I like that NPR will often select a contentious title for a story, and they certainly grab my attention and create many of their signature “driveway moments” for those who tune in via radio. As a francophile and someone who gives a great deal of thought to intentional parenting (although often falling very short), I was quickly pulled into this Feb. 14 story: Are the French Outdoing Americans at Parenting?
You can listen to the story or skim the transcript at the link above. Obviously, parenting isn’t a competition among nations, and that’s not the point. As with just about any take on parenting, I liked selected parts of the author’s approach and disagreed with others. Pamela Druckerman wrote a book called Bringing Up Bébé, which was the subject of the NPR piece. It brought to mind another book on international parenting approaches that I’ve had on my radar thanks to NPR: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.
Here’s the gist: the French approach portrayed by Druckerman is that parents do not have to “readjust their lives completely around what kids need.” Meals don’t revolve around kids’ preferences, schedules don’t revolve around their activities, the home isn’t arranged to accommodate toys and conversations don’t stop to address the needs of kids. This will sound really harsh to many moms I know, but these are goals in our house. Shockingly, it doesn’t mean that we fall anywhere short of adoring our kids, but it does mean that we work to set clear boundaries and expectations.
Ironically, thinking of these two books made me think of an article by John Rosemond, a columnist whose parenting advice is regularly featured in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The column has been hanging on our fridge since just after New Year’s Day, and is titled “Resolutions Place Parents at Center of Universe.” The ironic part is that when I did a quick search for the column to link to it here, I found a column he’d written referencing both these books. I’m planning to read them, and enthusiastically recommend reading Rosemond’s columns as well.
I’ll post again on my takeaways from Amy Chua’s book. For now, here are some of the things we try to do Chez Stephens – not because they are à la française, but because we believe in active parenting. By the way, it should be noted that I said “things we try to do” – parenting and life are works in progress, and there are far more days when I fail or don’t get the dishes done than there are days I get it right. Here’s to always improving!
- Eat real food. I’ve posted before about going through a brief spell where I thought I had to make special, kid-friendly meals like chicken nuggets or fish sticks. That’s not to say these aren’t great in a pinch or that such things never cross our children’s untainted mouths, but our general approach is that they eat what we eat. We like good food, and we want them to like it, too. This also falls in line with our effort to not raise picky eaters – they’re given the same spread of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy that we eat, and they’re expected to try everything and not be under the impression that others will accommodate their whims or that vegetables are some evil to endure.
- No constant snacking. I hadn’t realized this was one of our actual tactics, but we try not to let our kids snack any time they feel like munching on something. We don’t starve them, but we focus on a small lunch box treat (a cookie, fruit strip or a small piece of chocolate), a healthy afternoon snack like a tangerine, pretzels or carrot sticks and a treat after dinner if the plate was cleared (like ice cream). The pantry is not available for browsing, and Sophie checks with us before grabbing a snack. Although, we’ve told her she never has to ask permission to have a banana, carrots, tomatoes or anything else fresh, so since those are always available she helps herself often. Win!
- Avoiding General Chaos. With the exception of a small basket in the living room for the baby, toys don’t belong all over our house. The rooms are ours to enjoy, and we have designated play spaces (or even better, outside at every opportunity!) I think adults deserve a place that is pleasant to be in, and for me that means not staring at a sea of plastic toys at all times. The kids may spread out a mess of toys playing in the room we’re all relaxing in, but then their stuff is cleaned up and we enjoy our space again.
- Not the Center of Attention. I’m probably seen as the neighborhood witch on this one (and many others). I don’t want my kids to think that the world stops for them. When adults are speaking, they are expected to wait rather than interrupt. When Sophie locks herself out, she’s expected to walk around to the open door rather than knock for us to drop what we’re doing and let her in. In fact, while typing this, Sophie is sitting in a fort she built reading and asked what time it was, and I answered. Seven minutes later, she asked the time again, and I told her that I was not here to report on the time for her. I do enjoy watching my kids play, but they aren’t to yell “watch this!” every ten seconds. I want to raise independent thinkers with an imagination rather than a need to be entertained by me or by a toy. I liked the comment in the NPR story about cultivating independence and autonomy.
- We’re Here for You. This should be a known fact for our kids. They should feel safe in their homes and know that we will take care of them and love them, but we don’t coddle or attend their every need. We’re (gasp!) the parents who let the baby cry when she wakes up at night, but rest assured she’s never felt alone in the world.
There are other tactics we work on, consciously and subconsciously, but these are a few that were top of mind today. Also, I say again: we don’t have it all figured out, and we don’t even play by our own rules all the time. No household and no parenting journey is perfect – it’s all an adventure and we get a little better at it every day.
Our girls seem to be turning out well, but there are a lot of years ahead and it may all change. For now, consistency and generally agreed upon household practices give us a road map for our approach, and they help me through the busy and frazzled days when I might stumble without a plan. What are some of your parenting norms?