Category Archives: Parenting the French Way

Frenchitude Lesson #57: Take Your Children To Church, And Anywhere Else

A few nights ago the girls’ wonderful new school held the Nine Lesson & Carol Service at Victoria’s cathedral. It was absolutely exquisite, and Charlotte and Camille were beyond thrilled to take part in it.

I was very excited about going too – I love such Christmassy events. We would go en famille, of course.

I guess I have gotten used to French churches, where there are usually mobs of children. French Catholics are a very prolific group of people and it is not uncommon in Beaune for the Catholic families I know to count between four and ten children.

The upshot of this of course is that you can pretty much be assured of children lolling around all over the church during the service – trying to scale the alter, pulling at the choir members’ robes, pushing that little foot bench up and down and up and down and then up again…it’s chaotic, of course, but it also means that your own child’s noise and movement doesn’t even register.

So I blithely dressed up Clem in her nicest red Christmas dress and her shiny black patten shoes and took her along with us.

Clem is 23 months a the moment. In other words, going anywhere with her is like packing along a renegade missile. I now know – she is my third child after all, and thank heavens I’ve picked up one or two pieces of knowledge along the way – that this is not Clem’s fault. This is simply what 23 month old children are; as a parent one must merely strive to survive this period.

True to her age group Clem quickly disproved the saying ‘pretty is as pretty does’. She looked adorable, but all she wanted to do was to catapult herself over the pews and race back and forth across the shiny floor of the cathedral.

In France she would have been only one of many children doing the same thing, but here Franck and I quickly realized that nobody else seemed to have brought their toddlers. Or, if they had, they had found a much better place to hide them.

Only five minutes into the service Franck took Clem under his arm like sack of potatoes and took her to the very back of the church, where her singing and shrieks resonated in the respectful silence.

I snuck to the back to see if I could relieve Franck during one of the first carols.

“What were we thinking?” I asked him.

“I have no idea,” he said. “Where are the car keys? I’m taking this little hellion home.”

The school truly encouraged entire families to come to the service, but I now remember that it is a societal thing here in North America to keep one’s renegade missiles safely at home instead of exposing them to church services and other such events.

I beg you, bring them out with you! The more the noisier, to be sure, but there is safety – not to mention comfort – in numbers.

Frenchitude Lesson #55: Eat Slow

With Franck away in Burgundy I’ve been handling what I call the “arsenic hours” of 4:00-8:00pm on my own. Homework, dinner, dishes, bath (all with, in my case, a whinging toddler attached to one of my legs).

However, I still have managed to get the bevy down to a hot, sit-down dinner every night and take a moment to unwind and chat with them about their day. I am of course, having to discipline Clem throughout, i.e. “Sit down, sit down, SIT DOWN!” and “Don’t you dare throw your food on the floor…ah, dammit!”

So, really, it is not all that relaxing for me, but I believe the bevy need it to give a sense of normalcy to their lives when Franck is away. So even though my mind is inevitably three steps ahead of dinner, as it is wont to do during the arsenic hours, I try to slow myself down and encourage the girls to take their time eating.

Two nights ago Charlotte who, along with Camille, is doing some culture catch-up of her own in the form of becoming obsessed with the movie High School Musical, was bolting her food.

“Slow down,” I say. “You have to rush at lunch at school, but you don’t have to rush now.”

A sheepish smile. “I want to finish quickly so I can watch High School Musical again.”

Camille lifts one disdainful shoulder. “If you start eating fast Charlotte, you’re not French anymore.”

Si! I am too still French!”

“Not if you eat fast,” Camille decrees.

“Mom!” Charlotte wails. “I’m still French even if I want to finish to watch High School Musical, right?” (I can’t help but notice that this argument about not being French takes place entirely in French)

“Sure,” I agree, distracted. Clem has just dumped her pasta with bolognaise sauce all over the floor.

“Non,” Camille insists. “French people eat slowly. That is what being French is all about.”

