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Q&A with Pamela Druckerman - author of French Children Don't Throw Food. Post your questions - ANSWERS BACK

(110 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 17-Jan-13 12:27:07

If you've ever sat in a restaurant and wondered why french children are so well behaved and seem to eat whatever is put in front of them then you may considered whether the french way of parenting is the way forward. Pamela Druckerman's latest book French Children Don't Throw Food is described by Amy (Tiger Mother) Chua as "Smart, funny, provocative, and genuinely eye-opening"

Pamela Druckerman is an American journalist who found herself living in Paris, with an English husband and three young children. As she struggled with sleepless nights, toddler tantrums and other demands of being a new parent, she couldn't help but notice that the French families around her seemed so much calmer and less harried than her own. Their children played quietly, they weren't picky about what they ate and, when the time came, they went to bed without fuss, leaving their parents to enjoy some all important adult time.

So Pamela set out to discover what it is that French mothers do differently and - it seems - so much better. She not only observed her French friends and neighbours at first hand, but also interviewed scores of French mothers, teachers and child experts.

If you're interested to read more, enter our draw before the 9am on Monday 21 January to win one of 50 copies. Pamela Druckerman is joining us for a Q&A, so please post your questions or comments to Pamela on this thread before the 31st January and we'll post up her answers on 8th February.

Scientistmum Sat 04-May-13 09:25:07

My boys are great eaters and well-behaved at meal-times and in restaurants. Our youngest is five and we use things like 'eye-spy' or colouring books to prevent boredom waiting for food. They are normal boys with tons of energy but we have never had problems with them trying different food or bahaviour at mealtimes. I don't agree that there is one type of parenting that gets you to this point.

I breastfed both my children until around three, went back to work when the youngest was in pre-school and have never used childcare. My husband is in the military and it is often just me at home because my family are a few hours away. We have never hit our children. I allow (not demand) them to try every type of food and didn't use baby food but simply mashed up whatever the rest of us were eating from as early as four months old. They also do get snacks between meals. Most of the time we eat dinner as a family but it is not a strict rule as they eat in front of a film on TV as a treat once a week on average.

I agree that snacking too close to mealtimes will mean they are not hungry enough for meals (this is common sense). I don't agree they should denied snacks as proper hunger is not 'relaxed' or healthy. Their blood sugar levels would get too low and my boys would be grumpy and difficult to reason with. Instead of being contented with stir-fry chicken and veg, my youngest would be so hungry he would throw himself on the floor demanding chocolate now!!!! Healthy snacking (fruit, cheese, nuts etc etc) mean my kids don't get cravings for biscuits. They do, however, get treats after meals and inbetween too now and again. Anything goes if it is a treat.

They boys are slim by the way and very active.

I am Welsh and my husband is a New Zealander. I am a big fan of France and the French but no more than I am of any other culture. In this day and age I am amazed that such a title is allowed as it suggests one culture is better at childcare than another. 'French people are better parents' - as outrageous as any racist generalization.

fromparistoberlin Mon 11-Feb-13 14:56:37

Middle and Upper Class Parisian Children Don't Throw Food".

exactement!!!! and agree with whoever said that they turn into Parisiens

emilywq Sat 09-Feb-13 13:07:07

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:40:41

Thanks very much for all the thought-provoking questions! And warm regards from across the Channel. Pamela

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:40:24

iYawn

Hello Pamela

Thanks for doing this Q&A on Mumsnet - II read the book and loved it - could do with more tips tbh

Did I read somewhere you have another book coming out?

I like the idea that children are aware of adults in the house etc and are polite. (think manners take children a long way, DC1 for e.g. is PFB fussy eater blush but always thanks me for the meal.

My question is:

When we're not in France and don't have the set up, (e.g the nursery)
how can we be more French while here in "lowest common denominator for standards" UK?

TIA

Hi there. I’m so glad you liked the last book, and I very much hope you’ll like the new one too. I think there are some simple things that British parents can do. One of the “tips” in the new book is, “Don’t let children interrupt you.” When this happens in France (and of course it does), parents try to politely say, “I’m in the middle of speaking to someone, I’ll be with you in a minute.”

