Monday, March 12, 2012

Do the french have it right when it comes to parenting?

I just finished reading Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up BeBe and I need to discuss. I saw Pamela on the Today Show a few weeks back and instantly added the book to my library queue. (True, I have yet to get a Kindle and I still get most of my reading material in paper form from the local library, but that's another entry.) This book seems to be getting a lot of publicity in recent weeks, both positive and negative. 

Now I don't completely buy the fact that French children are always quite as well behaved as Druckerman describes them to be in her book, but I do think there are some good lessons to take from the French. Here are the main positive ideas I took from the book.

1. WAIT! - Children and even small infants can benefit by being taught to wait. In France, this is done gently over time and pretty much from birth. 

When it comes to sleeping - from birth, the French don't rush to pick up an infant who is making a little noise. Instead a French parent will watch and listen to see if they are really needed or if the baby will just fall back to sleep on his or her own. This makes a lot of sense to me. I have always been more of the type to rush in and try to console the instant a baby makes a peep. I think my reasoning is that it will be easier to get the child back to sleep if they can be soothed quickly before they fully awake. But I didn't really think about the fact that my interference might wake a baby fully that might have simply fallen back asleep on their own. 

When it comes to toddlers and older children - the French are very clear and consistent with children when it comes to interruptions. Parents give a lot of reminders to children that they must "wait 2 minutes", especially when parents are talking with other adults. The fact that French parents do ask children to wait from such an early age and so frequently seems to allow them the opportunity to finish a cup of coffee and a conversation with a friend without constant interruptions from children. 

2. Give 'em a little space - Parents in the United States have become famous for our "helicopter parenting". French parents seem to have a few important rules, known as the cadre, that cannot be bent, but within these rules children are given a great deal of freedom and power. French parents also recognize that children will make mistakes. They don't overreact about small acts of naughtiness which they call a betise. 

3. TRY everything on your plate - When it comes to food, the French do seem to have a bit of an edge. But still, they don't make their children sit and eat everything on their plate. They just ask that they try everything on their plate. Then, they introduce the same disliked foods three, four, or even twenty times. I usually try to reintroduce foods, but I have to admit that I give up on a vegetable if I've tried it three times without success. 

4. Lose the guilt - Amazingly, French parents, particularly mothers, don't feel guilty. At least that's their story. Most French mothers return to work around 3 or 4 months after having a baby. These moms also seem to have a social life outside of their darling children and claim to be really enjoying themselves. Imagine going away for a long weekend with your spouse and not feeling the least bit guilty. I definitely still struggle with mommy guilt and trying to "do it all" while feeling like I'm not doing a very good job at anything. The French seem to say, there is no such thing as a perfect mother or parent so why feel guilty. 

Now, there is also PLENTY in the book I don't necessarily buy into or agree with, but nevertheless, I found Bringing Up BeBe to be an entertaining and interesting read. Some of the ideas in this book have been around for a long time. I might have even known about a few already on some level, but reminders are always good since as an American mother of two young children, I am often sleep deprived and distracted. 

So, what do you think? Do the French have it right when it comes to parenting or are you an American parent through and through and wouldn't have it any other way? Or is it another culture altogether that you think really does it right when it comes to parenting? 

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