Oh, and there's more...
- While please and thank you are incredibly important words here in America, the French consider these to be only two of the four. Hello (bonjour) and goodbye (au revoir) are critical as well because the French believe that greeting someone is the first important step in establishing a relationship, and it “acknowledges the other person’s humanity” (154). And so then I think, well, yeah, why shouldn’t children greet their visitors on their own, as opposed to skulk under the umbrella of their parents’ welcomes?
- French people speak of something called le couple, which encompasses the general idea that the husband and wife’s relationship comes first, even before the children (186). Americans speak of ‘Date Nights’ as a fix-it for a stressed marriage. French couples find this interesting, because for them, date nights are every night. The children go to bed early, they stay there for the night, and the parents have couple time. This is a non-negotiable, whereas in America, a notion persists that parents must make the sacrifices of time and effort for their children, often at the expense of couple time. And how does that affect a child's well-being? Not positively, as the UNICEF study would indicate.
- The French speak of an idea called the cadre (84), an overarching framework of discipline. Key pillars or areas of the cadre are non-negotiable (eating, respect, going to bed, etc), but within that cadre, French children have freedom. For example, they must report to their rooms at the time set by their parents, but once there, they may do whatever they like. (Incidentally, I’ve tried this for the last few nights, and while my kids like the freedom, they don’t stay up much past the “lights out” time.) French parents choose a few key areas to enforce in their cadre, and enforce them well. ‘No’ means no, and Druckerman picks up the phrase C’est moi qui decide - It’s me who decides (226). We have a variation of that in America - Because I said so. But sometimes we don’t mean it, because we’re spread so thin from trying to discipline everything that we do all things half-heartedly. Or, we become too authoritarian as opposed to authoritative.
- And the final point I’ll address here (believe me, there are many more) is the idea of praise. French educational institutions often come under fire for being too austere. Students receive basic praise such as tres competente (very competent) or everything is fine. Because, after all, children are not supposed to be creative, they’re supposed to articulate ideas (253). This particularly hits home for me, as a former educator, because I do feel we overpraise (as well as mispraise)...then we wonder why young people have an out-of-whack sense of entitlement. I’ve had many students (high school and college) over the years who could hardly compose a sentence, but they seem to consider themselves worthy of being listened to.
The author never does trash the American way of raising kids, and she never openly expresses a love of the French way. She provides interesting insights, though, and anyone who reads the book can take it how they want. To change the UNICEF assessment data for the United States seems like a Herculean task, but fortunately, Druckerman is able to provide (unwittingly, maybe) tips here and there for any American parent open-minded enough to know there’s always room for improvement.