Notably, this is followed by an equally important tip: Don’t interrupt your child (for instance, when he’s happily playing). In other words, the respect should be mutual. And French believe that being able to cope with boredom and to be absorbed in an activity is a valuable life skill, which strengthens with practice.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:38:50

LillianGish

*"Girls with long swishy hair, skinny jeans tucked into Uggs, a navy Canada Goose jacket. The only sign of rebellion is the occasional red jacket or brown Uggs. And their bags are all the same too"* - you have just described my dd and her friends at the Lycee in South Ken - the bag in question is a Longchamp pliage! I have also read the book from start to finish - maybe it's just me, but I didn't see it as a hymn to the perfection of French parenting - in fact I thought some of it was slightly tongue in cheek. It is fascinating to see how the French, our nearest neighbours after all, do so many things so differently - whether they are entirely successful (or whether we are for that matter) is open to question. I just love the way Pamela has put her finger on so many of the differences - she has so many of the Parisian parents I know off to a tee. I loved the caca boudin chapter for instance - my dcs both went through this - it never occurred to me to try and analyse why this might be. In fact by way of a question I'd like to ask her if she really thinks French parenting techniques are better than ours - or is it just interesting to see another approach and try a bit of mix and match?

Thanks for mentioning caca boudin. For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s a curse word used by French preschoolers. It roughly translates as “poop sausage,” but really it’s an all-purpose bad word that can mean “no,” “I don’t care,” or “whatever.” Nobody actually teaches his child to say caca boudin. Kids just pick it up at school. But French parents tend to accept that kids need a bad word, because they need to transgress sometimes. Instead of banning the caca boudin, they try to teach children to wield it appropriately. For example, they’re allowed to say it in their rooms, but not at the dinner table, and certainly not in a restaurant.

Now to answer your question…the point of my book isn’t that French parents are perfect, or that we should emulate everything they do. It’s that they have some common-sense solutions to problems that parents everywhere face. And in this age where the tendency is to parent very intensively, the French are a reminder that sometimes doing less, being less involved, giving kids the freedom to say caca boudin sometimes – can have calming results for everyone.

Looking at what the French do, and what they take for granted and consider natural, is also a way to see what we do more clearly. I get a real thrill, personally, from realizing how many of my own habits are actually cultural.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:37:27

nzwahine

Living in France at the mo and see plenty of tantrum throwing by French Kids.
Call me old fashioned but doesn't it come down us as their parents to just teaching our kids basic table manners, respect our elders & be grateful for what we have. I know that growing up I never misbehaved at the dinner table. We were taught by example by our parents & I wonder why in one generation so many of us seem to have let these basic principles fall by the wayside. Are we too busy these days? Are we now so used to instant gratification, living on credit, mobile phones, internet, etc that we expect our kids to get the lessons in one go & give up when they don't? My kids are by no means perfect and they have & do fall down along the way & drive me to distraction sometimes but it can only be to my benefit & theirs if they grow up with basic manners & respect. That takes time - it's a lifetime of learning. Just something to mull over.

I agree! A lot of what I describe as French parallels what used to be the norm in the US and the UK. But “Anglo” parenting has changed really radically in the last 20 years. We’re raising kids differently than we were raised ourselves. We’re more involved, we’re more worried, we’re more willing to sacrifice our sanity and our coupledom for the good of the kids. Two decades into all this, we’re starting to seriously question whether the costs are worth it, and whether the new intensive parenting is even good for kids.

The basic politeness you’re talking about is a big theme in France, starting when kids are little. Kids there aren’t just obliged to say please and thank-you. They also absolutely have to say hello and goodbye. The idea is that by greeting someone, you have to recognize that he exists. You have to gradually break out of your selfish bubble, and develop empathy.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:36:29

lastonetoleaveturnoutthelights

I've dipped into this book since having my second child and have accordingly parented DD2 slightly differently, applying Le Pause and so on. I did enjoy the baby chapter... I will read on.

Question: proportionally do more mothers of young babies return to ft work in France than in the UK/US, and what is the link between that and their parenting styles?

It’s very common for French mothers of young children to go back to work full time, or four days a week. For the first child, maternity leave usually lasts three months. (There is also an option to stop working for about the first three years, until school starts). Several moms told me that their babies started sleeping through the night just they returned to work, because the babies understood that the moms needed to be rested in the morning. They called this “le feeling.” One reason French moms go back to work is because the French state either provides (via excellent public crèches) or subsidizes childcare. Another is because they believe it’s very important to have an identity as a woman, separate from who you are as a mom.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:35:50

Cantdothisagain

I've never seen children throwing food (other than babies!) in the UK or in France. Clearly though there will be parenting strategies we can learn from the French just as there are others they can learn from us. My question is about fussy eating in young children which the book blurb implies is less of a problem in France for whatever reason. How have you observed French parents tackle the problem of children refusing to try new foods? and have you seen a way of getting sauce-resisting children to try sauces? Thank you!