So there you have it. According to one Grade 2 girl at least, eating slowly is the essence of Frenchitude – even in the face of such worldly temptations as High School Musical.

Frenchitude Lesson #50: Hating Aspects of Parenthood Doesn’t Mean You Hate Your Children

Sometimes I wonder if God isn’t some evil scientist.

This is because there are days when I would swear upon a Bible that my children have been genetically engineered to drive me into a mental institution.

This is especially the case during the toddler years. I know, I know…I’m neglecting those teenager years, but for right now I am putting adolescence firmly in the mental box labeled “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Please indulge my need to maintain my blissful ignorance for as long as possible.

Case in point. Yesterday morning Franck was away on a business trip. I had to get the bevy up, dressed, fed, and out the door to school and daycare all before I had actually woken up (just for the record, this happens around 1:00pm most days).

While making breakfasts I carefully cut up Clem’s banana into small pieces so that I wouldn’t have to deal with a choking episode alone. You may remember that I have now officially developed a full-fledged choking paranoia due to several near-death experiences with my girls.

So does Clem pick up my carefully cut up pieces and chew them nicely?

Oh no, that would be far too easy.

Instead she shoves the entire contents of the bowl (equivalent to an entire banana) into her tiny mouth and then tries to swallow it. Without chewing. After all, chewing is so boring! What a waste of time. Who needs it?

Luckily Charlotte is more awake than I am, so I hear her yell while I am in the middle of packing lunch bags (and let me just say – lunches – ugh! the French cafeteria system is SO much better for Moms) “MOM, CLEM IS CHOKING!”

My heart stops yet I somehow manage to run to the table, grab a banana-stuffed, choking, rapidly oxygen deprived child, turn her upside down, do baby Heimlich, plus fish out banana with my finger. Finally I am able to clear her airway. The sound of her cough, and then her cry, is akin to the bells of paradise.

It takes a good minute or so for my heart to start back up again, but do I have time to collapse somewhere and recover? No. I still have three girls to get out the door.

I have to say that as far as parenting moments go, the whole choking thing is one aspect I unequivocally, completely, totally hate. Same goes for cleaning up barf, and your child telling you that they have lost yet another item of their brand new (and very expensive) school uniform.

In France parents are very realistic -some would say blunt -about hating, yes, hating, certain aspects of parenting.

One of my French friends whose son has recently crossed over into teenagerhood unapologetically told me, “I hate how he smells now and oh-my-God are teenage boys ever hideous looking! Their noses are huge and they have zits everywhere. Plus he is always getting in trouble and doesn’t listen to a thing I say anymore. So far I am just hating this stage.”

I somehow don’t feel as free here in Canada to fess up to the fact that although I love my children, there are moments of parenting that as far as I can tell, have absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Well…except along the lines of my beloved “You can’t scare me – I have kids” fridge magnet.

North American society seems particularly in love with platitudes. I often hear parents here bang on about how they “love every minute of it.”

And I feel like saying, “Really? Do you really love every minute of it? Do you truly love that shaky, adrenaline-sick feeling that overcomes you just after you have fished a foreign object from your child’s windpipe or just barely whipped them out of the way of an oncoming vehicle?”

Yet I don’t say that here, because I find that it is hugely frowned upon as a very unpolitically correct thing to say. The people love their platitudes, damn it, and if you question them you must be a Bad Parent. Worse yet, a Bad Person.

Society at large here seems to be so black and white about parenting that when we admit that we hate certain aspects of it, it is somehow inferred that we hate our children too.

For their part, the French have always been better at accepting that aside from little bits of black and white, life is mainly made up of grey areas (just watch pretty much any French film like Cedric Klapish’s “Paris’ for confirmation of this).

The French don’t go in for platitudes, or indeed anything that oversimplifies this crazy, up and down roller coaster that is the human experience. To oversimplify it is to do it a disservice.

