Do American Parents Suck?

The Washington Post tells me that French parents  are better than American parents. Amy Chua tells me that Asian parents are better than American parents. I just so happen to be an American parent. How should I take all of this information? Although it makes me cringe to say this, I kind of agree. We have a lot of work to do here in America. I think our obsession with parenting has turned us into bad parents, ironically enough.

I’ll start with the inevitably controversial Tiger Mom, Amy Chua. Let me be clear, I think this woman has some seriously selfish motivations in her parenting and I find much of what she has done to her daughters to be nothing short of deplorable. However, there is one point she makes that I find to be essentially true. We approach parenting from the realm of seeing our children as helpless and meek. She approaches her parenting from a position of assuming that her children are strong. I find this to be admirable and responsive to the true nature of the child. Her execution of this assumption of strength is terrible, to say the least.

The Washington Post article from February 4th, 2012 speaks of one American mom’s experience raising children in France. Her name is Pamela Druckerman and in her new book, Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, she explores the discoveries she has made as to how different French parents (in general) really are compared to their American Counterparts. They don’t love their children any more than we do, but they approach them and treat them much differently.

They have their own way of assuming strength in their children. It is done by (1) believing that their children do see them as authority figures and will listen to them without having to resort to forcing and yelling, (2) trusting that children gain a great deal of benefit from playing and exploring independently without having to be “enriched” at every second of the day, (3) knowing that children must be kept safe while still being left free to be left alone, and (4) forcing their children to delay gratification, a lot. That last one is probably one of the places where American parents are weakest.

Have you ever seen a parent pleading with their child to please just listen and comply? Me too. A lot. This is a sure-fire sign of a parent who does not feel confident in his or her role as an authority figure. This same parent might have a quick switch that causes a sudden change from pleading to an authoritarian demand. A standoff ensues and the only outcome is that the parent’s strength is weakened and the child is left wondering if her parent really is the ultimate authority. This is a very scary thought to a young child. French parents simply believe they are the authority and, therefore, their children listen. They are firm but loving in how they speak to their children.

Another major point made in Bringing Up Bebe is the amount of freedom French parents seem to give their children. They don’t constantly hover and fret. They keep them in a proximity that allows for at least auditory monitoring, but the children are free to explore and be curious. The thought of their two-year-old toddling unattended through their house probably strikes a chord of terror in the bosom of the American parent. How will they be safe?! Well…have you heard of an epidemic of injured French babies? No? That’s because there isn’t one.

Instead of an injury epidemic, what France has is kids who learn quickly and easily through observation of their environments and natural consequences. Sure, sometimes they get hurt, but they absorb lessons aptly in these real-life settings. Children learn very little by being told and a great deal by experience. We are perpetually robbing our children of this in America. I swear, if I see one more monkey backpack leashed child at the zoo…

What if we assumed our children were smart and strong? What if we trusted them to be attuned to their mammalian instincts? What if we believed that the best education we can give our children is the free one that exists in our homes and backyards? What if we let go of all of our baggage so that our children can grow up with strength, curiosity and dignity?

When all is said and done, the truth is that unilaterally categorizing all parents from any country is inaccurate and unfair. We are all individuals who do things differently. There are thousands, nay, millions of excellent parents all over America. However, culture is a powerful indicator of behavior. What if we started a shifting of the cultural tide by becoming the generation of parents that stops the decay toward selfishness and weakness? We could do something wonderful for our children and our country. Oui?

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~ by vegucationmama on February 27, 2012.

One Response to “Do American Parents Suck?”

  1. Great article! I agree!

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