Frugal parenting tips from the French
The French approach to child-rearing seems so much simpler and less expensive than what many American parents do.
The French approach to child-rearing doesn't just produce kids who throw fewer tantrums and (mostly) eat their vegetables. It can also save their parents some money.
Here, for the first time ever on American soil (well, cyberspace), are 10 commandments for budget parenting á la française:
Give kids one snack a day.
True, cookies probably aren't your biggest household expense. But consolidating family eating into three meals a day, plus an afternoon snack, means you aren't constantly shelling out fivers for treats. An added benefit is that, at mealtimes, your kids will actually be hungry.
Everyone eats the same thing.
French kids don't eat "kids foods" -- they typically eat the same foods as their parents. Imagine the savings in time, groceries and gas bills when you don't have to cook two separate dinners.
Make water (from the tap, if it's potable) your family's de facto drink at lunch and dinner. Save juice for breakfast, and sodas and sugary drinks for special occasions.
Don't spend a fortune on baby books.
Yes, this advice comes from the author of such books. Buying lots of parenting guides isn't just expensive. The conflicting advice they contain can also make you anxious. As the French say, the best parenting happens when you're calm.
Don't hire a baby-proofing consultant.
Obviously you want to prepare your house for the baby. But don't turn it into a padded cell. Your child isn't a wild animal. You can teach him not to touch things.
Don't buy your toddler flash cards.
Or "pre-literacy" games and DVDs. You'll save money (and time fishing flash cards out from behind the couch). And you can focus on skills that little kids are most primed to learn, like how to socialize, concentrate and play.
Buy used toys.
OK, this isn't specifically French. But the French are masters of the brocante, or flea market, where you can pick up lovingly used old toys on the cheap (online auction sites are good for this too). This is also an aesthetic choice: Parisians think that things that have been loved and touched and broken in are better than things that are shiny and new.
Send the kids to Grandma.
From an early age, French children usually spend a week or two at their grandparents' house during school holidays. Mom and Dad get time off to work, reconnect with each other, and take long baths. Junior gets new rules, new foods, and new freedoms. Everyone comes back calmer, recharged, and genuinely glad to see each other.
Don't attend children's birthdays.
Do like the French, and make your kid's next birthday a drop-off. Encourage other parents to do the same. You'll be amazed how quickly everyone adapts to the three hours of free baby-sitting.
Despite their reputation, the French aren't actually that adulterous. But they know that there's innocent and cost-free pleasure to be had from flirting -- especially after a long day looking after the kids. For ladies, this is a good way to remember that you're not just a mom; you're still very much a woman too.
Pamela Druckerman is the author, most recently, of "Bébé Day By Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting." Her website is www.pameladruckerman.com.
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