They believe that it is precisely those paradoxes – like hating aspects of parenting yet still loving your child – that make parenting so rich and so human.

And you know what? So do I.

Frenchitude Lesson #41 : There’s No Right Way To Give Birth

This topic is very timely for me, as my little sister Jayne (above) is gearing up to give birth to her niblet any day now. She is also sweltering away the final days of her third trimester in a top floor apartment in record breaking heat in Vancouver, for which I think she deserves a nice big hero cookie.

Anyway, back to the birth issue…

I personally think Jayne deserves to have one of those easy-pop-em-out-in-a-few-hours types of births. Karma OWES it to her, because until niblet arrives this is how the count stands: we have 5 children on my side of the family who came into the world via 5 C-sections.

However, Jayne’s last doctor’s appointment stirred up a suspicion that maybe the niblet has done a somersault and is now breech à la Charlotte, who was my first C-section for that very same reason.

While some birth experiences are undoubtedly nicer than others, I am a firm believer that any birth that results in a healthy baby and a healthy mother (even one who looks like she’s been run over by an 18 wheel truck, like I did every time) is a Successful Birth.

I have no problem with people wanting to have a certain type of birth experience and working in that direction, but I DO have a problem when this is taken to the extreme that it compromises the health of either the baby or the mom.

In Canada I am on the receiving end of a whole lot of pity when I say I’ve had three C-sections. One woman who had had regular births said to me (rather smugly, I may add),” I just feel so sorry for women who end up having to have a C-section. It’s just so sad.”

People often talk like I’ve suffered some sort of huge Greek tragedy in my life because I’d missed out on the only “right” way of giving birth. I often was made to feel like the women who had had relatively easy natural births had “succeeded’ whereas because I had been obliged to go the C-section route, I had failed.

But really, how can you succeed or fail at something over which you have so little control? In my opinion, while people who have been able to have a natural birth may have really worked in that direction, they have also been the happy beneficiaries of a significant amount of sheer dumb luck.

True, the three C-sections were no walk in the park, and it would have been nice to have two and three hour natural deliveries like my Mom (and which I hope Jayne might enjoy). But you know what? Mainly I just feel immensely grateful that my babies and I are alive, whereas if I had given birth 100 years ago or even in the present in a third world country, we would in all likelihood have already slipped the mortal coil.

That may sound rather stark, but after university Franck and I volunteered in rural Nepal for a few months helping to run surgical eye camps. The fear in the eyes of the pregnant women I saw in these camps chilled me to the core. I talked to one of the Nepali doctors about it, and he looked at me and said, “Laura, they are several days walk from the nearest medical help, and at least one out of four of them will not survive their birth. Of course they are scared.”

How lucky are we to live in a country where we have the luxury of worrying about what type of birth experience we want to have, instead of merely wishing to come out of it alive.

The French have a very pragmatic take on parenthood in general, and giving birth is no exception. No one method is seen as being infused with any more intrinsic value than any other.

It is a much less competitive society than North America, so there is none of these good, better, best judgements passed on things like giving birth.

If you need a C-section that’s no big deal, or if you decide you want an epidural the minute you walk into the hospital – just like breast vs bottle feeding – that is not only an entirely personal matter but completely your prerogative.

If you want to go for a natural birth and it all pans out, that’s great, but nobody will talk like you deserve a gold medal because of it. It is the end result – the baby – that matters. Everything else comes a very, very distant second.

So Jayne can wrap her Frenchitude about her and comfort herself in the coming days that no way of giving birth is right or wrong, and that she is free to make the choices that she needs to at the time without having any judgement passed on them.

There are a myriad of ways of bringing babies into the world, and they are all miraculous.

Peut-Etre Banned From British Airways

There are some times when parenting isn’t a matter of doing what is best, or what is right, but rather it becomes a simple matter of survival. As in, I just have to get through the next second with this screaming, flailing, biting, and pinching 17 month old on my lap, and maybe if I get through this second I’ll get through another second and then…BUT SEVEN HOURS WORTH OF SECONDS IS A LOT OF SECONDS!!!!

