Parisian Living

Parenting Like a Parisian: Take the Best, Leave the Rest

by Paige Bradley Frost

HiP Paris Blog, 33 Avenue, Parenting Like a Parisian

Malou Lasquite of 33 Avenue

When we decided to move to Paris, I knew parenting here would be different. Not only would the moms (and les petits enfants) be better dressed, they’d enjoy luxuries not known to their American counterparts like guaranteed, paid maternity leave and high quality, state-subsidized childcare.

HiP Paris Blog, Gwenael Piaser, Parenting Like a Parisian

Gwenael Piaser

The impact of these family benefits cannot be overstated. And yet, I was still surprised to discover just how different parenting is here on issues big and small.

HiP Paris Blog, philippe leroyer, Parenting Like a Parisian

philippe leroyer

Some of the differences shocked me (and not in a good way). There’s an iron-fist disciplinary style that makes little ones quake in their parents’ presence and a culture of yelling that left me drop-jawed. The word “non” (shunned, albeit somewhat absurdly, by some American friends) is central to French parenting. Many smoke openly in front of kids and don’t shy away from spanking to discourage unwanted behavior.

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Still, other aspects of French parenting inspired me to seek out a new mothering style of my own; one that’s more relaxed (on myself) and family-focused as opposed to manically kid-centric. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned thanks to my exposure to parenting a la francaise.

HiP Paris Blog, 33 Avenue, Parenting Like a Parisian

Malou Lasquite of 33 Avenue

HiP Paris Blog, faungg, thomas nicot, Parenting Like a Parisian

faungg & thomas nicot

Weekends are for family. One of the things I’d begun to dread before we left the U.S. was the approach of the hyper-scheduled weekend, chock-a-block with kids’ activities. I wasn’t opposed to a Saturday soccer game but it started to feel like every minute would be devoted to a militaristic stream of classes, parties, tutors and events with very little time left to just be together. In France, weekends are still considered sacred for family QT. They sit down together to eat their meals, take cultural outings to museums and concerts, or venture to the country to visit les grands-parents. We now make these things a priority, too. (It’s a whole lot easier when those around you are doing the same.)

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Mom matters, too. I’m not sure when it happened but sometime in the last decade, being a “good mom” became synonymous with self-sacrifice. At home, taking time out just for you had started feel distinctly selfish. Here in France? Pas du tout! French moms I know routinely prioritize on self-care (think midday naps, visits to the spa and evenings a deux) and do so without a flicker of guilt. Moms here are not expected to abdicate their adult interests and pursuits (let alone their careers) in order to have thriving families. And of course they’ve got those social benefits that make it all possible.

HiP Paris Blog, Oliver Degabriele, Parenting Like a Parisian

Oliver Degabriele

Mealtime is sacred. Everyone knows the French adore their meals. Enjoying food together is also a cornerstone of French family life, especially on weekends when days are structured around carefully prepared and ruthlessly scheduled meals. Kids’ food, per se, doesn’t really exist here as little ones are expected to eat just like maman and papa.

HiP Paris Blog, Carin Olsson, Parenting Like a Parisian

Carin Olsson

While American babies are cutting their teeth on rice cereal and cheerios, les petits francais are savoring pureed leeks and vegetable soup. When we first arrived in Paris, I was amazed how quickly my little ones abandoned hot dogs (albeit organic) and pizza in favor of camembert, duck confit and even escargots.

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Kids must learn independence. In my neighborhood, I’m often surprised by the number of kids I see out on their own: buying baguettes at the boulangerie, walking to and from school and zooming around the streets on their trotinettes. As of age eight or nine, French youngsters are afforded greater opportunities to develop independence than many of their American peers. Blame what you will (Cable TV? Gun violence? Fear of the unknown?) but French parents foster independence like we encourage achievement. A bit more independence could do both kids and their parents some good.

HiP Paris Blog, 33 Avenue, Parenting Like a Parisian

Malou Lasquite of 33 Avenue

I considered much of this during a recent outing to our neighborhood park. Moms (and a smattering of nannies) sat on benches absorbed in conversation or books or iPhones, not hovering under climbing structures or careening down slides. Kids dug in the sandbox, kicked soccer balls and chased one another amid screeches of joy and bouts of tears.

HiP Paris Blog, Max Mayorov, Parenting Like a Parisian

Max Mayorov

Parents sat on the sidelines, present if needed but not meddling. It struck me that this was the beauty of French parenting: being there without overdoing it, prioritizing on family but still making room for adult life and finding, perhaps, that most elusive of parenting qualities: balance.

