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Stop Thinking French Kids Are Better

I recently had the pleasure of watching a little boy in the lobby of a hotel have a full-on meltdown over Pringles chips. The little boy in question was about my son's age, 2. His parents, two very attractive people, who looked really embarrassed, whispered and exchanged desperate glances, all while they tugged gently at their son trying to peel him off the gleaming white hotel tile.

A 2-year-old having a meltdown is a normal sight, especially for me. I've seen my son meltdown in the school parking lot because I won't let him drive the car. I've had to haul him out of Target under my arm while he shrieked for a credit card. One time, he sobbed for 10 minutes because I told his sister she could color a crocodile whatever color she wanted.

What was unique about this meltdown was that the little boy only spoke French. "Je veux Pringles!" He screeched. "Je veux Pringles!"

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Perhaps I shouldn't have been so gleeful over the tantrum as I was. But as an American woman, I've been bombarded by the narrative that French women are inherently superior. There are hundreds of books available that tell me how to eat like a French woman, dress like a French woman, have sex like a French woman, and in 2014, with the publication of Pamela Druckerman's "Bringing Up Bebe," parent like a French woman.

I don't fault the French, truly. This is an American phenomenon, born of our Francophile nature and our deep desire to make women feel insecure. There is a whole lucrative cottage industry of books and articles that tell women what we are doing wrong and how to be better, try harder and be less of ourselves.

These narratives somehow (try to) prove that there is something inherently wrong with our children.

And in this industry of self-esteem destruction, French women are lauded as the Platonic ideal of who we ought to be: thin, classy, chic, and now, really good parents. But it's an ideal that no one of any nationality can live up to and one born of a limited perspective of who American and French women are, which is to say, people. We are people.

In the wake of Druckerman's book, there were many articles that called her out for valuing a system of education and parenting that was authoritarian, for focusing on strict obedience rather than creativity and free thinking. One French parent, writing in The Atlantic, noted: "While that's certainly understandable, I can vouch for the fact that while French parenting might be better at producing well-behaved children, I wouldn't recommend it if you want healthy, happy adults."

Despite those articles the narrative has remained. I've had friends note that in France there is no such thing as ADD or that French kids eat everything, as if these narratives somehow prove that there is something inherently wrong with our children rather than differing perspectives on the experience of being human. What if having picky eaters is actually a good thing for kids? What if the French actually have a lot of kids with ADD they are just ignoring them because of cultural blindness?

But whether or not French parents are good or bad is beside the point. I am sure they are doing the best they can and that's the point. We are all doing the best we can with the information we have, and when it comes to humans of any nationality, that is all we are: humans—flawed, messed up, tired humans.

And kids of any nationality are just that, kids. They are tiny humans who get tired and hungry and lack the emotional capacity to deal, so they end up pounding their tiny fists on the white tile and screaming. In any language it's the same.

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I spoke to the parents later out at the hotel pool. The mother also had a daughter who was close in age to my daughter. But because of the language barrier, our kids just eyed one another suspiciously and spoke very little. I apologized to the mother for staring at her son while he had a tantrum. I told her about my son's most recent tantrum and I told her that Americans think that French kids don't fuss. The woman laughed so hard that margarita almost shot through her nose.

"Oh, my dear," she said, "You Americans really know nothing do you?" At that moment, both of our sons began to cry.

Photograph by: Getty Images

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