Children hold a special status in the United States. They are given the responsibility of carrying the future of humankind. (“Children are our future.” Run for cover.) They are therefore either neglected or irremediably spoiled. There’s no in between. The super wealthy have other people take care of their kids. It’s the businesslike approach to parenthood. Those busy parents are also following the very fashionable British tradition of abandoning kids to Society (see the reason why British high-society trends apply to Americans in “Us, Them and the Others”). Successful upper middle class Americans, on the other hand, have become “professional” parents and take the matter as a second full-time job.
When in the United States for the long haul and when becoming a parent here, you soon feel all sorts of peer pressure to behave like the other parents. You are made to realize the “indignity” of the French parenting approach. With their children, the French practice a mix of moral “laissez faire” and strict intellectual discipline. Laissez-faire is mostly for the moral, political and religious matters (we believe that a child must form his or her own judgments through study and experience). Intellectual discipline is about questioning authority and the authorities, about examining facts and being critical of consensus. By contrast, the American way of raising a child consists of drilling in unquestionable truths about moral conduct, political beliefs and the meaning of life in general. That of course, doesn’t require intellectual honesty, just a healthy amount of propaganda laid thickly on a bed of gullibility.
Whenever French Dad sends his kid into the world with more interrogations than answers about what the world is and could eventually mean for his child (if it does bear any meaning at all), that raises a few American parents’ eyebrows. It’s also somewhat unfair to the French kid who finds himself or herself soon surrounded by boy scouts and mini cheerleaders who have everything figured out and explained by age twelve. Entertaining doubts and still searching for hidden truths is an uncomfortable position when you sit among people who are dead set on everything. I once saw a ten year-old girl fromTexas interviewed on TV about her religious beliefs. Her family happened to be practicing some kind of fundamentalist Catholicism. Asked what she thought of people who didn’t go to her church, she simply replied matter-of-factly, “They will burn in Hell.” That’s an extreme example but it still sums it up really well.
Excerpts from chapter 9 – The Long Haul in Make it Big in the USA, Jean-Pierre Ledauphin, 2012. Translation by Wallace B. Thompson