Just look at the photo above – doesn’t Clem look all sweetness and light as we say a final good-bye to La Maison des Chaumes? Ah hah. She had me hood-winked too.

Well, not exactly. She was all sweetness and light…as long as she wasn’t belted in to an airline seat.

Here we are almost 24 hours later in Vancouver. I think the reason I took this photo in the midst of my exhausted travel haze was to prove to myself that we had – despite many dicey moments during the trip – survived.

We’re still recovering, merci. Posts should hopefully resume some resemblance of a normal schedule by next week.

Frenchitude Lesson #41: Remove The Right and Wrong From Breastfeeding

First of all, I shudder to think of all the weird porn ads I am now going to get on my Google AdSense sidebar because I have written the word “breast”.

Secondly, some men may want to skip this post. If you are neither a New Man nor a French Man, today’s topic may make you a teensy bit squirmy.

My little sister Jayne is due in August and is presently attending a bouquet of pre-natal classes – some definitely more useful than others. Reading her emails about them has given me flashbacks of how it was for me when I had Charlotte, and how different (not to mention a lot less traumatic) that experience probably would have been if she had been born in France instead of Canada.

When I had Charlotte ten years ago, a militant pro-breastfeeding atmosphere reigned on the West Coast of Canada, where she was born. For all I know things may have greatly evolved and improved since then. I dearly hope so.

Just like Jayne is doing now, I attended all the requisite pre-natal classes that drilled home the fact that EVERY woman can breastfeed if they just try hard enough. It was very strongly implied that if you chose not to breastfeed or “could not’ (because clearly you were not invested enough in the whole breastfeeding thing to begin with) you were doing your child an unfathomable disservice. Bottle feeding was depicted as tantamount to child abuse.

I for one was all psyched up to breastfeed. YooHoo! Ready to go!

Admittedly, the unexpected C-section threw me a bit but I was still bound and determined. This was my baby, I loved her, and I was going to do things the RIGHT way.

Small Problem. No matter how hard I tried or how many hours Charlotte spent sucking at my body, I produced no milk. Charlotte cried all the time and began to lose weight. But because breastfeeding was of course the only RIGHT way to feed a baby, the nurses urged me to keep trying, and to keep trying harder.

So I kept trying. Charlotte became skinnier and more sickly with malnutrition-induced jaundice (although I didn’t know it at the time – that’s the problem with the first time – you don’t know anything at the time).

The doctors and nurses sent me home despite the fact that Charlotte, although born extremely healthy, was by now not in good shape, nor heading in the right direction. Don’t give up! the medical staff admonished me as I left the hospital. Breast is best!

Those first few days I spent sitting in my armchair in our apartment in Vancouver with a crying, fretful and STARVING baby gnawing away at my breasts, trying to extract nourishment that just wasn’t there.

I fell apart. I was not only exhausted, but an unfit mother. I must not love my baby enough, because if I was trying hard enough it would work. Charlotte’s weight kept plummeting and she got sicker and sicker. I was watching, horrified, as my baby wasted away before my eyes.

Finally I was sent to a lactation consultant, because if Charlotte lost a few more grams she would have to be hospitalized for “failure to thrive”.

The lactation consultant informed me that the fact that I was “chubby” must be interfering with my milk production. Great. MORE guilt. It WAS my fault.

I was just about ripe to be carried off to a mental institution at this point. However, thanks to what I now believe must be divine intervention, Charlotte’s weight loss and worsening jaundice did spur the lactation-consultant-from-hell to send me to a paediatrician.

The pediatrician took one look at me and one look at Charlotte and said, “Stop This Nonsense!“.

“You have done your best”, he said to me. “But breastfeeding is just not going to work for you. Go and buy your daughter formula and give her as much as she can drink. Repeat as often as you can. And for god’s sake, try to get some sleep.”

