Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Dita De Boni: Are the French better at everything?

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Normally a trip to the supermarket for me is something of a chore. A chore that needs to be done, yes, but with three children in tow, a chore that frequently drives one around the twist. Between the listening to the Disney CD for the 150th time on the way there, to the dragging kids past the Wiggles trolley they want to ride on the way in, to fighting pester power all the way around the store, it's non-stop effort.

The other day, however, stood out for two reasons: for one, I only had one child, for once - the baby - who is happy enough at the moment (at almost five months) to watch my facial expressions. These are many and varied: frustrated gnashing of teeth as I realise my lovingly-crafted list is left at home on the kitchen table , wincing at the price of individual items, adopting a slack-jawed yokel look at the sheer number of shower cleaners on offer, and a gasp like a dying goldfish when I get the final bill. Pure entertainment for him, no doubt.

But this particular trip was certainly enlivened by a family of French people who were in the checkout queue before us.

Two boys, about 10 and eight perhaps, a gruff-looking father, a typically chic looking mother. For some reason the mother in question left her family in line at the checkout and left the store, and it was then the hi-jinx began. To my amazement, I saw the youngest boy grab an enormous plastic spade from a nearby toy rack, sneak up behind his father, and whack him hard over the head, and then dissolve, with his brother, into fits of laughter.

His father did a bit of a Gallic snarl. He then turned back to the checkout operator, before being scraped down his back with a giant plastic toy rake, which ended up snagged into his pants. The boys shot off around the supermarket, laughing themselves sick. A few minutes later (it was a busy day and no-one was moving), one of the boys performed a flying karate kick landing squarely on the father's bum. Shortly thereafter, the youngest boy poked his father between the shoulder blades with a large bottle of lubricant situated nearby (note to Countdown: do you really think people are liberated enough, on average, to stock up on condoms and lube in full view of a line of people at the checkout? If not, why put a giant display there?)

Finally the father had had enough and picked his youngest son up by the seat of the pants, exposing his bottom to the line of shoppers, and dropped him on the floor. It wasn't done with any serious intent and everyone was bent over with laughter at this point, including myself.

"I make you laugh, ah?" said the father to me with a cheeky smile.

Before the conversation could even begin, the mother returned, the boys went back to behaving, and I went on to pay an eye-watering amount for my weekly shop.

It occurred to me that I have never seen a Kiwi father endure a pummelling like this with such good grace. Or at all, really. I would be barking at my kids for doing even one 50th of what these kids did, and yet, it was done with such élan, such calm, it was hard to be horrified, and easy to be entertained.

It was then with interest then that I read on the Daily Mail website of an interview with Pamela Druckerman, an Englishwoman living in France who had written a book about how the locals raise their kids called French Children Don't Throw Food.

In it, she talks about how French parents (specifically the mothers) are happier and more relaxed because they put their own lives first. That means, ditching breastfeeding and returning to work as soon as possible; refusing to pander to their children's fussy food habits; not enduring bad behaviour (but somehow not being authoritarian either), and training them, with calmness, to sleep through the night within weeks of being born.
Some seem extreme from this perspective; others, like returning to a Dukan (no carb) diet within days of giving birth positively dangerous. However others stand the common sense test. One that probably we should adopt, if no other, is that of not feeding our children snacks all day long, which I do too often and I notice many other women do too.

In France, apparently, there's one designated snack time (4pm, le gouter) and the rest of the time, the kids have to wait until the main meal is served. Food for thought, indeed.
Of course, for the Daily Mail and countless British women, not to mention the rest of us, it's a little rich to be constantly told French women do everything better (dress, eat, make love, probably breathe etc). But there is apparently a distinct difference between French parenting and other types. I think for the French it centres on not allowing the children's behaviour to overtake daily events - even if that behaviour includes being cracked over the head for comic effect in a supermarket queue.

- HERALD ONLINE

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