Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman
So, I just finished this book while traveling with my 2 year-old and nearly 7 months pregnant with #2. I have to say, I really enjoyed it and found it fascinating. American parenting is out of control. I know I am not alone in thinking this. The fast paced, high pressure, child centered culture is making us all nuts. Shortly after I had my daughter, I read Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness. I recommended this book to everyone I knew- SAHM and working moms alike. Turns out, most of my friends did not care for it or even finish it. They told me it was too depressing. I think that Bringing up Bebe has a much more positive and proactive spin on the same basic concept that our modern parenting culture is taking away from the joy of raising children and doing our children a disservice.
The stereotypes are the thin calm French mother with well-behaved children that respect her and the overweight or anorexic, depressed and anxious American mother who puts her children FIRST and has impatient, rude, picky-eating children who hit her. Of course these are nothing more than stereotypes, but it does sound kind of familiar.
The book highlights what the French do differently and the reasoning behind it based on philosophers like Francoise Dolto and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
They do not sleep train or babywise their children, they do not struggle with “crying it out”. They simply PAUSE before they pick their infants up. If the child is making noises, or starting to cry, they wait for a minute to assess what is going on. Is the child stirring between sleep cycles or cold or truly hungry? I know in the middle of the night all my infant daughter had to do was grimace and I was stuffing my boob into her mouth so that she might nurse and go back to sleep as soon as possible. I did everything in my power to prevent her from crying and getting worked up. In hindsight, maybe I trained her to eat every 2 hours when she might have just fallen back to sleep on her own.
They do not narrate their children’s play. They let them play by themselves. They let them run around the playground, rather than climbing up the equipment behind them. They let the children play with other children and do not stress out about who is sharing and who is not. They value children who can entertain themselves and give children the chance to learn to play by themselves by not interrupting them when they are engaged in an activity with comments and observations. They let their children explore and awaken as individuals. They let them try by themselves and they let them fall.
They let them get hungry. In general, French children eat 3 meals a day with one afternoon snack. If they are hungry before then, they are told to wait until the next eating time. Imagine the freedom of not caring around a purse full of snacks and it being acceptable to say, “sorry you are hungry, we will eat lunch at noon”. The French parents allow their children to have candy and chocolate- but all in moderation and only at certain times of day. You cannot have a cookie when you see one, but you can save it and have it at your snack time. Sweets are not rewards or given only when you finish your vegetables, they are given just as any other course. If a child refuses a particular food, parents are encouraged not only to keep introducing it as American parents do, but also to vary the cooking style and seasoning. Children are not forced to eat, but they are strongly encouraged to try everything. This reminds me of the “the parent chooses the food and the meal time and the child chooses to eat or not eat ” philosophy that many of the parents I know practice.
The French parents are the authorities in the household and the children understand that. Their world is predictable and coherent which results in confident and content children. There is a focus on being courteous to others- this is less about “please and thank you” as it is saying “hello and good bye” and greeting adults even though it might be uncomfortable for the shy child. They are very strict about a few things and relaxed about everything else. For instance, the child can choose her clothes, choose her DVD, but cannot chose her dinner or her bedtime. The parent is ultimately “the one who decides” and the child cannot do “whatever they like”. The French parents also practice the wide eyes. I laughed reading this, because my mother also raised me with the wide eyes. When we were in public, if I was being sassy, rude, or not behaving, my mother only had to look at me with her “wide eyes” and I knew she meant business. She never had to raise her voice or explain to me what I was doing wrong. The wide eyes meant one thing “I am the boss and I do not approve!” So, its not about time outs or spankings or 123s. It is about the natural hierarchy in the family. It is simply about believing that you as the parent have the authority over your children and once you believe it, your children will as well.
So- long and short- I will certainly be trying “the pause” with my next infant. I will no longer feel guilty about letting my child eat chocolate, as I believe that it has its place in our diet. I have already started practicing my “wide eyes”. But in reality, it is challenging to apply a counter-culture parenting philosophy in America. It is hard to explain to your child why they are the only ones without an iPad or portable dvd player at the restaurant. It is hard to explain to them that it’s not time to eat when every child you see seems to be strolling around with a sippy cup in one hand and a Ziploc of something in the other. At best, after reading this book you can free yourself of the guilt-inducing hyperparenting surrounding you and pick up some fresh ideas about what it means to be a parent. At worst, you will be berating yourself for not being in skinny jeans and serving your child braised sole for dinner.