He then made a very livid phone call to the maternity ward of the hospital where Charlotte was born, demanding how could they have possibly encouraged me to keep breastfeeding and not supplement with formula when it was abundantly clear that I produced no milk. How could they torture a new mother and let a child slowly starve to death in this way?

So, still weeping at my failure as a mother, I bought the formula and fed it to Charlotte, feeling as guilty as if I was feeding my child crack cocaine.

Charlotte, however, promptly sucked down a bottle and stopped crying for the first time since I had begun to try to breastfeed, then fell into the most contended sleep I had ever witnessed.

The guilt over feeding my child the WRONG way lasted for several months, despite the relief that my formula-fed baby gained weight rapidly, slept well, and was once again the picture of health. Nevertheless, I remember trying to hide her bottle at my first mom / baby group, so deep was my shame.

A year or so later it was discovered that for a myriad of boring medical reasons breastfeeding is a physical impossibility for me. The little switch in my body that signals for milk production to commence is broken, or more accurately probably never functioned to begin with. However, it still galls me that in the minds of some midwives and militant pro-breastfeeders, people like me DO NOT TRULY EXIST.

I did learn from this experience, and had my doctor write on my medical file when I was pregnant with Camille “DO NOT LECTURE MS. BRADBURY ABOUT BREASTFEEDING OR SHE MAY PUNCH YOU!!!” in big red capital letters.

I still feel teary when I think of how hard this right / wrong attitude towards breastfeeding made those first few weeks with Charlotte so riddled with angst and despair. I can’t help but hypothesize how different things would have been had she been born in France.

For one thing, mothers stay a lot longer in the maternity ward here in France: 4-5 days for a regular birth and a strict minimum of a full week post C-section (unlike 3 days in Canada). This gives the nurses and midwives time to observe how things are really going with Mom and baby, and to send them home with many of the initial problems well on the way of being resolved.

In France, mothers are given the facts about breastfeeding, and then are asked, “would you like to try it?”.

If they do want to give it a whirl, they are given the support they need, both at the hospital and at home. If they don’t, this is totally accepted as a legitimate choice.

There is no judgement passed on what is considered to be a personal decision.

Besides, how can a lobby group or anyone else be better equipped than the new mom to make such a decision? Maybe it didn’t go well for a previous baby, or maybe it just doesn’t fit in with a woman’s job and life. Or, maybe as my friend in Paris explained without an iota of guilt, “ça me disait rien.”

The French in general do not see the world in terms of right or wrong, but rather as a series of different, but equally respected, choices. This world-view sure makes life a heck of a lot easier for new Moms.

Also, in France it is deeply felt that the well-being of a baby, a child, and whole families hinges on the well-being of the mother. A mother who is making parenting decisions that are ill-adapted to her life and personality just because they please society at large, will not be “bien dans sa peau” and her children and family will suffer as a result.

It wasn’t until I got here to France that I began to questions the idea that the well-being of a mother must be sacrificed on the alter of the well-being of her children. I began to realize that the French were on to something; once a woman has a baby, her physical and mental well-being is more important than it has ever been before.

In Canada, I was so encouraged to subsume my own needs for those of my child (or rather, what society told me were the needs of my child) that I often felt I had become a non-person the instant that Charlotte was born.

The truth of it is that there are many ways to be a mother; short of abusive or neglectful behaviour (and just for the record, not breastfeeding doesn’t belong in this category), none of them are right and none of them are wrong.

So adopt Frenchitude to breastfeeding and motherhood – the only “right” thing to do is to find the right path for yourself.

Frenchitude Lesson #39: Mothers, You Deserve A Medaille

Franck picked the occasion of Clémentine’s arrival into this world to decide that he was going to become a Serious Athlete. In the months after Clem was born I would often find myself being regaled at the breakfast table with his plans to run a marathon one day.

