I ended up reading Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing up Bebé at the perfect time. I was in the thick of my first trimester, down ten pounds and googling every little symptom with the word pregnancy or first trimester after, not to mention all of the pregnancy blogs and forums I was following.
Druckerman is an anglophone living in Paris with her husband. She struggled to fit in with other French mothers at the crèche and park as a young mom and noticed a stark difference between her daughter’s French classmates and the children she interacted with stateside. Bringing Up Bebé is an account of her studies of other mothers parenting techniques and how they differ from the way she was brought up in the US.
One of the biggest principles purported throughout this book is the concept of waiting, of not rushing into “rescue” your baby or child at the drop of the hat. If your baby wakes in the middle of the night and begins to cry, pause and see if they’re just between sleep cycles before rushing in. If you’re on the phone with a friend and your child needs a toy on the top shelf, they should be able to wait without having a meltdown.
Another thing the book talks about is that just because you’re a parent, doesn’t mean that that is now all you are. You don’t have to give yourself over to being a mom 24/7; with a mom body and mom style and no personal life. You don’t have to cart your kids to five different extracurricular activities after school if it’s making you miserable. Personally, I have the tendency to overdo things and get “extra” when given the chance, and this really reminded me that a happy woman makes a better parent than someone who is trying and failing at being super mom.
In regards to discipline, parents in France choose what they want to be strict about and are relaxed with everything else. Some examples being that if “bedtime” is at 8, a child must be in their room and be quiet, but they don’t necessarily need to be in bed. Or that a child has to try everything on their plate, but not necessarily finish it or like it. (In regards to food, French children only have one snack, at 4pm, and are introduced to foods over and over again as a part of public pre-schooling so they develop a good palette.)
I really liked how reading this book seemed to take the edge off. I might have still been camping in my bathroom, but I felt better about it. It helped me realize that taking medicine to help ease the nausea or wanting to work (at least from home) after giving birth didn’t mean I was failing as a woman or a mom.
We’ve all heard parents urge their little ones to say “please” and “thank you”; French parents do the same as well as “hello” and “goodbye”. I admit this is something I struggle with as an adult. I’m extremely introverted. In fact, some of my earliest memories are of me hiding behind my mom when being introduced to other children. I wish I had practiced saying hi as more as a young child. Saying “hello” and “goodbye” is not only respectful, but it also gives children the chance to interact with adults on an equal level as opposed to “please” and “thank you” which are used when asking for something.
Letting children play by themselves is a lesson well learned. A child who can entertain themselves is good at waiting, and there will be plenty of times when they will have to wait. Children should be free to explore their own imaginations, so when the wait at the restaurant is a little longer than expected, they’re able to self-soothe instead of pitching a fit. According to Druckerman, American parents tend to narrate their children’s play or have milestones and goals they’re trying to accomplish. Let kids be kids. This part resonated with me so much because I can definitely see myself drawing up milestone charts and freaking out if my child isn’t average or above. Just because I’m ambitious doesn’t mean my future toddler should be. I’m sure I will still definitely be checking to make sure my baby is crawling at the optimal time or whatever, so this was a good reminder to just relax and let my child grow organically.
Talk to your baby. Tell them what you’re doing. Ask them questions. There’s no need to use a baby voice constantly. Young children are wise beyond their years and deserve to be treated with respect. Our job as parents is to raise polite, independent members of society, and teaching them can and should begin early by example.
Take back time for you and your spouse each evening. All of the toys should be put away in your kids room by bedtime, and you and your husband should have time to relax and be adults each night without having to stare at puzzles or trip over legos. This goes back to your identity not only being “parent.” You and your spouse have a special relationship and it should be nurtured frequently.
Apparently the French don’t put a huge emphasis on breastfeeding. Maybe it’s my crunchy, California mindset, but this made me cringe! Breastfeeding is one of the things I’m looking forward to the most as a new mom. I’ll be devastated if for some reason I cannot. The blasé attitude regarding formula really rubbed me the wrong way.
According to Druckerman, the French aren’t big on praise. They save it for the big stuff. And while I understand that children should be proud of themselves without needing to hear compliments from an adult, my language of love is words of affirmation, and I can’t tell you how damaging this would have been for me to grow up like this.
Epidurals are very common in France. And while I wouldn’t judge and haven’t been through the pain of childbirth before, I can definitely say that I will not be signing up for the typical birthing assembly-line at the local hospital. Druckerman quotes some statistics about how French hospitals are typically safer than American ones, but I can’t imagine signing on for all the drugs and lights and room changes if I can help it.
All in all, I definitely recommend this book. I want my husband to browse it before our little one arrives (the chapters on sleep training seem so logical and too good to be true), but I wouldn’t want him to feel like he had to read the whole thing. Thankfully there’s a great synopsis at the end of the book where the author lays out her 100 French Parenting Principles. All the little anecdotes from her life really make the lessons in this book stick a little better, but I’m sure my husband won’t find them sentimental.
I don’t think that French parenting is necessarily better or worse than American parenting, I believe it’s different, and there are lessons to be learned from it. Parenting shouldn’t be a competition and the book is full of generalizations, but I’m glad I read it, and I will probably go back and read the 100 tips a few more times over the course of my parenting adventures.
If you have any questions for me about this book (or Kristin since she’s read it too!), please don’t hesitate to Ask a Bestie!