“When you have kids, people tell you, ‘All you need is love,’ ” says Cécile David-Weill. “I found that to be very untrue.”
In Parents Under the Influence: Words of Wisdom from a Former Bad Mother ($16, Other Press), the French-American writer and mom of three explores the unexpected challenges of parenting and offers hard-won advice on how to make raising successful children easier on parents and kids alike.
David-Weill has written two novels, The Suitors and Crush. For her new book, she had to dive into research about childhood development and psychology, reading case studies and speaking to friends and colleagues about their experiences. She spoke with T&C about the differences between French and American parents, how not to raise spoiled brats, and letting go of being a "good mother."
In your book, you argue that we unconsciously repeat our parents' mistakes and that parents are "under the influence" of their own childhoods.
It was well into my parenthood, about when they were 14 years old. Up until that point, there were lots of moments where I felt I didn't do things right. When I tried to be patient and calm, I ended up raising my voice. When I intended to be firm and not give in, then I was kind of weak. I wasn't in control of my own parenting and had this strong impression I wasn't doing right for my children.
People tell you "all you need is love" and "trust your gut." And I found the two sentences to be very untrue. What I experienced is basically reproducing the upbringing you have had, even the parts you hated or suffered from. I thought I would be a good mother because I really wanted to, that I was led by free will.
Instead of protecting my children, I was giving them the impression that they were responsible for this uneasiness. I realized that, in fact, I needed to be self aware—that was part of my parenting job.
What's the biggest difference between how French and American parents raise their children?
The French usually—in my generation, anyway—didn't think it was a good idea to make your children the number one priority. That meant you have left behind your license as a wife, as a woman, as a professional and all this. It felt not fashionable. But now I think things have changed tremendously in France. In America I think there's a lot of positive encouragement, even to the point of making the child believe that he's a genius.
It can be tempting to over-schedule your kids. How should well-off parents give their kids the right balance of activities and freedom?
The back to back activity can be two things. It could be a way for busy and self-assured parents to justify avoiding spending time with their children. Or it can be about convincing ourselves that we are providing them every possible opportunity, which is sometimes true. It is easier to do that rather than listen and respond to the needs that they actually express.
There's nothing quite like boredom for child development. They should have the time and the space to be bored because that's when they get to pick up a book and be creative.
Do you think a parent's job is to prepare your kids to leave you when the time is right?
We think our job is to infuse our children with happiness, self-esteem, to smooth their way towards academic success and shield them from all the difficulties of life. And in fact, it is the opposite. The problem is we need to let them fail and suffer. And that's a difficult thing to do. It's the only way for them to build self confidence and understand that life is in their own hands.
So what did your children have to say about your book?
“Well, they did confirm the subtitle!”
You Might Also Like