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The Secrets of French Parents


Feeling overwhelmed and stressed out by parenting demands? Perhaps you need a little more joie de vivre in your parenting approach. The French are known for their joyful approach to food, but what about parenting? French parents believe that a balanced life is a happy one and don't assume that becoming a parent means sacrificing all. French mamans take a pragmatic, practical approach to parenting. They don't spend their days shuttling children to and from activities or obsessing over which parenting philosophy to follow. Critics might find French mothers and fathers aloof, distant and cool, but a 2002 study by the International Social Survey Program found that these parents reported higher levels of parenting satisfaction than their American counterparts. Do French parenting strategies really lead to easier and more fulfilling parenthood? Read on and decide for yourself.

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By Julie Christensen

Feeling overwhelmed? Perhaps you need some joie de vivre in your parenting approach. Critics may find them aloof, but French parents reported higher levels of satisfaction than their American counterparts in an International Social Survey Program study. Do French parenting strategies lead to easier, more fulfilling parenthood? Read on and decide for yourself.

Pregnancy and Birth

During pregnancy, French mothers don't heed long lists of prohibited foods and may even enjoy the occasional glass of wine. Up to 87 percent of them get epidurals for pain relief during labor. After birth, French women spend a week in the hospital, resting and relaxing.

Baby Care

Many French parents, dads included, take a whole year of paid leave after the birth of a child. By the age of two months, babies are trained to sleep through the night. “We do not jump and answer right away when the baby makes a noise,” says French mother and author Muriel Blanc. “We let them have a few moments to settle back in, which means they go to sleep on their own.”

Child Care

Most French moms work and don't feel guilty about continuing their profession or having a life outside of being a mother. One of the reasons for this might be the availability of daycare centers funded and operated by the government, known as “crèches.” Parenting help from nannies and the extended family are popular as well.

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The French are known for their love of good food, but a key to their enjoyment is their restraint. Young babies are served whatever the family is eating—pureed, such as pureed roasted vegetables, braised leeks, or even artichokes. French children eat three meals a day and only one snack—no munching all day long. Lunch and dinner may take two hours or more, with an emphasis on savoring each flavor and texture.


Watch a French mom and you'll notice that she talks to her child as one would to an adult. The French view children as little people, capable of following directions from infancy. “A French mother teaches a child how to listen, how to be responsible, and does not give in,” Blanc says. “We explain to our children what our expectations are and we follow through. A French parent is not scared of their children and acts in control."

Academics and Activities

Older French children spend more time in school than American children and are expected to take their studies seriously—yet they’re allowed to develop at their own pace. They aren’t shuttled through frantic schedules of foreign language, tennis instruction, and structured playdates. French parents expect children to learn to entertain themselves.

Traditions and Holidays

One custom in France and most of Europe is that of the extended summer holiday. Living in France isn't cheap and most French people work long days. Come August, though, stores and businesses close down and the French go to the beach or mountains for several weeks. They work to live; they don't live to work.

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Not every French parenting tradition would fly in our culture, but every culture has positive parenting aspects we can learn from. Take a parenting lesson from the French: Let kids be kids and allow yourself some fun too.

Thinking of integrating more international flavor into your parenting life? Learn about Italian parents and Canadian parents!