Regarding food, there are a few things that French parents do (or aim to do). They don’t allow snacking between meals, so kids come to the table hungry. (There’s one “official” snack time in the afternoon). Then they serve vegetables first, before the chicken or the pasta, when hungry children are more likely to eat them. They have a tasting rule: you don’t have to eat it all, just try a bite. And they don’t give up on foods just because a child says, for example, “I don’t like salmon.” They keep salmon in the rotation, perhaps preparing it differently the next week. They realize that, with some foods, it’s only by tasting them lots of times that kids come to like them. They see themselves as teaching their kids to enjoy flavors. The clincher is, they aim to do this without being at all militaristic about it. They try to present food, and new flavors, as something pleasurable and fun. That’s the tricky part for me – but I’ve gotten better at it!

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:32:45

Kenobi

*LeBFG*, CrackFox et al - The book is entirely about Parisians. It should actually have been entitled "Middle and Upper Class Parisian Children Don't Throw Food".

I did enjoy it, and I thought a couple of tips were good - 'Le Pause' when dealing with babies, and the staring thing, which also works quite well, but I think only if they respect you in the first place.

My major issue is this: Pamela, the thing is about these lovely polite French children is... they grow up to be Parisians. Famously rude, cold and snobby. Is this a good thing? (I'm only half joking I'm afraid)

Also, to my mind you slightly pedal back on how tough Parisians are with their kids, and how much they reward uniformity - or did you not find this?

I have the same problem with Parisians that you do. I don’t suggest in the book that we emulate everything they do – just that we can learn from some of their parenting techniques, for instance how to teach babies to sleep through the night, and how they teach kids to eat a wide variety of foods.

I do think the French are less allergic to uniformity certainly than I am, as an American. Even at an early age, there’s less of an emphasis on free expression in schools, and more of an emphasis on acquiring skills, and learning to work together. I’m told that, especially as children get older, there’s a lot of focus in school on what they do wrong, and not much positive encouragement. I hope I counterbalance this at home!

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:31:59

mrsbadger2

I took my children out for dinner the other evening with some friends. I was pretty embarrassed by their behaviour. They couldn't resist mucking around and were hard to control. I could not help thinking that if they had been French they would have known how to behave, eat nicely and calmly and converse with adults in an adult environment. I think the problem is that here, everything has to be made child friendly-church services, restaurants, any form of entertainment really. I don't think it is too much to expect children to be bored and have to put up with a situation , on occasion, that does not revolve around them. So yes, actually, I am interested in reading this book.

Hello, and thanks for your kind note. I think you really hit on a core “French” idea (the French didn’t invent this, but they’ve really held onto it). It’s that if family life is centered entirely on the kids, it’s not good for anyone, not even the kids. When this happens in France, they consider it a big problem. The DB is a “child king” or a “child tyrant.” This is very badly regarded (though of course it happens, and the French think it’s on the rise. They blame us Americans!).

To make sure not to raise little tyrants, the French believe that – exactly as you say – kids need to learn to cope with a bit of boredom and frustration. Parents consider this a crucial life skill, and something their kids can’t be happy without. But of course they stress that children need lots of love and affection and attention too. All of these – including the frustration - are crucial. One of the French nannies I interviewed said that in the Anglo homes she worked for, there was much more whining and breakdowns, not for lack of love, but because the kids couldn’t cope with being refused anything. (That gets to the issue of saying no with conviction, and not letting kids feel that everything is negotiable. Let’s save that for another day!)

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:30:19

TheCarefulLaundress

Hello Pamella - where in the UK did you see children throwing food in restaurants? I've never witnessed this myself.

