Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /


Everybody is talking about it and the article can be found here (sorry, it’s in French). To cut a long story short, the Council of Europe has condemned my home country for not making the spanking and slapping of children illegal. This is a purely symbolic gesture obviously. France won’t have to pay any fines. But still, the Council of Europe has said it. I must admit that I have been thinking about this most of the day, and it brought back some mixed memories of my very French upbringing. You see, we keep reading about how we French bring up our kids with firm boundaries, and how this is good for their development. There are books about this. Some of them are even bestsellers. They glorify the fact that we French parents give our children stricter boundaries that our Anglo-Saxon counterparts, and say that this is something the rest of the world should learn from us. Let’s not sugar-coat it : such books are written by authors who clearly haven’t been brought up in France, and want to feed parents’ insecurities to make a quick buck. Somehow, they believe they know it all because they have spent a bit of time in France. They naively believed what they were told. Total and utter non-sense. I have said it. It is out there. The reality is, once again, far more complicated.

You see, there is a darker side than meets the eyes in France. You can read about it here . It says that 14% of French say that they were the victims of abuse while growing up, and that 45% believe they know a child who might be mistreated (we are talking about nowadays, in France now as you read this post). Growing up, all my classmates, maybe with the exception of one, had been slapped or smacked on a regular basis. All parents were at it. Some were even taking it to the next level: my own mother once gave me a freezing shower, and also put my head under a running tab of cold water a few times in order to ‘calm me down’. I was about 10. I can’t remember exactly what I had done. This was by no mean exceptional, and wasn’t considered cruel or anything. I think that she even boasted about it at a family dinner. And don’t get me wrong: some children had it much, much worse.

Obviously becoming a mum has completely changed my perspective. And as we moved to the UK, I quickly found out that the Anglo-Saxon approach was much gentler to the children. It was all about praising them and making them feel special and valued. Sometimes a bit too much, I must admit: my own daughter used to expect praises every time she was going to the loo on her own, and we had to put an end to it -frankly, I couldn’t stand it any more after a while. Do I believe that kids need boundaries? Yes of course. Kids need to know that all isn’t permitted, and that some rules need to be respected. Sometimes just for their own safety, actually. And it is very clear to me that I am their Mum, not their mate. This means that I am in control of running the household, and that they must follow a clear set of rules. That said, I would never, ever slap my daughters. Or give them a cold shower to punish them. As for spanking, I must admit that I am of two minds: as long as spanking remains exceptional, doesn’t hurt or humiliate, I believe that it is not that big a deal, and can actually reinforce an important rule. That said, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and I personally wouldn’t do it. But I wouldn’t judge someone who does it. What about you?


Can I also add that it is time to accept that yes, there are a few things that we could learn from the French, but that maybe they should learn a thing or two from the Brits and the Americans? Time to stop feeling guilty for who we are. In short, I am feeling very British right now. And proud of it.
  • Friends of mine who are horse-and-buggy say “Some people complain at those who have their wheels in the ditch, but perhaps they have their wheels in the opposite ditch, and that can be just as bad.”

    Abuse is one ditch, letting children do anything they want is the other. Neither is good.

    • I like your words of wisdom…Very well said!

  • I suppose I was very lucky – my parents very rarely hit me, but to this day I remember when I was 7 and my mother smacked me with a plastic badminton racket. I was terrified and humiliated. I don’t think it even hurt that much, it was just the fact that she actually did it that shocked me most. This particular memory has been enough to stop me from wanting to smack my own children. Sometimes I end up yelling at them (which I usually regret almost immediately), but I’m trying to practise withdrawing from potential conflict situations. I have a lot of conversations with my children, about pretty much everything, and what works really well when they misbehave is telling them that I will stop talking to them if they keep being naughty. They can’t cope with the ‘silent treatment’, so improvement in behaviour follows quite quickly.

    • It is tough to be a parent. We are doing what we can. that said, I must admit that, because I was smacked, I think of smacking my children too, and it takes some control not to do it…

  • Penelope James

    I belong to the old-fashioned school. First, spanking is not beating. It doesn’t have to be painful, but it can stop a child from throwing temper tantrums and show him/her that their actions have consequences. I remember my father spanking me once because I took condoms from “his” drawer and gave them to a little girl for her birthday party. Thought they were balloons. I spanked my rebellious son. He wasn’t scarred for life and he will affirm that it helped him shape up. Frankly, nothing is more annoying than a child throwing a tantrum in a public place and the parents trying to sweet talk him/her into behaving themselves In most cases, a quick spank would solve that problem

    • Are you sure you are not French Pennie? This is indeed a very french approach. Since moving here, I have to say that I believe that you can control your kids without smacking them. But of course you need to control them!

