“To find yourself, think for yourself.” – Socrates
Remember a few blogs ago when I was dreaming of Paris? Well I’m here now with my two little ones on the first vacation we’ve taken as a full family of 4. I’m visiting a friend from the States, who has moved to Paris and is raising her two kids there.
I asked her what she thought the major difference was between the way the French and Americans raise their children. “The goal of French parenting is for the child to be independent by age 5,” Yvette said.
We’re on a playground in Paris. Kids running wild, pushing shoving negotiating space on the slides, swings, playground trains. A climbing rope jungle boasts kids from 8 years old down to 2. Isn’t this dangerous? Where are their mothers? I wonder. One kid is hitting another (gently) with a small branch full of leaves. A girl about 3 is an eye-poker, running from one child to the next, a quick finger in the eye before she goes.
I see a small fist waving from an unattended baby carriage. All the moms, some dads, are sitting back on the benches that line the playground fence. They are laughing, talking with each other, enjoying themselves as much as the kids. The baby in the pram has a stuffed animal on his face.
Safety first (however the U.S.’s infant mortality rate is almost double that of France). I decide to take action and move the toy aside. He looks up and smiles, as if I’m an old friend. Eventually his mom comes by to check on him, wearing the same relaxed smile as her child.
My 2-year old son has been accidentally flogged by the branch boy. Alessio is wailing, but the other kids (also softly flogged) keep on playing. The eye poker comes up and sticks her finger (gently) into my 1-year old’s eye. Sienna blinks but doesn’t cry. She shakes her head no. The little girl runs off to play on the toy train and explore the eye sockets of other kids.
My friend Yvette says American parents tend to coddle their children. “They even try to show them how to play – oh, look here, this is the way to throw a ball, to climb a rope, to slide a slide. They do it all for them,” she says. “The good thing about French moms, they believe children should learn for themselves. Even if it takes them longer, they must discover things for themselves.”
Laissez faire. Roughly translated, do nothing unless necessary. Let the kids work it out. There are arguments. Negotiations. Not a single parent intervenes and amazingly, none of it comes to blows. The kids are expected to work it out. And they do.
So, what have I learned from the French on my visit? Here a few tips I’m taking home:
1. Just say no to hovering mothering. Let your children learn for themselves, even if it takes them a bit longer.
2. It’s all about moi. French moms don’t feel guilty about taking time for themselves. In fact, it is a priority.
3. Make family time a relaxed time. Turn off the TV and cell phone. Be in the moment with your kids.
4. Don’t be afraid to let your no be no. French moms expect their children to behave, and they do. Though negotiating on the playground is encouraged, negotiating with Mom is not. Kids appreciate healthy boundaries.
5. Baguettes, cheese and wine make you look fine. There is something about Paris that makes you feel like a woman. The point is not to look young, but to look good at any age. Biggest beauty secret of all time: Enjoy yourself.