Last year, a Chinese-American Tiger Mother told American parents how to raise children who will make straight A's and play Carnegie Hall before they reach puberty. This year, the French are showing us how to raise children who will obey, throw few if any tantrums, and sit quietly in restaurants while adults talk about adult things.
In a nutshell, French parents do such "revolutionary" things as establish early boundaries between themselves and their children, teach them proper manners, expect them to entertain themselves, make it perfectly clear that they are not to interrupt adult conversations, and set clear limits. They are not reluctant to deny their children's requests, and when they correct their kids, they speak with conviction.
Pamela Druckerman, the author of "Bringing Up Bebe," one of the year's most talked-about books, is too young to realize that her description of French parenting is also a description of the manner in which American children were raised before the psychological parenting revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Raising a child in 2012 France is no more of a hassle than was raising a child in 1912 France. For more than 30 years, I have been trying to persuade America's parents to restore pre-1960s parenting in their homes - that being the time when chores were a child's No. 1 after-school activity, television was a "boob tube" only to be watched if the weather did not permit outside play, parents did not help with homework and children did what they were told simply because that was the clear expectation.
The most oft-voiced retort: "But John! Times have changed!"
Contrary to what American parents have been led to believe, effective parenting is not a set of "right" methods. It is an attitude, a way of presenting oneself to one's children. If the attitude isn't there, then no method will work for long. Furthermore, when it is there, methods will be virtually unnecessary.
This attitude communicates to a child: "I know what I am doing (I do not need, for example, to consult with you to determine what foods will be on your plate); I know why I am doing it; I know what I expect from you; and I know you are going to give me what I expect." This attitude conveys unconditional love and unequivocal authority.
Anxiety, worry, guilt, rushing from one "commitment" to another: None of that conveys authority. Cool, calm, collected: That conveys authority. Pleading, bribing, threatening, yelling: nope. An economy of words, clearly spoken: yep.
From Druckerman's description, it sounds as if the typical French parent has an intuitive understanding of this "attitude thing."