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In Defense of American Parenting

Photograph by Twenty20

So many of us have heard in passing how better the French are at parenting, what with their even-tempered bebés and their resistance to making children the center of their lives like we silly Americans. You might have even read one of the French parenting books and, at some point, imagined yourself strolling the Champs-Élysées impeccably dressed and accompanied by your impeccably-mannered children.

Sound like your reality? Nope? Gather round, fellow freedom-fries-loving mamas near and far. It’s gonna be alright.

First, let’s deconstruct French parenting.

It’s not really “French,” per se. I grew up with Latino immigrant parents, and so-called French parenting doesn't seem so different from my upbringing. My parents believed in being strict, lived their lives for themselves and didn't cook separate meals for the kids. Good children were obedient, quiet and well-mannered. Many of these same characteristics get romanticized and termed “French parenting.”

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Compared to my parents, and compared to the lore of French ones, my parenting ethos is markedly American. I love “too much.” I “spoiled” my baby by holding her too much and “allowed” her wake me at night more than I should have. My kid isn’t deferential to every adult she encounters and, yes, she can be a little loud sometimes. She's kinda bossy. She doesn't always comport herself like a little lady (she's 3!)

She’s an Americana, my Cuban father would say, proudly. And, it’s true.

Am I soft? It’s hard to say. I think it takes a strong constitution to love with abandon, to devote oneself to another, to raise children who might sometimes disagree with us. If I were raising my daughter to adjust to me, I do think that would be easier—for me. But that doesn’t interest me. I’ve adjusted quite a bit of my life for my daughter and, although that hasn’t been easy, I feel it’s been worth it. Being a parent, after all, is not just what we do. It’s a relationship.

I know my kid isn’t the center of THE universe, but she’s certainly the center of mine.

Ironically, this is making American parenting sound rather laissez-faire and romanticized in its own right. I know there’s more to American mothers than unabashed love and and affection. There’s the unsavory stuff too: minivans with family decals, Facebook-oversharing, trying to balance American motherhood with the American rat race, and the more recent micromanaging strain of moms and dads. American parents are said to be the least happy parents in the Western world.

“Ah, bon?” our French counterparts might say.

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Yes, but as the article points out, that may be more about living in a country in which prevailing attitudes toward family aren’t reflected in government policies.

I know my kid isn’t the center of THE universe, but she’s certainly the center of mine.

I think there's a reason why Americans, for all our foibles, still lead the world in innovation. And it has nothing to do with blending quietly into the background or falling in line. It's a je ne sais quoi.

I'm raising a modern American. So she doesn’t like soft cheeses—we’ll live.

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