I just finished reading "Bringing up Bebe," written by an American woman raising her kids in Paris, gleaming wisdom from the French way of parenting. The author, Pamela Druckerman, noticed that the French children were much better behaved then American children, slept through the night earlier, ate a wide variety of foods, didn't consume the adults world and much more. She went on a mission to figure out what the French are doing right. The disclaimer is that not everything they do is the better, the culture is so different from us. But here are a few of my takeaways and quotes from the book.
- DELIVERY - pg 30 - "Very few women make a fuss about this (medicated vs non-medicated delivery). French women often ask where I plan to deliver, but never how. They don't seem to care. In France, the way you give birth doesn't situate you within a value system or define the sort of parent you'll be. It is, for the most part, a way of getting your baby safely from your uterus into your arms. In French, giving birth without an epidural isn't called "natural" childbirth. It's call "giving birth without an epidural." I had to laugh at this one. I am guilty of this, does without an epidural prove anything? No not really. But the cultural we live in places so much emphasis one way or another, like you love your child more, or you will be a better mom if you choose a certain route over the other. I know women who wanted no epidural, who ended up getting one and either felt defeated or like they needed to justify it. Just some food for thought.
- SLEEPING - It is assumed that babies will be "Doing their nights" (sleeping through the night) by the latest of 3 months old in France. Pamela figured out the difference was the "Pause." Not rushing to your baby every time it makes a sound, but learning your child's rhythm. You give your baby a chance to self-sooth, don't automatically respond, even from birth. Babies make a lot of movements and noises while they are sleeping, this is normal and fine. If parents rush in and pick the baby up every time he makes a peep, they'll sometimes wake him up. The French also understand sleep cycles, which last about 2 hours. It is normal for the baby to cry a bit when they are learning to connect these cycles. If a parent automatically jumps to the baby when they hear them cry, assuming it is a demand for food or a sign of distress, the baby will have a hard time self-soothing and connecting these cycles on their own. The baby will learn to need an adult to come during each of those cycle transitions and soothe them back to sleep. Babies do need to be picked up at times, but if you don't pause and observe them, you won't know for sure. Give your babies a chance to learn on their own. The French don't resort to "crying it out" as kids get older, because they have given them a chance to learn to fall asleep on their own. You only have until 4 months old to utilize the "Pause" method, after that bad habits have been formed. The "Pause" is what the author names this theory, for the French this is just common sense. pg 49 "When I talk to American parents about sleep, science rarely comes up. Faced with so many different and seemingly valid sleep philosophies, the one they ultimately choose seems like a matter of taste. But once I get French parents talking, they mention sleep cycles, circadian rythms, and sommeil paradoxal. They know that one reason babies cry in the night is that they're between sleep cycles or they're in sommeilagite. When these parents said they observed their babies, they meant that they were training themselves to recognize these stages. When French parents pause, they do it consistently and confidently. They're making informed decisions based on their understanding of how babies sleep. Behind this is an important philosophical difference. French parents believe it's their job to gently teach their babies how to sleep well, the same way they'll later teach then to have good hygiene, eat balanced meals, and ride a bike. They don't view being up half the night with an 8-month-old as a sign of parental commitment. They view it as sign that the child has a sleep problem and that his family is wildly out of balance."
- LEARNING TO WAIT FOR MARSHMALLOWS - Walter Mischel did a test on children (4-5 years old) leading them into a room with a marshmallow on the desk. He tells them he is going to leave the room for a bit and when he comes back if the marshmallow is still there, the child will get to have 2 marshmallow's to eat. If the marshmallow is eaten while he is gone, the child only get's the one he ate. He found "the kids who manage to wait very easily are the ones who learn to during the wait to sing little songs to themselves or pick their ears in an interesting way, or play with their toes and make a game of it." The ones who didn't know how to distract themselves and just fixated on the marshmallow ended up eating it. The French allow their children to "WAIT." It is even part of their vernacular. Instead of saying "quiet" or "stop" to rowdy kids, French parents often tell them in a sharp tone to "wait." Mischel believes that self-control has become increasingly difficult for American children. A mom who can't talk on the phone for a few moments because a child is pulling on her, has a child that has not learned to distract themselves, exhibit self-control and wait. The French parents don't explicitly teach their children distraction techniques, they just give a lot of opportunity to practice waiting, not jumping to their every demand.
