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

Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman
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Sep 11, 2012

really liked it
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Ch 4: "French experts and parents believe that hearing 'no' rescues children from the tyranny of their own desires...making kids face up to the limitations and deal with frustration turns them into happier, more resilient people. And one of the main ways to gently introduce frustration, on a daily basis, is to make children wait a bit."

"...the baby should fit into the rhythm of the family."

Ch 5 opens with a swim lesson story - the author wants her daughter, at 18 months, to learn to swim. The French instructor clarifies that the lack of specific instruction is intentional - the child is to "discover" the water and "awaken" to the sensation of it. This realization of philosophical differences is huge in terms of how the French view child development & learning.

Jean Jacques Rousseau - Emile, or On Education
Francois Dolto

"This pleasure is the 'motivation for life,'one of the mothers says. 'If we didn't have pleasure, we wouldn't have any reason to live.'"

"The idea of the cadre is that parents are very strict about certain things but very relaxed about most everything else."

"If babies understand what you're saying to them, then you can teach them quite a lot, even while they're very young. That includes, for example, how to eat in a restaurant." (Part of the author's initial impetus for the book was an observation was that her toddler couldn't eat calmly and patiently in a restaurant, while French children could.)

Dolto insisted that children have rational motives, even when they misbehave, and she said that it's the job of parents to listen and grasp these motives.

Story of 10 month old Bean (author's daughter) pulling up on a bookshelf and pulling down books. A French friend explains to the child that "We don't do that". The author is surprised when her daughter listens. So French parents have faith that their children can learn, and thus the children do.

Chapter 6: On the creche, the government subsidized (read: FREE!), high quality childcare. One of the caregivers in the creche discusses the cadre, the framework: "If we intervene all the time, they go a little nuts."

Ch 7: (On breastfeeding and the role of the mother) "For American women, the role of mom is very segmented, very absolute...In France, the 'mom' and 'woman' roles ideally are fused. (So for example, being a mom and being sexy are not mutually exclusive - the pre-baby identity is retained.)

Merry go round story: a French mother talks about taking her kids to the merry go round, and relaxing while they play. The author describes waiting to wave at her daughter each time the child goes around. The implication is that French mothers prioritize themselves and do not selflessly give everything to their child - they are entitled to have time to themselves as well.

On guilt: French mothers banish it.
"If your child is your only goal in life, it's not good for the child. What happens to the child if he's the only hope for his mother?"

Chapter "Caca Boudin": " the first years kids are very egotistical. 'They don't realize that the teacher is there for everyone.' Conversely, the pupils only gradually understand that when the teacher speaks to the group, what she's saying is also intended for each of them individually... aren't taught to read in maternelle, which lasts until the year they turn six. They just learn letters, sounds, and how to write their own names...learning to read isn't part of the French curriculum until...the year that kids turn seven....speaking (is the focus). The French logic seems to be that if children can speak clearly, they can also think clearly...a French child learns to 'observe, ask questions...adopt a point of view other than his own...(to) classify..." etc. Sounds a bit like Montessori.

On bonjour - this is of huge cultural importance! I recall this from my travels in Mexico as well: "Saying bonjour acknowledges the other person's humanity." This is SO true - I wonder what would happen if we Americans got back some of that old fashioned, Southern hospitality. Simple, and effective.

More on greeting: "(In American)I don't need the child's acknowledgement because I don't quite count him as a full France...the child greets, therefor he is."

And more: "It avoids selfishness." I.e. kids learn that they're not the only ones with feelings and needs.

"Saying bonjour signals to the child, and to everyone else, that she's capable of behaving well. It sets the tone for the whole interaction between adults and children."

In this chapter she goes on to discuss her daughter's bilingualism as she learns language - very interesting (like emphasizing the wrong syllable in 'salad').

She also notes the different themes and moral messages of English and French kids' books - American optimism, vs. French acknowledgement of complications.

More on the word caca boudin: "They don't forbid kids from saying it; they teach them to wield it appropriately."

Ch 10 - The Double Entendre
France's national insurance pays for up to 6 rounds of IVF for women under 43!!!!

The author, in her attempts to get pregnant again in her late thirties, takes Clomid, then tries acupuncture, then 'ups the ante' to some kind of injectable drug. There's a "charming" tale of meeting her husband on a business trip to time their procreation just right - apparently, her egg was a bit withered from a too long cycle. Then, finally - twins.

After a month of almost no sleep, the author and her husband are 'zombies'. They have a few nannies who help them out almost 24-hours a day. "I start to view mothers of multiples as a persecuted minority, like Tibetans."

Ch 11: "Some American parents I meet have adopted such specific diets and discipline techniques that it's hard for anyone else - even a grandparent - to take over and follow all the rules."

"Of course, it's easier to get along with your spouse if your baby sleeps through the night by three months old, your kids play by themselves, and you're not constantly shuttling them from one activity to the next. It also helps that couples in France don't have some of the big financial stressors, like high costs for child care, health care, and college."

The author's doctor prescribes her perineum reeducation classes. Once again, France's national health service covers the cost of a Kegel exercisor!! "Sacrificing your sex life for yours kids is considered wildly unhealthy and out of balance."

