her family's life has benefited in untold ways from its French-style makeover. Still, is there an American parenting value Crawford just can't give up? Mais oui!
"One of my favorite aspects of the American character is our capacity to dream and innovate. I worked hard not to crush this spirit in my kids while simultaneously laying down some laws. For me, it was all about a hybrid approach that could work in a pragmatic way," she says.
If you want to give parenting à la française a try, according to Crawford, it doesn't need to be an all or nothing approach.
"See what works for you," she says, "and… bonne chance!"