- FRUSTRATION - French kids do not get everything they demand. They don't get the toy in the store because they throw a fit for it. p73 "French parents don't worry that they are 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. They also treat coping with frustration as a core life skill. Their kids simply have to learn it. The parents would be remiss if they didn't teach it." p. 84 "Do you know the surest means of making your child miserable? It is to accustom him to getting everything. Since his desires grow constantly due to the ease of satisfying them, sooner or later powerlessness will force you, in spite of yourself, to end up with a refusal. And this accustomed refusal will give him more torment then being deprived of what he desires." The biggest parenting trap is to think that because a child can argue will, his argument deserves the same weight as your own. You are the parent. The French are very strict about certain things but very relaxed about almost everything else. The create very strict, wide boundaries, then give their children a lot of freedom to roam in those boundaries.
- FRANCOISE DOLTO is a household parenting name in France. She doesn't have a "parenting philosophy" but has a lot of specific instructions. One principle is the children are rational people, babies understand what you are saying to them and you can teach them a lot, even while they young. She believed that children could absorb and handle limits, when a parent takes time to teach and understand their child. It is a balance between listening to children and being clear that it is the parents who are in charge. Dolto was excellent at raising her own three children (which unfortunately is unusual for parenting experts) and one thing her daughter talks about is her parents never made her do her homework, she was in charge of that, but she would be in "detention" for bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman (who is one of my favorite parenting guys) has the same philosophy that is so counter to what many people do. Kids are responsible for their homework, parents do not nag or remind them. Parents are willing to help if asked, but kids are in charge of it. If they don't do their homework, and their grades fall, there are consequences.
- GUILT - This is a passion of mine. I watch so many moms ridden with guilt. I am not sure where we learned this, but listen to the moms you know, guilty feelings are pouring out of their hearts. How many times do you hear a mom say "I am a bad mother" or make an excuse for some choice she made. p 146 "For American mothers, guilt is an emotional tax we pay for going to work, not buying organic vegetables, or plopping our children in front of the TV so we can surf the internet or make dinner. If we feel 'guilt' it's easier to do those things." French mom's are tempted to feel guilty as well, but they consider it unhealthy or unpleasant and try to banish it. One things that really helps French women not feel guilty is they are convinced it is unhealthy for mothers and children to spend all their time together. They believe there is a risk of smothering kids with attention. Of course there is a balance to this (like everything in life).
- MARRIAGE FIRST - Even American parenting books preach to put the marriage first, but so many couples have a problem actually doing this. p. 186 "The couple is the most important. It's the only thing that you chose in your life. You children, you didn't choose. You chose your husband. So, you're going to make your life with him. So you have an interest in it going well. Especially when your children leave, you want to get along with him." The French don't see quality time together as a couple as an aftermath, but as a top priority. The take time away (often extended) from their children annually if not more regularly then that. And they do it without feeling guilty.
- WORDS YOU SPEAK - p. 229 "French parents often invoke the language of rights. Instead of saying 'Don't hit Jules,' they typically say, 'You don't have the right to hit Jules.' The French phrasing suggest that there's a fixed and coherent system of rights, which both children and adults can refer to. It also makes it clear that the child does have the right to do other things." p. 229 "Another phrase that adults use a lot with children is 'I don't agree,' as in, 'I don't agree with you pitching your peas on the floor.' Parents say this in a serious tone, while looking directly at the child. 'I don't agree' is more than just 'no.' It establishes the adults is another mind, which the child must consider. And it credits the child with having it's own view on the peas, even if the view is being overruled. Pitching the peas is cast as something the child has rationally decided to do, so he can decide to do otherwise, too."
- INDEPENDENCE - The French stress autonomy for their children. Not that American's don't want the same, but many parents try to be as physically present as possible, to protect their kids from harm and to smooth emotional turbulence for them. p. 246 "The most important thing is that a child will be, in full security, autonomous as early as possible. The trap of the relationship between parents and children is not recognizing the true needs of the child, of which freedom is one ... The child has the need to feel 'loved in what he is becoming,' sure of himself in a space, day by day more freely left to his own exploration, to his personal experience, and in his relations with those his own age."