France, my home country, has been condemned by the Council of Europe for not making the spanking and slapping of children illegal. This is a purely symbolic gesture obviously. There won’t be any fines to pay. But still, the Council of Europe has spoken out against it.I have been thinking about this most of the day, and it brought back some mixed memories of my very French upbringing.
You see, we keep reading about how we French bring up our kids with firm boundaries, and how this is good for their development. There are books about this. Some of them are even bestsellers. They glorify the fact that we French parents give our children stricter boundaries that our Anglo-Saxon counterparts – and the rest of the world should learn from us.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it : such books are clearly written by authors who haven’t been brought up in France, and are seeking to feed parents’ insecurities to make a quick buck. Somehow, they believe they know it all because they have spent a bit of time in France. They naively believed what they were told. But it is TOTAL and UTTER nonsense. There I have said it. The reality is far more complicated.
There is a darker side than meets the eyes in France. You can read about it in an article here (assuming you can speak French), which suggests that 14% of French say that they were the victims of abuse while growing up, and that 45% believe they know a child who might be mistreated now.
Growing up, all my classmates, maybe with the exception of one, had been slapped or smacked on a regular basis.
Growing up, all my classmates, maybe with the exception of one, had been slapped or smacked on a regular basis. All the parents were at it. Some were even taking it to the next level: my own mother once gave me a freezing shower, and also put my head under a running tab of cold water a few times in order to ‘calm me down’. I was about 10. I can’t remember exactly what I had done. This was by no mean exceptional, though, and wasn’t considered cruel or anything. I think that she even boasted about it at a family dinner. Some children had it much, much worse.
When we moved to the UK, I quickly found out that the Anglo-Saxon approach was much gentler to the children. It was all about praising them and making them feel special and valued. Sometimes a bit too much, I must admit: my own daughter used to expect praises every time she was going to the loo on her own, and we had to put an end to it as, frankly, I couldn’t stand it any more after a while.
Do I believe that kids need boundaries? Yes of course. Kids need to know that all isn’t permitted, and that some rules need to be respected. Sometimes just for their own safety, actually. And it is very clear to me that I am their Mum, not their mate. This means that I am in control of running the household, and that they must follow a clear set of rules.
That said, I would never, ever slap my daughters. Or give them a cold shower to punish them. As for spanking, I must admit that I am of two minds: as long as spanking remains exceptional, doesn’t hurt or humiliate, I believe that it is not that big a deal, and can actually reinforce an important rule. That said, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and I personally wouldn’t do it. But I wouldn’t judge someone who does it. Would you?
Can I also add that it is time to accept that yes, there are a few things that we can learn from the French but maybe they should learn a thing or two from the Brits and the Americans too? Time to stop feeling guilty for who we are. I’m feeling very British right now.
And proud of it.
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