Sunday, February 26, 2012

What I've been reading: Bringing Up Bébé

A few weeks ago, Chris and I heard this interview on NPR's Weekend Edition. Some of the principles sounded like what we've been trying to do and the rest made reasonable sense. So I bought Bringing Up Bébé. In hardcover.

I finished reading it last night (it's a pretty quick read). This is one of the few parenting books that I have actually liked. For one thing, it isn't dry. She also doesn't claim to have all the answers or to be a "perfect" parent. The book is about her journey toward becoming a better parent, highlighting things she learned watching French mothers.

If you can get beyond the assumption that all French parents do things this way and all American parents do things that way, there is a lot of sense and even science backing up what she observed. And she even points out that she is making a generalization based on the parents she saw.

Some notes I took while reading:

  • The French way of asking if someone is pregnant is to ask "Are you waiting for a child?"- what a nice way of putting it!
  • The French seek balance. Being a parent is only part of being a person. Mothers should have their own identities. It isn't healthy to "be in service to" their kids.
  • Calmness during pregnancy. The French don't have a culture of fear, searching for every little thing to worry about. Instead, they try to be reasonable and understand what is truly dangerous (smoking) vs. what merely needs caution (not eliminating foods, but taking precautions like preparing their own sushi)
  • "Observing the baby", also known as "le pause" - French parents wait a moment before picking up their crying babies so they can 1) allow the child to learn to self-soothe and 2) have a better idea of what the child needs. This allows most French babies to sleep through the night at 3-6 months old. No Ferberizing, no excessive sleepless nights, sleep teaching rather than sleep training... and the science of sleep backs up this method!
  • Education rather than discipline: the parents see their role more as teaching their children acceptable behavior, guiding them, than punishing.
  • Babies have rhythms, but so do parents and families. 
  • cadre - firm limits but a lot of freedom within that frame
  • Kids are people!
  • Listening to a child doesn't mean giving them everything they want, but a parent can explain better if they understand the child's view.
  • In regards to "dieting", French women talk about "paying attention" rather than "being good" or "cheating". It's actually a healthier way to lose weight, backed once again by research. This is one of the issues that the author is a bit ambivalent and even a little negative about - the pressure for French women, or at least Parisian women, to be very thin, even just a few months post-partum. But, she does appreciate the philosophy and the fact that they will eat anything they want.
  • It is normal and good to be a woman, not just mom. And that includes being a sexual person. French women generally don't give over their lives to their children at the expense of themselves. They love their children but find balance and don't have to go to extremes to prove their love. 
  • "Good mothers aren't at constant service to their children."
  • "mom" is not separate from "woman"
  • French mothers don't overbook their kids, allowing them time to be free. 1 extracurricular as opposed to something every day.
  • Balance the needs of children vs. needs of the partnership: Sacrificing relationship and sex life for kids is considered unhealthy. Once the children leave, spouse is still there and need to cultivate that relationship.
  • Things that help the French do this: no or low cost child care (high quality day care, free preschool), low cost health care and college. 
  • In regards to food, parents must teach a child how to eat, so keep introducing new foods. Kids must try one bite of each food, then they can move on to the next course. (This fits with our "one bite" rule.)
  • Don't offer replacement foods. Don't react to rejection. Explore food beyond like/don't like: there is no such thing as "kids' food" and variety is good. Visual and textural variety are important.
  • French kids don't snack. Meals seem to fall nationally at 8 a.m., noon, 4 p.m. (only snack), and 8 p.m. Kids are actually hungry by dinner because they haven't been eating all day.
  • One positive she points out for American parenting is the sense of community.
  • Parents are not raising obedient robots. They have authority; authoritative does not mean authoritarian. 
  • Let children live their lives.
  • French parents and teachers don't praise much. Excessive praise can distort motivation. Overpraised kids can become afraid to commit because they are afraid of not succeeding.
As with any parenting book, you take what you like and discard the rest. And author Pamela Druckerman admits that she has adopted some of the French practices, kept some American ones, and is still trying to find a balance. I really liked that she admitted to still having issues, but that implementing some of these practices has helped with her 3 kids and her relationship with her husband. 

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