When I wrote a book about what I’d learned raising three kids in France, I wasn’t sure that anyone besides my mother would read it. Actually, I wasn’t even convinced that she would make it all the way through (she tends to prefer fiction).
But to my surprise, many nonrelatives read the book too. For a while there were lots of angry articles about it. Who was I to insult “American” parenting—if there really is such a thing? Surely there are lots of little French brats? Had I only researched rich Parisians? Was I extolling socialism—or worse—bottle feeding?
I’m the sort of person who hears any criticism of herself and immediately thinks: that’s so true! I fell into a funk. But then I started getting e-mails from regular American parents like me. (I’ve posted many of these e-mails on my Web site.) I quickly cheered up. They didn’t think I’d falsely
accused Americans of having a parenting problem. Like me, they were living that problem, and they were eager to hear about an alternative.
Some parents told me that the book validated what they had already been doing privately—and often guiltily. Others said they’d tried the book’s methods on their kids, and that these really did work. (No one was more relieved to hear this than me.) Many asked for more tips and specifics,
or for a version of the book—sans my personal backstory and voyage of discovery—that they could give as a kind of manual to grandparents, partners, and babysitters.
This is that book. The 100 “keys to French parenting” are my attempt to distill the smartest and most salient principles I’ve learned from French parents and experts. You don’t have to live in Paris to apply them. You don’t even have to like cheese. (Though you should have a look at the recipes at the end. They’re a sample of what kids in French day cares eat, and they’re delicious for grownups too.)
I believe in all 100 keys. But they’re not my inventions or my personal proclamations. And they’re not all right for everyone. The French are very clear that every child is different and that you should break the rules sometimes. As you read the keys, you’ll start to notice that behind many of the individual tips are a few guiding principles. One of these principles was radical for me, as an American: If family life is centered entirely on children, it’s not
good for anyone, not even for the kids.