How Children Have Taken Power is the title of a book recently published by Swedish psychiatrist David Eberhard. I am going by a story in a French language newspaper so the title is my English translation of the French translation of the Swedish title of the book. An English edition will be out later this year.
Sweden is the supposed earthly paradise for families: parents get lengthy maternity & paternity leaves, day care is available for all children, social benefits are such that Sweden has one of the highest bithrates in Europe. But they have extended their social democratic principles to the point of thinking of the family as a democracy, with children having equal rights with the parents. In effect, this gives them greater rights than the parents. Punishment is unheard of. One father sent his son to his room for twenty minutes – he was taken to court.
The result is a nation of rude, demanding and insolent children. The children decide what the family will eat for supper, where they will go on vacation, when they will go to bed, what they will wear.
Meanwhile, Pamela Druckerman reports that in France the children are respectful, well-behaved and eat whatever is set before them. Pamela Druckerman is an American, living in Paris with her English husband and their three children. Her latest book, Bébé Day by Day*, summarizes in 100 short notes the basic rules of the French parenting method. The French believe the best way to give children the resilience to cope with life is to teach them from the very first to acknowledge the existence of others and the needs of others.
French parents talk to their babies right from the first and explain things to them. When guests come into the home, they will greet the children, even the very young, and those who are old enough to talk are expected to say “bonjour” to the guests. When the guests leave, the children say “au revoir.” While the parents are visiting the children are expected to play by themselves and not interrupt, but both guests and children need to acknowledge each others existence whaen arriving and when leaving.
French mothers have complete control of the menu, the children are exposed to a wide variety of foods and are expected to taste everything on their plates. There is no pressure to clean off their plates. French mothers know a cild may need to try a new food a dozen or more times until they learn to enjoy it. So this new food will turn up on their plates every so often and they will eventually eat it all. Snack time is in mid-afternoon. No sweets are eaten at any other time. This is the French way and children do not beg and whine, because they know it will do no good.
French parents have no intention of raising an “enfant roi,” a child king. Children are cherished and respected, and they are taught to respect others. French parents say emphatically “c’est moi qui décide,” I am the one who decides. It is expected in France that parents will often have to say no to their children. Life is like that.
In Sweden, 54.9% of marriages end in divorce, the highest rate in the world. In France 38.3% of marriges end in divorce. Do you suppose it is easier for parents to live in harmony when theyare living in harmony with their children? Pamela Druckerman notes that French presidents have developed a reputation for cheating on their wives, but there is not much of this among ordinary french people.
Pamela Druckerman’s book is a book for adults, there is no off-colour langage or graphic details but she does speak frankly about the relationship between husband and wife. It is a small book; good parenting is not complicated. I think North American parents knew a lot more about parenting a few generations back, but we have lost it in all the conflicting psychological advice. This book might help some parents find their way out of the fog.
*Bébé Day by Day, © Pamela Druckerman, 2013. Published by The Penguin Press.