“Haven’t you ever wanted to run a marathon?” he asked one fine morning when Clem was about seven months old.

Still wallowing in a noxious stew of postpartum hormones, I had been slumped over my bowl of requisite caffeine after a refreshing 3-hour night sleep due to a teething baby.

My hair was falling out by the fistful, my shoulders were in a permanent kink from holding Clem all day long, and when Franck asked the question I had been in the midst of contemplating whether my stomach would ever look normal again after my third pregnancy and C-section (a week later my Ob / Gyn answered this question with his trademark honesty – “ah, ma pauvre, certainly not without a lot of plastic surgery”).

“Are you frickinkidding me?” I said to Franck. “In case you haven’t noticed, I am running a marathon – it’s called pregnancy, a C-section, and postpartum.”

Mothers are, in my opinion, the world’s unsung heros. Of course our children are awards in and of themselves and we love them and all that blah, blah, blah.

But on days like yesterday when I had to give Clem the baby Heimlich to dislodge a piece of cookie she was choking on (my heart rate is just about returning to normal now, merci), and spend the entire afternoon in the ER with Charlotte who had split her chin open on one of our metal bistro chairs, I can’t help but think I deserve a medal for this.

In my experience, however, the world at large just gives a big metaphysical shrug at the notion that mothers deserve praise and rewards.

Of course we love our children, but contrary to popular belief this doesn’t make mothering magically easier or less exhausting. It is, though, soooooooo convenient for society to make us believe that it does.

French mothers have solved what I term the “lack-of-mothering-accolades” issue in a characteristically stylish way.

It is traditional for French mothers to wear what it is known as a “gourmette” which is basically a nice bracelet that has a little engraved medaille (that’s right, a shiny MEDAL) for each child, noting their name and their birth date.

If a husband is serious about wanting to minimize the impact of the postpartum period on his love life, it is extremely wise to present an exquisite gourmette and the subsequent medailles to his wife as a gift – preferably before the epidural has worn off.

Nevertheless, for those of us who married men who don’t understand the soothing powers of jewellery (i.e. Franck) I have decreed that it is perfectly acceptable to award ourselves with medals. This is what I did a few weeks ago; as I get older I realize that the best person to rely on for praise and accolades is…myself.

So here is my gourmette with my three medailles. Je l’adore.

Traditionally gourmettes are gold, but since I; a) don’t have a 14 carat budget, b) haven’t worn gold since the 1980s, and c) have never shied away from bucking tradition, I had mine made up in silver.

So next time I am urged by my husband to take part in a marathon or some such competitive Feat of Strength, I will glance down at my wrist, jangle my bracelet, and remember that I have already earned my medailles for this lifetime. If I want to run a marathon I guess I could, but it wouldn’t be because I need recognition for bravery, or tenacity, or endurance.

Along with my fellow mothers, on these counts I have nothing left to prove.

Frenchitude Lesson #35: Screen Time In The Land of Baguettes

Today’s Frenchitude topic was suggested to me by Kecia Welt, who was a recent guest at Le Relais du Vieux Beaune and writes a blog about her quest for a simpler life.
She recently sent me an email: “I don’t believe you have ever touched on “screen time” issue… The time kids spend in front of the television and/or computer. Clearly that is a problem in the U.S. with very alarming statistics. I’d love to learn how the French find balance with these technologies.

First of all, let me start off by saying that I certainly don’t think the French have found the magic bullet to dissuade children from spending the better part of their lives being entertained by a screen.

That being said, I have found that French parents don’t struggle with the “screen time” issue with their little froglets to the same degree as their North American counterparts.

Here is my hackneyed attempt to understand why…

Let me just preface this by saying that I am not one of those anti-screen zealots. Both my girls have Nintendo DS‘ (I think that’s where the apostrophe should go…). Camille’s is turquoise and Charlotte’s is pink with a plethora of horse stickers on it.

