I just finished reading Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman and since I am dying for content I have decided to share my thoughts on it with you! Lucky!
The author and her husband are raising three young children in Paris. She is American and he’s a Briton, their kids are bilingual, and their parenting style is very American. Pamela wants to know why her children act like wild animals and make absurd demands, act out at meals, and generally misbehave, while French children seem so mild-mannered and respectful while still being lively and well, child-like. She observes her neighbors, her daughter’s classmates, and even meets with professionals for an insight into the alluring world of French parenting. The basis of French parenting is the cadre, which simply means framework or foundation- in essence, structure. Everything revolves around it. But how does Pamela, and all French parents, master this?
Apparently, French parents are strict, but not in the same way that Americans think of when the word strict is used. There is mutual respect, authority but not authoritarian, and education- not corporal discipline. When a child acts up, the parent will use it as an opportunity to teach a lesson to the child. This isn’t being passive- it’s explaing to the child why he or she is in trouble and what the consequences of his/her actions are. French kiddos still get sent to time-out and a few parents even spank their kids (but it seems like it doesn’t happen in public much according to the author). Children are treated like rational human beings, who are capable of understanding reason and logic even at birth. French parents are constantly talking to their kids, explaining the world around them, teaching them. I am pretty sure that most American parents do this too, non?
What French parents do that we American parents don’t is to teach our kids to wait. From the time a child is just a few weeks old, the parents begin to back off, giving the child a moment before checking on the crying baby. Often, the baby is between sleep cycles and, if left alone, will fall back to sleep without rocking or a feeding. Brilliant, right? I can’t imagine a mom (or dad) allowing a newborn to cry for more than a minute or two but it sounds like the French standard is five to ten minutes. That seems harsh to me, especially for a very young child. Not only do they wait to pick up a crying child, they make the child wait for everything. Immediately satisfying a child’s want or need, according to the author’s research, will cause a child to become entitled and demanding and one who will throw a tantrum when he or she isn’t immediately satisfied. I agree with this, to a degree. When a child starts whining about a toy, do you immediately hand it to him/her? Are we rewarding undesireable behavior? I’m sure most of us do because we hate to see or hear our little ones (or big ones) cry.
Another thing French parents aren’t big on is praise. Apparently, applauding even the littlest achievements is unheard of in France. I think it’s possible to over-praise kids but I love doing a little cheer when Avery poops in the toilet (something we’ve been struggling with- she’s super stubborn), clapping when she writes her name, telling her she’s being really good and letting her know I appreciate her when she’s behaving. What’s wrong with that? I want her to know how much I love her and how proud I am of her and there is no harm in that.
One thing I loved about the book is how French parents feed their children. It seems like the national meal schedule is 8am, noon, 4pm, 8pm. That’s right. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner. I think that, in this country, we are constantly feeding our kids snacks. We give them food to keep them quiet in the car, church, everywhere. I’m not a fan of this practice but I’m guilty of doing it. When your kid is a baby you nurse or bottle-feed every couple of hours and once the child outgrows that stage, we keep them on the every-two-hours schedule with snacks. Our kids don’t need to eat this much! When Avery refuses to sit at the table and eat dinner with us it frustrates me and I feel like she is out of control. But, why won’t she sit down and eat?
Because she just had a snack and probably a cup of milk at her sitter’s a couple of hours prior to the meal. Great. She’s full of cheese and crackers and has no desire to eat grilled chicken and asparagus. I love the idea of ditching random snacks and grazing and will be implementing this in my own home once the baby is born. Now, I will be nursing the baby on demand which is something French moms don’t do. Their milk dries up and they’re surprised by this? You can’t nurse a baby a few times a day and expect to maintain a decent supply.
How a child behaves at the table reflects how he or she acts the rest of the time. There are luxuries that the French have that we don’t- socialized child care, for example. Their day care centers are inexpensive and run by well-trained, college-educated caregivers. You think your Kinder-Care down the road can compare? The vibe of French parenting is this, in summary: Be strict, but not about everything; give them freedom and love and teach them to be patient and that being frustrated sometimes is just a part of life.
Bringing Up Bebe is a quick read and one that, even if you don’t necessarily agree with the principles, you’ll still enjoy learning about another culture. The French have a harsh reputation and it’s certainly one they’ve earned. But there’s no doubt that they love their kids like we Americans do.