French moms do it better.
At least that’s what the book publishers would have us believe. In our society’s quest for parenting perfection we have turned to the latest crop of experts, this time from way, way across the pond.
First there was Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Drukerman, which told me that my kids were so American because they interrupt me when I’m on the phone and they make a mess at dinner. More recently, I was told by Elisabeth Badinter in The Conflict, that along with free diapers and swaddling blankets I was handed a prison sentence as I left the hospital with my infant sons. Not to mention Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything and Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat (which has nothing to do with parenting but it’s annoying nonetheless).
Let me be clear, I have nothing against the French. I love Paris and croissants and pommes frites and don’t even get me started about French wine, but parenting? I’m not so sure. If we are picking mothers to emulate why not pick Greek mothers*.
While French mothers pride themselves on having children who play quietly, do not disturb their parents and don’t snack, Greek mothers pride themselves on loud families, keeping tabs on their children and overfeeding everyone.
What’s so bad about that?
As a child it was perfectly normal for my Greek mother and Greek father to be yelling—at each other, at us, at the television. It was equally normal for them to start laughing immediately following a screaming match. This yelling didn’t send us running to our rooms to hide in the closet; we knew that our parents were just disagreeing VERY, VERY LOUDLY. Eventually everyone in the family would join in at the same decibel level—you had to or you would never be heard.
This behavior was a shock to my friends who grew up in quiet families. They would look at me expectantly at the first rise in volume. ‘Should I flee?’ they seemed to ask. But eventually they came to appreciate the drama that runs through all Greek families.
See, Greeks are passionate people. They are dramatic and excitable and full of life. They don’t do things quietly or subtly. (Hell, when they have financial trouble they don’t keep it to themselves; they take down the currency of an entire continent—no small feat). That passion naturally extends to family.
Family is everything. Not wanting your kids around is unthinkable—usually because Greek mothers want to know what their children are doing at all times. In Bringing Up Bebe, Druckerman explains how French parents believe in remaining aloof while their children are playing (lest the child notice and try to demand the mother’s attention). Greek mothers want their children to notice them so the kids won’t think that they can get away with anything.
There’s also no escaping a Greek parent when children are expected to work in the family business and attend all family functions. There is no such thing as a wedding or baptism without dozens of children running around and eventually melting down when it is way past their bedtimes, clinging to their mothers who are probably longing for a book on French parenting.
And don’t even get me started about the food. Snacking is an Olympic sport for Greek mothers. There is always food, lots of food. This was great in high school when my friends would come over and my mother would throw on a few steaks—yes, steaks. My parents owned a restaurant (I know. A Greek with a restaurant? What a surprise!) so our fridge was always stocked with steaks, chicken, and really big containers of ice cream. I didn’t know it at the time, but having the house with all of the food meant that ours was the house where people wanted to hang out. And that was my mother’s plan.
I’ve adopted this practice because I’ve found that boys like to eat—a lot. And while they are sitting around my kitchen eating, they are talking. They even seem to forget that I’m sitting in the same room as they discuss all sorts of topics that I would never hear about if they weren’t in my kitchen. This would never happen if I sent them off alone and never fed them snacks.
Does this mean that Greek mothers win?
We may have been responsible for the birth of music, theater and democracy but I don’t know if we are responsible for passionate, helicopter parenting. My husband’s Jewish family is the same way, as are some of my friends’ Italian, Iraqi and Indian families. All I know is some parts work and some don’t. Nobody has all of the answers – not Elisabeth Badinter, not Time magazine, not even me.
*Full disclosure: I am a Greek mother, my mother is a Greek mother, and a good chunk of my friends are Greek mothers as are all of my aunts and cousins. So maybe I’m a teeny bit biased. But, I’m also American so I think I may have a good perspective.
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