Bex's Reviews > Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman
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Aug 30, 12

bookshelves: europe-culture
Read in June, 2012

I wrote this review originally for friends that were pregnant or new parents, realizing I enjoyed the book, and perhaps my friends who might also enjoy it may not have the luxury of free time to read the whole thing. Here it is:

I was so entranced with this book on how parenting happens in France, that I decided to make a short summary of the points from the book. Hope this is helpful, and if it piques your interest, there are some links below!

Points from the book Bringing Up Bébé:

1. "The Pause": French babies start sleeping through the night at 2-3 months old, often. The instinctive technique is this: when a baby finishes one two-hour sleep cycle, they might wake up, even startle or fuss for a minute. By enacting "the pause", one gives the baby a chance, be it a minute, five minutes, to possibly self-soothe. It's a reinforcing cycle, so even one instance of self-soothing is an experience that tiny baby builds on, increasing the chance they might self-soothe in the future! Leaping to a baby's side the instant they cry leads to the infant being unable to self-soothe, and makes them rely on an adult to transition from cycle to cycle of sleep.

2. Food is Not a Toy: In adulthood, French folks eat breakfast, lunch, possibly a 4pm coffee, and dinner. They do not, as a people, snack. For children, the 4pm time is a snack, a "goûter". The French cook together as a family a lot, eat together as a family, and instill the importance of sitting together, enjoying quality family time at the dinner table. Kids might make a cake with their parents on the weeknds, or in the evenings, but they don't eat that cake treat until it's snack-time at 4pm. Food isn't used as a pacifier. As a result, when it's mealtime, kids are earnestly hungry! Also, kids are eating pureed versions of vegetables, and good-quality cheeses from early childhood. Food is an adventure. There is no forcing of any food, but one introduces various new foods to a small child seamlessly, and if they turn up their nose, it's non-chalantly noted, and reintroduced another time. Discussions of texture, of flavor, abound, between adult and child.

3. Neurosis isn't Adorable: In France, being neurotic isn't a charming quality. One mother notes, neurosis is a problem one goes to therapy for, to solve, to seek treatment for a pathology. I hadn't realized how much we accept, and even champion, neurotic, micromanaging behavior. I was surprised to reflect on this. and realize I do not want to idealize neurotic behavior!


4. La cadre, or The Frame: there are a few principles valued highly and rigidly enforced. Outside of that, the French have a light and lenient hand in child-rearing. The main points of the French frame of discipline are: recognizing other people as fellow humans (saying "hello" and "goodbye" to individuals one meets, upon meeting them, and upon entering and leaving their homes); being sage, or being calm in situations; obeying one's parents when they tell you "no". The French say yes to many things, so when they say "non", it is with good reason. Setting boundaries makes for happier kids, and happier parents.
Related to the cadre:

5. The bêtise is a French term for a small act of naughtiness. There isn't much of an equivalence in English. So many American parents chastise their kids for bêtises, that such chastisement starts losing its value! French parents understand that kids will have bêtises, and one rolls with them. If it is not a major faux pas, it is not worth a major upset!

Links and resources, and quotes from _Bringing Up Bébe_:

Michel Cohen, MD, champion of babies "doing their nights" in TriBeCa, NYC, and generally a proponent of French awareness and laid-back attitude. His practice is in NYC : The New Basics

Dr. François Dolto, considered as famous in France as Dr. Benjamin Spock was in the States for her positions on child raising and awareness of babies. Psychoanalyst, pediatrician, child-rearing radical of the 1960s and 70s.
Proposed that one should talk to children like they are human beings, and the notion that even babies can understand when they are told something, or have some concept / desired result explained to them. Her research and advice seems to have been borne out in modern research, and puts a strong value on the humanity of children, and their sentience as they are.

Dr. Jean Piaget, Swiss psychologist, developed theories of child development stages, shared them with American audiences.

(the below is a quote from Bringing Up Bébé:)
"After each talk, someone in the audience typically asked him what he began calling The American Question:

" "How can we speed these stages up?" Piaget's answer was: Why would you want to do that? He didn't think that pushing kids to acquire skills ahead of schedule was either possible or desirable. He believed that children reach these milestones at their own speeds, driven by their own inner motors."

The American Question seems to encapsulate the difference in viewpoint of many American parents from French parents. To Americans, there seems to be a competitive sense that one's child is an extension of one's own accomplishments, and to have a highly advanced child reflects well on one's self, like having some prize cattle. The competitive nature of American parents on a playground seems to bear this out!

Jean Rousseau is mentioned as the underlying philosopher behind the notion prominent in France that children "be given space to let their development unfold naturally", with a strong emphasis placed on the idea of "discovering" the world around one's self. Swim lessons for small children involves "discovering" the water, more than actively trying to swim, for instance.

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