  • I was also brought up old school. I was spanked and I admit that every time it happened, I deserved it. I agree with Pennie. Spanking isn’t abuse or beating necessarily and sometimes I think it may be necessary to snap the child out of something. Yes, there are gentler ways. Yes, a dialogue is ideal. And so I think this should be some sort of a last resort. I liked what you wrote: “I must admit that I am of two minds: as long as spanking remains exceptional, doesn’t hurt or humiliate, I believe that it is not that big a deal, and can actually reinforce an important rule. ” I believe I can stand by that. And as someone who was spanked as a child, I’ll say that I’m okay. Sure I’m a bit neurotic, but I can’t attribute that to spanking. Overall, I’m normal and definitely not scarred.

    • I would like to think that I am normal too. That said, I must admit that since moving to the UK I agree with the gentler Anglo-Saxon approach. And the French way of disciplining children might not be seen as abuse by the french, but can be , IMO, far too violent.

  • Gina Miller

    Growing up in the Southern part of the US (Texas) spanking is definitely a part of our culture. In fact, my gentle, sweet grandma used to grab the “peach tree switch” from one of her trees (really) to snap me back into shape. The thing is it worked and she rarely, if ever, had to use it. With our daughter, we talk about a “pop” if there is something that needs to be addressed. That, again, typically works that pop isn’t necessary.

    To that end, it’s a distinctly different mindset in the northern part of the US, at least publicly, IMO.

    I prefer not to spank and use the “time out” as a means of discipline. But as most parents know, sometimes that just doesn’t work.

    • Being a parent is so hard! That said, I don’t think that it gives us the right to hurt our children. I told you, I have become British.

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  • Adele Armstrong

    I grew up in France and even the teachers did it. My teacher at primary school would give 2 choices to naughty childten ” une claque ou des lignes?” Which means a “slap on the face” or writing lines. On the face is worse than the bum but this shows what the culture is like. I’m sure the parents were fine with his technique! Needless to say every child always chose the slap as it was over in 2 secs unlike the lines!

    • Ah, memories! Have we been to the same school? I really wondered…

  • Martin Commuter

    My mother who’s half French was much stricter with me as a child than my British father who was very relaxed.

    • Why am I not surprised?

  • Tor

    Hi Muriel, this is a great post. I am was not brought up in a house that used smacking/spanking so it feels very alien for me. I have never been hit by either of my parents and so I have never hit my own child. It must be difficult for you to go against your own experiences and forge your own way in parenting, choosing not to use physical punishment but I greatly admire your decision and ability to do this. It’s very interesting to hear about your French upbringing as I have a French friend at my son’s school and she does use smacking occasionally and I hadn’t realised how ‘normal’ this was in France. I think your own perceptions of this type of parenting are informed by your own experiences. Tor

    • I think that moving to the UK gave me a different perspective, and I am grateful for it. I don’t want to think of what type of mother I would have been if I had stayed in France…

  • I love that you have broken the cycle. I was smacked as a child, not very often, but enough that I recall hating it. I just remember being scared of it, more than the actually receiving it. I refuse to smack my children. I do not want my children thinking that you can love someone and chose to inflict physical pain on them. I know it might seem like a long stretch, but I want my daughters to know if a boyfriend ever hits them it is black and white, it is never for their ‘own good’, or to ‘help them learn something’. I guess for me the lines are blurred from personal experiences, and I wont preach to others. What I will do is chose to discipline my children in ways that don’t involve smacking or slapping. Thanks for linking up. #Mummy&Us

    • Thank you for inviting me Mac. I have been swamped lately and not very good at linking up. Glad you ha the same view. I don’t think that violence helps.

  • Lisa@intotheglade

    Hi Muriel, my stomach was churning reading this. I was brought up by Irish parents who did regularly smack me. I have also been the subject of cold showers and no remorse. I cannot image doing either of those things to my daughters. However, I do agree about clear boundaries and I don’t agree with over praising. I am their mum not their mate too. But with regards to smacking, I take the English stance too x

    • Glad I am not the only one Lisa. And I am also glad that despite coming from different perspective/eductions, we arrive at the same conclusion…

  • I think I would have to agree with you on this one. Spanking, when done correct is proper. I was spanked as a child, not abused. Spanked. I don’t believe in slapping, nor would I condone dunking someone’s head under water, even if it’s just a tap. Also the place is important too. There is no need to embarrass the child. The purpose of a spank is not to inflict pain. It’s to get the childs attention and let them know they did something wrong. Also, the same thing does not work for every child. I have a neice for who spanking would NOT work at all. But if her dad looked at her sternly, she would suddenly realize she did something wrong and that was enough. As for my own brother. He didn’t care if he did something wrong. Being sent to his room was fine with him, as was standing him in the corner He didn’t mind. He’d find some way to entertain himself. But if he was told to stop what he was doing or he’d get a spanking. You better believe he stopped. Again, there is a difference between a smack on the bum and a hard slap across the face, or getting beat till the child can no longer sit down.

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