Lessons from "Bringing Up Bébé" I Want to Implement as a Parent
Since becoming pregnant nearly six months ago, I've read exactly one parenting book: Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman. In fact, ever since reading about how insightful this book is on several on my favourite blogs before I even got married, let alone pregnant, it's been on my must-read list. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint.
As an American living in Paris as she navigates parenthood for the first time, Druckerman shares the differences she observes between French and American-style parenting. The American mothers who cater to their children - which isn't always a bad thing, but inevitably can result in chaos and a loss of parents' sanity occasionally - sounds all too familiar to parenting in Canada. Since we're geographical neighbours and share many cultural similarities, I'm going to go ahead and say that Canadian parents, in general, use many of the same tactics as our southern neighbours - a sort of universal North American parenting style, if you will.
Druckerman makes clear that French parents love their kids and want them to thrive every bit as much as North American parents. But, they also have certain expectations for structure in family life that typically results in polite, well-behaved, and well-adjusted children. While not every piece of advice is something I want to implement in my own family when our baby arrive, there are I many I do. And, even the tactics I won't be putting into practice are interesting nonetheless. Here are the bits I want to remember.
On getting your child to sleep through the night as an infant
This is possible, according to Druckerman, as it's common for French babies to sleep through the night by 3 months of age. The key is to observe your baby closely from birth to learn his needs and habits. Instead of rushing to pick him up and soothe him the second he cries, wait a few minutes. It's quite possible the he will settle back down into sleep on his own, and you don't want to interfere with his sleep cycle. Of course, if he doesn't settle on his on, you tend to him and identify what it is that he needs. But, quite often, babies will self-soothe and by not fully waking him each time he fusses, he learns to sleep through the night. This leads to a better sleep for both of you.
French babies, after about 3-4 months of age, follow an eating schedule of 8 am, 12 noon, 4 pm, and 8 pm. Not surprisingly, this resembles the eating schedule of older children and adults as well: breakfast, lunch, a snack, and dinner. By getting baby onto this schedule early on, you integrate him into the family's habits, which also makes mealtime - and your time in between - more enjoyable, as you don't have to cater to his whimsical eating habits.
Here's the trick: Young babies should be allowed to eat as needed, but after 3-4 months, start lengthening the time between feedings, starting at three, then 3.5, then 4 hours. When the baby gets fussy, take him for a walk or dance with him in a baby carrier to distract him until feeding time.
On always saying hello
As your child grow up, teaching him to acknowledge other kids and adults is critical. Here, four words are important: "please," "thank you," "hello," and "good bye." For the French, however, "hello" is of utmost importance. According to Druckerman:
Part of what the French obsession with 'bonjour' reveals is that, in France, kids don't get to have a shadowy presence. The child greets, therefore he is. Just as any adult who walks into my house has to acknowledge me, any child who walks in must acknowledge me, too.
Saying 'please' and 'thank you' puts children in an inferior, receiving role. An adult has either done something for them or the child is asking the adult to do something But 'bonjour' and 'au revoir' put the child and the adult on more equal footing, at least for that moment. It cements the idea that kids are people in their own right.
I can't help thinking that letting an American kid slink in the door without greeting me could set off a chain reaction in which she then jumps on my couch, refuses to eat anything but plain pasta, and bites my foot while I'm having dinner. If she's exempt from that first rule of civility, she - and everyone else - will be quicker to assume that she's exempt from many other rules too, or that she's not capable of following these rules. 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 (Pg. 156-157).
On independent play
Often, North American parents hover over their children. However, it's useful for children to learn to play on their own. So, don't interrupt your child when he's playing independently. Let him discover how to amuse himself, and even how to be bored once in a while.