Unfortunately it’s my own child who was throwing food in restaurants. She’s only half-British, so maybe it was her American side that did the throwing!
Of course the title of the book is meant to be cheeky. The book is a lot more nuanced. It’s a mixture of journalism and my own experience, not all of which is positive about the French.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:29:08

helpyourself

I've entered the draw. I'm very interested in the concept of French parenting after a Damescene moment a few years ago.
I spent many holidays as a child living in France with a French family, was still in touch with them and slightly in awe of the order and way they were bringing up their children. However having taken my dcs to stay with them we all came away rather shell shocked. What I remembered as old fashioned, sophisticated order struck us now as almost abuse. Five course meals for toddlers, smacking for failing to get to the loo in time, etc.
I've stopped all contact.

This sounds like a very upsetting situation. Smacking toddlers for potty-training problems certainly isn’t typical of anything I observed in France, nor is smacking (for any reason) something that I condone in the book. As for the five-course meals for toddlers, that sounds like one course too many. In the crèche they typically serve a starter, a main course with a vegetable side, a cheese course, and then a fruit dessert. I sat in on some of these meals, and they’re not onerous at all. (Perhaps the one you observed was?). The food is all cooked from scratch in house, it’s cut or mushed up for the smaller kids, and it’s presented as something pleasurable and fun. The whole meal only lasts for about 20 minutes, if I recall. Sorry again to hear about your traumatic experience with that family; it’s certainly nothing to emulate.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:25:51

LeBFG

I wonder how much of the books anecdotes are Parisian-centred? Lots of cliches which are said to be true in Paris, I've just not observed in my neck of rural France. I see fat kids/mums, rude kids, kids misbehaving etc. I haven't read the book, but the question in the title can possibly be answered by the nounou. Everyone I know sends their DC to childminders and these experienced women are keen on rules. My DS now drinks perfectly out of a cup and always goes to the table to do so and to eat his biscuit whereas I just let him run a bit wild.

Hi. As I say in the introduction, my book is a description of the French urban middle classes. I live in Paris and am raising my kids here. But I also researched it over several years, reading national parenting magazines and books, spending time in crèches and in the schools where they train workers for them (these follow a national curriculum), looking at social science research comparing France and American middle class parents, interviewing sociologists, paediatricians and psychologists, and speaking to parents who come from around the country (but who mostly live in Paris). I also interviewed several French nannies! In all of this, there were a great many recurring themes. I think I’ve described, more or less, what people in this social strata aspire to do, and often actually do. It even sounds like it may be what your son does too – at least in the realm of food, which you mentioned.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Sat 09-Feb-13 00:16:44

Pamela's answers are now back and we're going to post them up shortly.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 31-Jan-13 16:22:46

It's great to see this book has sparked so much debate. We're closing the Q&A later this eve and sending the questions over to Pamela so if you have a specific question you want to ask her, do post before the end of the day. We certainly don't want to stop the discussion though, so do carry on. We'll post up Pamela's answers on 8th February.

ppeatfruit Thu 31-Jan-13 13:52:07

Well I prefer DCs to be DCs not robots (who are only 'good' because they are in fear) See cote's post. I hope your DH thanks you for the meal too.iyawn

BTW we allowed our DCs to have personalities and be confident. They are not unruly adults at all. In fact the opposite.

iYawn Thu 31-Jan-13 11:52:34

Hello Pamela

Thanks for doing this Q&A on Mumsnet - II read the book and loved it - could do with more tips tbh

Did I read somewhere you have another book coming out?

I like the idea that children are aware of adults in the house etc and are polite. (think manners take children a long way, DC1 for e.g. is PFB fussy eater blush but always thanks me for the meal.

My question is:

When we're not in France and don't have the set up, (e.g the nursery)
how can we be more French while here in "lowest common denominator for standards" UK?

TIA

LillianGish Tue 29-Jan-13 18:31:24

"Girls with long swishy hair, skinny jeans tucked into Uggs, a navy Canada Goose jacket. The only sign of rebellion is the occasional red jacket or brown Uggs. And their bags are all the same too" - you have just described my dd and her friends at the Lycee in South Ken - the bag in question is a Longchamp pliage! I have also read the book from start to finish - maybe it's just me, but I didn't see it as a hymn to the perfection of French parenting - in fact I thought some of it was slightly tongue in cheek. It is fascinating to see how the French, our nearest neighbours after all, do so many things so differently - whether they are entirely successful (or whether we are for that matter) is open to question. I just love the way Pamela has put her finger on so many of the differences - she has so many of the Parisian parents I know off to a tee. I loved the caca boudin chapter for instance - my dcs both went through this - it never occurred to me to try and analyse why this might be. In fact by way of a question I'd like to ask her if she really thinks French parenting techniques are better than ours - or is it just interesting to see another approach and try a bit of mix and match?