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Written by Paige Bradley Frost for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

Written By

Paige Bradley Frost

Paige Bradley Frost, a Los Angeles native, moved back to Paris with her young family in 2011 after first living and getting married there in 2000. A lover of French style and cuisine, she spends her days scouting and writing about the city's gems when not chasing after her two young children. Her articles about parenting, culture and lifestyle have appeared on, the Huffington Post and various other publications. She blogs about her Paris experiences at View Paige Bradley Frost's Website

14 comments on “Parenting Like a Parisian: Take the Best, Leave the Rest

Thank you for your article about children in Paris. The times I have traveled have been my own little oasis away from the States sans Hubby and children. But lately I have been considering bringing my son. He is autistic (high functioning) and was worried that he wouldn’t have anything outside of his electronics to keep him engaged. Your article gave me the support in the possibility in bringing him with me on a trip. Oh how I enjoy Paris without the pressure of domestic life! I may not give up my oasis!(lol)

Thanks for the link, Paige. Yours is a great response to the ideas put forth in Zuckerman’s book. You’ve obviously lived here long enough to be able to accurately observe the differences in French vs US culture and not just paint us all into little boxes that are overly-stereotypical, one-dimensional and largely untrue! I could regal you with stories from my kids school but sounds like you’ve seen much of the same…. 😛

Great discussion! If you’re interested, I had a lot more to say about this topic (and *that* book) on Huffington Post last year:

Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

Great article!!! Makes me want to move to Paris….sigh!

I am happy to say I adhere to many of these French parenting guidelines…but had not heard of the negative aspects mentioned at the start…that surprises me!

It’s funny, I have only ever lived in Paris since having children but here I have definitely heard a lot of horror stories of children being snatched from parks and supermarkets and assaults in public swimming pools etc. I think it’s great that parents want to try and give their children some normalcy and freedom growing up but I don’t think I will ever be that confident about it in Paris. It’s my biggest fear and sadness about living in a big city where bad things happen. I do think we can learn something from them about eliminating mother guilt though, I’m all for that!

Ever since “that” book was published commending French parents as being perfect parents and American parents as crap, I have felt compelled to read articles such as yours to understand how others perceive the differences between our two cultures.

I have lived in Paris for 10 years and am a working mom of 2. You have hit the nail on the head regarding the differences in French vs US parenting – great article, nice observations.

If I can add my two cents, I firmly do not believe French children are in any way better behaved, more prefectly raised, etc., etc. than US ones. Since opening my cupcake shop in Paris last year, I cannot even begin to describe to you the appaling behavior I have witnessed by French customers who come in with their children – they do not bat an eyelash when their kids start acting up, even when there’s often risk of damage to my property. Last weekend, a mom luaghed it when a child invited to a cupcake party pocketed several pot of edible glitter I use to decorate my cupcakes.

Bottomline, kids will be kids and a little rough-housing doesn’t scare me off. What does bug me is when people start telling me I am an inferior parent because I am not raising my kids the “French’ way. Let me decide what values, behaviors, attitudes, etc I instill my kids!

Whether Paris actually is safer or just feels that way, I do not know. (And of course it would depend on whether we’re talking about a big US city or small town, middle America). I do believe that the American 24/7 media coverage of kidnappings, shootings and scary events makes people feel a lot less safe and we tend to handle our kids accordingly. But in France, even when parents are physically present, there’s generally less hovering, hand-wringing and anxiety around parenting. And as I said in the blog, the social safety net here helps. A lot.

Its lovely that the French can feel comfortable letting their children be more independent and put family time first…it’s just not possible everywhere…xv

LOVE the photos and the content of this post. It’s something I see every day and marvel at here.
Merci Carolg

Fantastic! Love it! This is so inspiring to me. I love the self-respect that one gleams from French parenting – both for the child AND the parent.

In the US almost weekly there are stories in the newspapers about children kidnapped from school bus stops, in front of their homes etc by pedophiles. Kids disappear from parks with their parents not too far away. Are you saying these horrors don’t happen so often in France that parents feel comfortable with their laissez-faire attitude? French parents don’t worry about these things? What you describe in France is what my childhood was like but now that’s not the world my grandchildren live in. Curious about this aspect of French parenting

lets hear it for the Family + leave what you can’t use but take the rest. Yeah!

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