Supermom Smackdown

A new book by American journalist Pamela Druckerman, Bringing Up Bébé, says that French mothers are superior to American mothers. Quelle horreur! Marie Claire gets le scoop

(Image credit: Archives)

MARIE CLAIRE: Why did you write this book? France is famous for fashion and cheese, not child rearing.

PAMELA DRUCKERMAN: True. But after having a baby in France, I noticed that French kids sleep through the night by 2 months old, play quietly while their mothers chat, and don't throw tantrums. Family life in France is generally much calmer than in America. As a journalist, I was curious to know why. As a mother, I was desperate to know!

MC: What are French moms doing that American moms aren't?

PD: One critical difference is how we cope with guilt. American moms really embrace guilt. It's a kind of emotional tax we pay for going to work or plopping our kids in front of the TV so we can have time to ourselves. French mothers consider guilt unhealthy. They also believe it's dangerous for mothers and children to spend all their time together, that even babies and toddlers need to cultivate their inner lives without a mother's constant interference--and that a household that's centered entirely on children is wildly out of balance.

MC: Aren't French parents strict?

PD: They're extremely strict about a few key things, especially saying bonjour and au revoir to adults, as a sign of respect. But they're quite permissive about the rest. They give kids a lot more autonomy than I'm used to. Six-year-olds go on weeklong school trips and spend two-week holidays alone with their grandparents. French preschoolers are even entrusted with their own curse word: caca boudin. It translates to "poop sausage." The first time my daughter said this, I wasn't sure whether to be angry or amused.

MC: Do French mothers look different? Do they seem happier?

PD: Yes! I don't even gawk anymore when French mothers prance into the park dressed in high-heeled boots and skinny jeans while pushing strollers with newborns. My French girlfriends think the American expression "MILF" is hilarious. There's no equivalent in French because in France, there's no reason why a woman wouldn't continue to be sexy after she has kids. French mothers aren't just chic, they're also strangely collected. They don't radiate that mix of fatigue, worry, and on-the-vergeness that's bursting out of many American moms I know--me included.

MC: You tried to apply French parenting methods to your own kids. Did it work? Are you a "French" mother?

PD: When I'm with my kids in public, I usually think that they're badly behaved compared with the French kids I know, and pretty good compared with the Americans. They don't always say bonjour and au revoir, but they know that they're supposed to. They demand Camembert at the end of a meal. I usually speak only English to them, but in moments of crisis, I declare, "C'est moi qui décide"--"It's me who decides"-- which is what French parents say to establish their authority. I'm always a bit surprised when they actually believe me. My skinny jeans, unfortunately, are still on the shelf.