When we are stuck in Heathrow’s Terminal 4 after a trans-Atlantic flight and our flight to Lyon has been delayed another two hours, I actually find myself wondering if the person who invented these nifty little wonders shouldn’t, in fact, be awarded a sainthood.

Also, I have also observed that many children who are ill-served by reading programs in primary schools learn to read, and learn to read fluently, via video games. This can’t be a bad thing.

TV watching is naturally curbed in France by the long school days (9:00am to 5:00pm more or less) and the large amount of homework given from Grade 1 onwards. Most French children I know watch almost no TV during the week because there simply isn’t the time.

As for the video games, sometimes when my girls’ friends come over to chez Germain with their Nintendo DS‘, they can spend hours holed up in their bedroom brushing their virtual horses or engaging in battles with their Pokemons. However, this remains a rarity. Most of the time Charlotte and Camille and their friends forget about their DS‘ altogether, and prefer to play Playmobil or the imaginary game of Orphan Children Under The Bridges of Paris.

Now here is where I go out on a très, très shaky limb….

I am undoubtedly making a gross generalization here, but I have noticed that the issue of regulating screen time seems more problematic with little boys than with little girls.

I don’t know what it is in the male psyche that is attracted to screens, and particularly video games, but I am convinced there is SOMETHING different in there.

I would rather cut off my left arm than be forced to play a video game whereas when we were staying in Paris at a friend’s apartment two summers ago Franck kept sneaking off to play some mafia video game in a curtained off alcove.

The huge majority of little girls I know get bored of video games way before parents start to have to intervene. Left to their own devices, they moderate their video game use quite naturally. There are surely little boys out there who do this as well.

In the case of these kind of children, the French take a typically “laissezfaire” approach. If there is no real problem, there is no need for gratuitous parental intervention. Rather, treat the whole video game thing as a positive first step towards autonomy. French parents are as a rule very big on encouraging autonomy in their children.

Then we are left with the children who, if left to their own devices, would go through life with a video or TV screen glued to their right eyeball. This requires a completely different approach – these children really need firm limits.

In the case of one of my French friends, this means deciding not to buy her son, who is the kind of kid who could happily watch 8 hours of non-stop cartoons, a DS or WII or any kind of video game.

She is unapologetic about her decision.

She believes that childhood is short enough, and it is better spent playing outside than staring at a computer screen. She feels that she knows her son, and that if she lets the screens, besides a limited amount of TV, inside the house that it wouldn’t be fair to him; the temptation for him to spend all his time either playing video games or lusting after playing video games would be too great. She feels that as a parent she knows what is best for her son, and truly believes she is doing him a huge favour.

I think this hits on another reason why perhaps French parents have an easier time with the whole screen issue. French parents believe that being a good parent means setting firm limits. This is backed up by the fact that in France, setting parental limits is viewed as concrete proof that you love your children.

Another French friend has a son who loves his DS, but she puts firm limits on how long he can play when his friends come over (usually 1-2 hours). When the time is up and the kids whinge about the injustice of having to stop and inevitably complain that there is nothing else to do, she says to them, “There’s no point in complaining to me about it, because I’m not going to change my mind. You being bored is not my problem. Now, allezvous en!”

Her attitude demonstrates two other reasons why French parents have an easier time with the screen time problem. Firstly, French parents aren’t afraid of looking like the Bad Guy. Secondly, French parents believe that it is not their job to entertain a child or to ensure that their child is being constantly entertained.

The French believe that children, especially when they have friends over, have everything they need to entertain themselves, even without video games. Boredom is viewed as a necessary first step on the path to learning how to entertain themselves, an invaluable skill in life.

Besides, saying a firm non! to children enables them to practice another skill that is essential in French society – protesting.

Frenchitude Lesson #28 : Tell Your Kids "Non!"

Bon d’accord. Admittedly Clémentine and I are having a bit of a rough time with this one at the moment.