LeBFG Tue 29-Jan-13 13:31:35

Well, Cote, I can only tell you what I've seen in the last 7 years. There aren't abundant children around but they are treated just as you and I would say normally. I really have never seen a kid being whacked - and the nearest town is a bit of dive in places too. Even in the bigger cities I go to occasionally (St Gaudens and Toulouse), I've not seen it.

Perhaps some of the table manners starts in primary school where packed lunches are really unusual and everyone is expected to sit to table and eat the multiple courses? Kids learn a lot from each other that way.

I do agree that parenting style differs though (as I've said above). I've always got a wry smile and have to bite my lip when I'm told DS will hurt himself, fall off that etc as he runs about. Particularly from the older brigade. But as someone else says I do tend to follow DS around and narrate his life away, so perhaps controlling in another way?

AuldAlliance Tue 29-Jan-13 12:37:02

I was in Hyper U the other day with DS2 (3), and was shushing him because he was making strange piercing noises as we went through the aisles. A man from the local factory said to me over the pasta, 'C'est cool, Madame, laissez-le. Il fait sa musique.'

<<disclaimer: random anecdote. NOT intended as hard evidence.>>

ppeatfruit Tue 29-Jan-13 11:51:46

Cote shock But IKEWYM Some (of course not ALL) french parents seem 'frightened' of allowing their DCs to do anything (even a lovely little 8 month old who was cooing in the shopping trolley seat in Auchan was 'hushed' by it's parents they made more noise the baby TBH!!).

I get the feeling it's a control issue due to their own over controlled childhood. The parents and DCs who come for aperos in our house seem soo worried that their DCs will do something wrong. Its really sad actually.

AuldAlliance Tue 29-Jan-13 11:35:05

Down here in Provence, there are the conformists, but there are also goths, punks, skateboarders, athletic types, many other subcatgeories... and the simply ordinary.

There are well behaved children, badly behaved children, extroverts and introverts, parents who smack and parents who don't.

Children often eat before adults at parties so they can then run around/play whatever, while we have a leisurely apéro and meal. Sometimes they eat at the same time. Table capacity is as important here as tradition, IME.

I have been guilty of some generalising in my time, but I really, really can't see a single French parenting model enacted around me.

CoteDAzur Tue 29-Jan-13 11:34:19

"I've never seen a child hit by an adult (in France)"

Are you serious? shock

I see parents smacking children everywhere - on the bus, at the school gates, and especially at Carrefour-type large shopping places.

Aside from smacking, I have witnessed parents very forcefully hitting their children - a 3-year-old boy in DD's maternelle class was struck by his dad in class because he didn't want to put on his tablier. A 6-7 year old boy was complaining to his dad about something at the public pool and his dad literally clobbered him in front of everyone. The boy was screaming in pain and fear for the duration of this session sad I asked management there if there is a number for the police to report such abuse, and was told "He is the police". Nobody did anything and neither did I, in the end, because I didn't want trouble from that guy [ashamed]

Last year, at a quite good seafood restaurant on the beach, two kids aged about 4 & 6 were running about and making a bit of noise but really it wasn't a problem. Their dad put down his red wine, started walking towards the kids (who were near our table). Kids start whining and pleading "No, no! Daddy please!" at this point because they know what is coming sad Dad catches the little boy, whacks him several times, then goes for the girl, who is trying to crawl away from him, whacks her, too. They go back to their table and continue crying.

All this played out in front of our DC. They were absolutely terrified and hiding behind me & DH at this point. DS (2) got over it fairly quickly but DD (6) kept asking DH & me "You would never do that to us, would you? I love you mummy/daddy." with a little voice.

Seriously, if you have never seen a child hit by an adult in France, you must be living a very sheltered life, with some of the gentlest parents in the whole country.

CoteDAzur Tue 29-Jan-13 11:19:46

Bonsoir - Down here around the Principauté, teenage boys are all pretty much the same. Some girls do look a bit outrageous, but they are also conforming - to music industry's sad stereotype of pole dancer chic.

No goth, no leather (except on high-tech bikes), no piercing, and certainly no pink/purple/green hair.

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