Maybe, I love Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman because my first experience abroad was as an exchange student in Paris my sixteenth summer. Maybe, I love how this American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting because one of my best friends from college is French and her joie de vivre (joy of living) is contagious. But I suspect I love Bringing Up Bebe because unlike Amy Chua, author or Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Pamela Druckerman fills her memoir with compelling research to support her claim: French parenting isn’t simply a different philosophy rather a different view of what a child actually is.
As an American woman married to a British man raising a daughter in Paris, Druckerman realizes not only are French children better eaters but they are also better sleepers and their parents are more relaxed. Essentially, Druckerman determines that while French parents are concerned about their kids they are not panicked. She believes this “calmer outcome makes them better at both establishing boundaries and giving their kids some autonomy…the French have managed to be involved without becoming obsessive.”
Maybe, it’s because ten years into this parenting gig I’m exhausted from always feeling like I could be doing more, better, but I find this French philosophy extremely appealing. Bringing Up Bebe explains while “American women typically demonstrate our commitment by worrying and by showing how much we’re willing to sacrifice, even while pregnant; whereas Frenchwomen signal their commitment by projecting calm and flaunting the fact that they haven’t renounced pleasure.” Furthermore, unlike American parents, whose children’s happiness often comes at the cost of their own, Druckerman notes that “French parents don’t worry that they’re going to damage their kids by frustrating them. To the contrary, they think their kids will be damaged if they can’t cope with frustration.”
Using her background as a journalist, one of the first things Druckerman presents is compelling information on the science of sleep, as the French employ the strategy The Pause to compensate for the REM cycles that cause young children to wake up intermittently throughout the night. However, Druckerman claims this idea of allowing your children to self-soothe actually proves to be part of a bigger picture. “For the French, teaching a small baby to sleep isn’t a self-serving strategy for lazy parents. It’s a crucial first lesson for children in self-reliance and enjoying one’s own company.”
Just as the French parent waits to see if a baby can put herself back to sleep the French child is expected to wait from a young age and in a variety of settings, especially when it comes to food. Druckerman reaches out to Walter Mischel, the world expert on delayed gratification in children, to explain the French’s success. Mischel concludes “that it’s about learning techniques that make waiting less frustrating.” While French parents don’t explicitly teach self-distraction, “they just seem to give [their kids] lots of opportunities to practice waiting.”
This is part of the reason French children eat so well. Mealtimes fall into a rhythm, with most people eating on the same schedule. “The gouter (the only snack at 4:30pm) helps explain why those French kids I saw at the restaurant were eating so well. They were actually hungry, because they hadn’t been snacking all day.” Couple this with exposure to fine cuisine in schools and it’s no wonder French children aren’t existing solely on chicken nuggets.
What the first half of Bringing Up Bebe boils down to is the idea of cadre. It means “that kids have very firm limits – that’s the frame – and the parents strictly enforce those limits. But within those limits, the kids have a lot of freedom.” My impression is it’s very similar to the Montessori philosophy, where personal exploration and expression are encouraged. Based on my nineteen years in education, I think this desire to blend creativity with boundaries admirable.
I’m so enthralled by this French ideal of striking a balance between your child’s rhythm and your family’s that I’m even intrigued by their national day care system (and I was a stay-at-home mom for eight years). Druckerman explains the French have recruited knowledgeable professionals (as well as talented chefs) to ensure that children from nine-months old on get not only a wonderful educational (and dining experience) but also the opportunity to have fun in a highly effective framework.
Ultimately, I find myself saying, “Think French,” before I direct my daughters. While I have no plans to subject them to a four-course meal, the concept of my children waiting until my phone conversation has ended for them to share their latest news is too wonderful not to embrace. Even my husband, who has wanted me to go “old-school” for a while now, wonders if this French philosophy might be the best of both worlds. Who knows? Maybe, by France’s Bastille Day this July, we’ll be celebrating our form of independence.
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Read my other blog Befriending Forty at http://befriendingforty.blogspot.com and find out what happens when the person you thought you’d be meets the person you actually became.