I tell her “non” about…gee, I don’t know…a HUNDRED TIMES in any given day.


Non, don’t empty the garbage can!

Non, don’t eat that shard of glass!
Non, don’t pull that armoire down on yourself!
Non, don’t pull all the books off the bookshelf!
Non, don’t throw rolls of toilet paper into the full bathtub!

And, a favorite at the moment, “Non, don’t sit in the drawer!

Like most French parents, I generally dispense with the second part of the phrase and end up chanting a chorus that sounds something like this; “non, non, non, non, non, non, NON!”

It’s not that I have any problem with Clem sitting in her favorite drawer per se. I’m sure it’s most comfy, and as a matter of fact this favored activity has restored my faith in the durability of IKEA furniture.

The problem is getting out of the drawer. Turns out this is a hazardous business for a 14 month old. Half the attempts end in Clem slipping and slamming her forehead against the Portuguese tile floor. In fact, I am seriously contemplating a return of The Helmet.

That’s why the photos are blurred. I was snapping them as I was racing in (chanting my non! non! non! mantra) to swoop her out of harms way.

When I was back in Canada with Charlotte and Camille five years ago I noticed that most mothers would accompany “no” with long winded, breathy explanations.

Some mothers were even quite vocal about refusing to utter the word “no” to their child under any circumstances. The reasoning for this was generally that a child who heard “no” would be blinded to the myriad of possibilities in the universe.

I’m all for respecting different parenting styles, but the abolition of “no” always sounded not only impossible to me, but unwise.

The French attitude is very straight-froward. They figure that as children are, and should be, hearing frequent “nons” on their way through life, better they get used to the concept early.

The huge majority of French parents would never consider banning “non” from their parenting vocabulary. This is underpinned by the widespread belief in France that children are truly happier when they grow up with clearly defined boundaries. Failing to provide such boundaries is considered shirking one’s role as a parent.

I could natter on for hours to Clem, outlining exactly why I am concerned about The Drawer. She, however, would have no idea what I was going on about and would promptly get back in the drawer the minute my back was turned.

So I’m just starting with one word. Non. If I could just get her to understand and obey those three little letters that would be huge step in the right direction.

We’re not quite there yet, as you can see from the photo below.

Tant pis. At least we’re practising.

***Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Buisson or Bora Bora.

Frencitude Lesson #25 : Have a Love Affair With Real Bread

Don’t try to convince French people that bread is bad. You will get laughed out of the room.

Here in France bread (along with wine) is considered the staff of life. Just for the record, Wonderbread-type loafs do not count as bread.

Real bread has to be bought fresh on a daily basis and includes only yeast, water, flour, and salt as ingredients. If it doesn’t go stale within 24 hours it is not considered bread in France.

French people will travel far and wide to find the best daily baguette. A local tip for anyone coming here to our little valley in Burgundy; we buy our daily baguettes from the little hole-in-the-wall bakery in the nearby village of Comblanchien. Go, buy, taste, and you will discover why this makes total sense.

The first solid food a French baby eats is always a stump of baguette – commonly referred to as a quignon de pain in local patois.

When I was at Villers-la-Faye’s annual Bastille Day village picnic last July with a five month old teething Clem, all of the village grandmothers kept ripping up the baguettes on the picnic tables and shoving quignons in her little hands, insisting it would be just the thing for her gums.

Turns out they were right, although I was too freaked out by the prospect of her choking (my choking paranoia is a whole other story) to give Clem her first quignon until she was close to eleven months.

She is piercing molars now, and gnawing on a quignon really does seem to help.

Clem naturally loves the taste of bread. She refers to it as an “ah-toe” (gateau) which is a high compliment indeed. She calls only her very favorite foods “ah-toes“, although unfortunately this list still includes clumps of dirt off the floor.

Anyway, that pesky dirt issue aside, as you can see from the photo above, Clem’s love affair with good bread has begun.

**Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Cahors or the Carolinas.