Remembering the Early Days
It’s been a long time since I had a baby. My youngest will be 16 in a few weeks (and just got his driving permit today – yikes!). So why I decided to pick up a book my son Brock was reading to complete an assignment in one of his education classes is beyond me. But for some reason, Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing up Bebe: One American Woman Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, called to me.
The bigger mystery is why I proceeded to read the entire thing rather than just flip through it, but read it, I did.
My Guilty Secret
The funny thing is, as I read about the French way of parenting, I recognized a lot of my own parenting in it. Maybe that was why I read the whole thing – sort of confirmation that I didn’t completely stink as a mother.
As I said, I’m long past the days of diapers and sippy cups and toddler tantrums. But here’s my guilty little secret – when I look around at everything mothers do with and for their kids now I feel a tiny bit guilty. Like maybe I wasn’t engaged enough or intentional enough.
The truth is, I’m a whole lot more like the French mothers described in Bringing Up Bebe than many of the American moms I see and ready about today.
Mothering Has Changed In Recent Years
I hang out a lot in the blogosphere. I blog. I have friends that blog. I read blogs. And one thing I’ve noticed is that motherhood has become sort of a competing sport.
The pressure on moms is enormous and the guilt that goes along with it is also pretty huge. From throwing the perfectly, pinterest-worthy birthday party, to cooking organically from scratch, to bubble wrapping their child’s apparently fragile esteem, it’s no wonder exhaustion is rampant.
In fact, it’s become kind of a badge of honor to say how exhausted you are, how few hours you’ve slept and what a complete wreck your house is. Why? Because by not focusing on anything but your kids, you’re winning at this whole motherhood competition.
The French Are Doing It Differently
It’s not like French parents aren’t into reading their kids books or giving them lessons or letting them play sports. But French parents have kids who eat normal foods, sleep through the night by 3 or 4 months and seem relatively well-behaved in public. French parents have actual lives. They sleep and have sex and do fun, adult activities without children tagging along. (On a sidenote – for YEARS I tried to have a New Year’s Eve party with just adults, and never once managed it in about a 10 year span. I finally gave up and just invited families instead).
While I can’t say either of my boys are foodies, I also have never been a short order cook. The other things, I can say WERE true about my kids (well, besides that unfortunate year when Brody decided to assert his desire to rule the world. He took a bit of convincing that he actually wasn’t the next Mussolini).
Bringing Up Bebe is about American Pamela Druckerman’s own experience having and a daughter and then twin boys in Paris where she lived with her British husband. It didn’t come easily, but the book is both informative and entertaining as she shares her fumbling attempts to figure out what the French were doing differently. And then her more fumbling attempts to imitate them. This is not a Christian book, but it is so full of commonsense wisdom, I had to review it!
My 5 Top Takeaways From the Book
- Babies aren’t just blobs. The French believe babies are sentient humans from birth. They believe babies are rational and can communicate (sort of) what they are thinking and feeling. Suggestion: Talk to your baby in a normal tone, and be polite. Let the baby know what you are doing and why. It will probably feel a bit silly. On a funny sidenote, the book describes the French’s penchant for giving a new baby a tour of their new to them home. I have an actual recording (on an ancient VHS tape) of me taking Brock around our tiny apartment and “showing” it to him. True story.
- Babies can sleep through the night at a relatively early age (or permanent sleep deprivation isn’t a badge of being a good parent). The French call it “doing his nights.” They believe that a baby has to learn how to connect his or her sleep cycles. So, when a baby wakes up and starts to fuss a bit, they pause for about 5 minutes to see if the baby will go back to sleep. Babies are notoriously restless sleepers, sometimes thrashing all over the crib, but often, they aren’t really awake. Sleeping like a baby is a very misleading cliche! If left to themselves, they will often transition into the next sleep cycle. The French also tell their babies why they need to sleep and how confident they are in the baby’s ability to do just that. (see above)
- Kids don’t actually need kid foods. Yes, the French use pureed foods, but they start with flavorful veggies, not bland cereal. They see it as their job to cultivate a wide palette in their children. They also do not allow their children to snack continually throughout the day. Go to any American playground, and baggies of puffs and yogurt dips and all manner of food is on display, but at French playgrounds, they are conspicuously absent. The French also get their baby on a eating schedule that closely mirrors the family’s eating schedule pretty quickly. This means 3 meals plus one snack each day.
- Children have the ability to be patient. The French believe coping with frustration and delaying gratification (see above on snacks) is something that every child has the ability to learn. Patience is expected and calm is desired. French parents teach their children accordingly. French parents have a philosophy of very firm boundaries but then giving their children a lot of freedom within those boundaries.
- Children are encouraged to be independent. In France, children often go on week-long overnight field trips away from home at young ages like 6 or 7. Parents also place their children in public daycares as infants. They are called the creche and are staffed by highly trained professionals.
- In France, there isn’t a smorgasboard of parenting styles and philosophies. Everyone generally sticks to the same formula, including the daycares, preschools and schools. They do this because it works. Children know what is expected and usually live up to that expectation.
After reading Bringing Up Bebe, instead of guilty, now I feel a tiny bit like I was ahead of the trend. What is your favorite parenting book? I’d love to hear about it!