Just ask Pamela Druckerman, an American living in Paris, who wrote in the Wall Street Journal “Why French Parents are Superior,” an excerpt of her forthcoming book, Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. Having witnessed French children who exhibit a level of patience she’d never seen state-side, she writes:
“Yet the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this. ‘For me, the evenings are for the parents,’ one Parisian mother told me.”
She rails against hyper-parenting, which is what Amy Chua, a.k.a. “Tiger Mom,” the last mother to tell us American parents are doing it all wrong, is essentially all about. Just last year, she wrote, “Why Chinese Parents are Superior,” also for the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a snippet of her parenting philosophy:
“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
Now, here’s the dirty little secret about their “superior” parenting philosophies: They’re not about the kids.
The so-called French parenting method seems to make life easier for parents who want to socialize. The so-called Chinese parenting method seems to make Mom and Dad feel like they’re churning out prodigies who make them look good.
How does either method help the kids cope as adults? I really don’t know. But I do know that we are, all of us — French, Chinese, American — raising our children to leave us, and we darn well better prepare for them for that emotionally.
I overheard a conversation among (American) parents at my son’s soccer practice the other night, where one father lamented that his kids, who reportedly owned two iPods, two iTouches, a video player, Kindles…yada, yada… whined they were bored just a half-hour into their road trip to Florida.
“When we were kids, we had only trees to look at and we didn’t dare tell my father we were bored!” he declared. “We didn’t even ask to stop to go to the bathroom.”
Okay, um, that’s because you were terrified of him. How’s that working for ya now? How does your stomach feel when your father gives you that look, the one that says you have sh*t for brains, bringing you right back to the back seat of your family’s 1976 station wagon as you struggle to hold your bladder to Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina…?
Hyper-parenting. Slow parenting. Tiger momming. The French Way. None of it really matters unless your kids have the skills to cope emotionally. Here are the basics of emotional intelligence:
Self-awareness: Can your kids recognize their own emotions and how they are affected by them?
Social awareness: Can they recognize other people’s emotions?
Managing relationships: Can they develop and maintain healthy relationships?
Managing emotions: Can they manage their emotions — and I don’t mean stuff them until they come out in a bottle of wine when they’re 40?
All the patient French children waiting for Maman’s conversation to end before speaking up and the driven Chinese kids playing the violin four hours a day in lieu of play-dates, well, that’s not superior parenting.
There is no superior parenting. Just parents preparing their kids for adulthood. If they’re lucky.