Are French parents better?

This is the question posed in a recent Wall Street Journal article discussing a new book, Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. In the book, the author discusses French parenting and contends that American parents are much more lenient, yet also overly focused on child discipline.

The author’s basis for the book? She lives in Paris with her (British) husband and three children:

“A few years ago, while enduring nightmarish restaurant meals with her then-18-month-old daughter on a French seaside vacation, it struck Druckerman that the French children around them were all perfectly well-behaved. Thinking further, she realized she’d seen the same on French playgrounds and in her French friends’ homes,” (Wall Street Journal, “Are French Parents Better?”)

The book’s description notes that:

“The French children Druckerman knows sleep through the night at two or three months old while those of her American friends take a year or more. French kids eat well-rounded meals that are more likely to include braised leeks than chicken nuggets. And while her American friends spend their visits resolving spats between their kids, her French friends sip coffee while the kids play,” (Bringing Up Bebe).

Sound familiar? This is exactly the type of parenting the Ezzos have been espousing for decades. But what exactly is the difference between American and French parenting?

They call it the French parenting “secret” but it’s no secret at all. It’s the ability to set clear, firm boundaries for children from their earliest days.

According to the book, French parents also avoid child-centered parenting (again an Ezzo idea):

“[T]he French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive,” Druckerman writes. “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. ‘My daughter can be with us if she wants, but it’s adult time,’ ” (Wall Street Journal, “Are French Parents Better?”).

I’m intrigued by the author’s contention that French parents rarely discipline their children. Their consistent modeling of patience and obedience teaches children to do the same. In fact, French parents are puzzled by the American emphasis on discipline.

Druckerman says, “Instead they stress ‘educating’ their kids, meaning not schoolwork but a holistic way of showing and telling them what is and isn’t allowed. This means infractions that require American-style punishments are rare,” (Wall Street Journal, “Are French Parents Better?”).

This reminds me of the Ezzos’ approach to non-conflict training.

This quote from the book’s description sums it up nicely:

“Of course, French parenting wouldn’t be worth talking about if it produced robotic, joyless children. In fact, French kids are just as boisterous, curious, and creative as Americans. They’re just far better behaved and more in command of themselves,” (Bringing Up Bebe).

I love it!


  1. What I don’t understand is how “showing and telling what isn’t allowed” is any different than discipline. Is the book’s definition of discipline just punishments then?

  2. Yes, I think they’re equating discipline with punishment. I just finished the book. It’s so good. It talks a lot about “cadre” which is basically the schedule/structure/framework and “educacion” (sp?) that is basically the parents teaching the child how to behave. They don’t focus on academics or extracurriculars as much. Their education is teaching kids who to navigate the world we live in.

  3. After reading this review I went out and got this book from my library. It is so interesting. Though there are parts of French parenting that I personally don’t agree with, I love that so much of it is just common sense in their culture. And it really, really lines up to Babywise! I love that for the French parents in this book, they don’t normally ever need to resort to cry it out – because from the beginning they learn to Pause when the baby cries, and observe what the baby’s needs are. They naturally fall into a rhythm – which ends up sounding much like BW’s 4 hour schedule:) I also loved how much the French value teaching their children to wait, and how they do not overparent/helicopter parent. I was able to bring the book and read it while my child played at the playground today, and didn’t feel guilty that I was letting her play alone! :) I am finding much of the book to be very supportive of what I’d already learned in BW and what really is common sense. Thanks for recommending!

  4. Isn’t it great?! I read it in about 3 days. It is so Babywise, from the 4-hour schedule to not putting the child at the center of the family. I’m thinking about doing a series of blog posts on it. There are so many good ideas I want to address.


  1. […] the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman is a fascinating book. I offered a summary here, but after starting the book, I couldn’t put it down! It’s a great […]