"French parents are strict about enforcing bedtime. They treat 'adult time' not as an occasional, hard won priviledge, but as a basic human need."

Commenting on the greater inequality among French men and women, the author is surprised to find that Frenchwomen don't seem as angry when their husbands don't help out as much at home: "Frenchwomen accept more the differences between the sexes...I don't think they expect men to rise to the plate with the same kind of meticulous attention and sense of urgency."

"Frenchwomen...take 21 more vacation days each year. France... has more institutions that enable women to work: national paid maternity leave, subsidized nannies and creches, free universal preschool, and myriad tax credits and payments...(which) ensures that Frenchwomen can have both a career and kids."

Ch 12: The reigning view in America seems to be that kids have finicky, limited palates...this belief is, of course, self fulfilling...instead of resisting this pickiness, the parenting establishment is capitulating to it."

How do they turn their children into little gourmets?

They don't feed babies rice cereal - they start with fruits and vegetables.

"Parents see it as their job to bring the child around to appreciating (the flavor of each vegetable)."

"You repropose spinach in different ways throughout the year; eventually they will like it."

The author reads, "The Man Who Ate Everything", and quotes him: "No smells or tastes are innately repulsive, and what's learned can be forgot." Part of the main point here seems to be that new foods are often rejected b/c they are new. Keep presenting them.

"She has to taste everything," one French mother says.

"I'm struck by how French mothers seem to have the day's culinary rhythm mapped out in their heads. They assume that their kids will have their one big protein heavy meal at lunchtime. For dinner, they mostly serve carbohydrates like paste, along with vegetables."

"Sugar does exist. And French parents know it. They don't try to eliminate all sweets from their children's diets. Rather, they fit sweets inside the cadre (frame). For a French kid, candy has its place. It's a regular enough part of their lives that they don't gorge on it like freed prisoners..mostly, children seem to eat it at birthday parties, school events, and as the occasional treat. When I try to limit the boys' intake of candy and cake at the creche's Christmas party, one of the caregivers intervenes. She tells me I should just let them enjoy the party and be free. I think of my skinny friend...who pays strict attention to what she eats on weekdays, then eats whatever she wants on weekends. Kids, too, need moments when the regular rules don't apply. But parents decide when these moments are."

"Chocolate has a more regular place in the lives of French chocolate when it's cold outside...served for breakfast...when sick... chocolate is a nutritional fixture for them (French kids)."

"At lunch and dinner I serve vegetables first, when the kids are kids come to the table hungry because, except for the gouter (afternoon snack), they don't snack."

Ch 13: It's Me Who Decides

"One of the most impressive parts of French parenting - and perhaps the toughest one to master - is authority."

A large part of this seems to be the belief that they will listen.

"Frederique (a French mother) has the same certainty that what's most pleasant for us parents - being able to have a relaxing chat at the park while the kids play - is also best for children. This seems to be true. Leo (her son) is a lot less stressed than he was half an hour ago. Instead of a cycle of escape and reimprisonment, he's playing happily with the other kids."

The author describes a French mother raising her kids in New York City. "She noticed that the same three-year-old girl who'd stopped conversation at Thanksgiving was developing an oversized sense of entitlement." This mother goes on to say, "The French way sometimes is too harsh. They could be a little more gentle...but the American way takes it way to the extreme, of raising kids as if they are ruling the world."

The author describes a story that another mother and father remember differently. The mother remembers a pediatrician being overly 'tyrannical', expecting her to simply put a reluctant toddler on the scale to be weighed; the French father recalls the doctor being matter of fact, clarifying that a parent needs to be sure of oneself when giving instructions: "You need to weigh the kid so you take the kid and put the kid on the scale. Period! Sometimes there are things in life you don't really like, and you have to do them."

French phrasing shows the philosophy: "You don't have the right to hit Jules," implies they do have rights to do other things; "I don't agree" establishes the adult as another mind which the child must consider.

"They listen and talk to their kids all the time...the adults who have the most authority all speak to children not as a master to a subject but as one equal to another...{A French woman goes on to say}: You must always explain the reason."

The French also use 'the big eyes', a variation on what I presume is my Irish Mother's 'the Look'.

More on the cadre (frame): "Being strict about a few key things makes parents seem more reasonable and thus makes it more likely that children will obey."

French psychiatrist, Daniel Marcelli, wrote "It is permissible to obey": "If you always forbid, you're authoritarian." The main point of parental authority is to authorize children to do things, not to block them. He goes on to say, "Submission demeans. Whereas obedience allows a child to grow up." So saying yes, rather than saying no and suffering by being forced.

"Sometimes you listen carefully to your kids. And sometimes you just put him on the scale. It's about setting limits, but also about observing your child, building complicity, and then adapting to what the situation requires."

Ch 14: from "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee": "The current trend in {American} parenting is to shield children from emotional or physical discomfort."

The French "don't believe that praise is always good". From also reading Nurture Shock, this seems to be the case. Way to go Frenchies, once again.


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