April 6, 2012

Book Review: Bringing up Bebe

So the library finally released the much anticipated and talked about book by Pamela Druckerman, Bringing up Bebe. I must say, it did not disappoint. I was a little wary because some of the reviews I read were not that favorable but it truly was a good read. It may be because I have a soft spot for the French, but all their practices made perfect sense to me. This lady moved to Paris to be with her love, ended up staying and raising a family in the city of light. She quickly realized there was a huge difference in the way the French were raising their families versus back home in America. Coming from a journalistic background, she set out to find out why. She is careful throughout the book to not side with the French per se but to simply acknowledge what they were doing differently.

Here I tried my best to summarize her points:


Pregnancy in the States is billed as neurotic - all the books, magazines, movies tell us to worry about every little thing that could harm the baby – don’t eat feta cheese! Don’t drink coffee! Don’t exercise too much! If your baby sneezes too much it may be autoimmune! Don’t let your baby sleep on her stomach! Don’t let your baby sleep on her back! It is all TOO much sometimes.

Also, it seems, given the large amounts of space magazines set aside for it, you need to pick a parenting philosophy - of which there are a dozen and stick to it heart and soul. Don’t even think about having a change of heart when you try the cry-it-out method or switch from Montessori to Waldorf. How confusing and ultimately detrimental to your child! Lastly, looking around it feels as though there is an unspoken competition to see who can sacrifice the most for their children.

This is all at stark contrast to what is advertised in France - the press doesn’t dwell on unlikely, worse case scenarios leaving most mothers-to-be calm and uninterested in renouncing pleasures. They believe that the 40-week metamorphosis into motherhood shouldn’t make you any less of a woman (no baggy sweatpants!).

The baby is treated as an adult. Babies are human beings and have rational thoughts right out of the womb. Respect them and they will respect you. Explain to them all that you are doing, much as you would to an adult – we are going to the store now, we are eating apples…They allow children to “awaken” and “discover” their surroundings on their own (vs America’s jump to speed up the stages of development – think advancement, meeting milestones on “time,” Baby Einstein.)  Children are allowed to explore life’s little pleasures in a sunny field or experience pain when getting hurt if you fall on the pavement. Allowing your child to feel these emotions will prepare them to deal with them later in life as well.

From the beginning, French parents practice “Le Pause” – that is, they observe first, then act. THIS WAS A BIG POINT IN THE BOOK. Allowing your child to cry for a few seconds as you determine why she is crying and how she is crying. Does she need to be fed? Does she need attention? Is she just frustrated and needs a few seconds to figure out the solution? Giving your child the space to discern their feelings is giving them the tools to do so later in life as well. A great example of this is when it comes to sleep. It seem in America, we need to pick a sleep philosophy (cry-it-out, family bed, nurse to sleep…) whereas in France they concentrate of the science of sleep.  The sleep cycle for most babies is about two hours – they may wake up completely and need food or they may just wake up briefly and fall right back to sleep (you will earn the difference in cries). You won’t know the latter if you are constantly going in every time the baby cries. They need to figure out a way to fall back asleep on their own accord and by giving them a minute or two, they will learn this invaluable tool.

The same goes for toddler and kid play. They do not have their children signed up for activity after activity. This is too much – kids must learn to play on their own, be bored…later in life there will be so much pressure to succeed that they allow their kids to find the pleasures on their own first.

  •  Around 3 months, life is back to normal. Mother’s get their identity back (body, schedule, pleasures)
  •  They take physical and mental time off (vacations away from kids every year, cafes and whatnot during the day) No guilt for taking time for oneself.
  •  Sacrificing your sex life for your kids is considered wildly unhealthy and out of balance.
  • The couple comes before the children. The child understands that he is not the center of the world and this is essential for his development
  •   J’adore cette baguette! Appreciating each other on a daily basis.
Meals in France are all about the pleasure of eating - sitting at the table with others, taking one’s time and not doing other things at the same time (vs the idea that meals are for your health not necessarily for your pleasure). If you eat for pleasure and allow yourself to eat delicious food no matter the fat content of what-have-you, you will find you are more satisfied earlier and you won’t have to eat so much. You won’t be denying yourself pleasure!

  • Eating for pleasure starts as soon as a baby eats solid foods. They introduce all sorts of veggies first (not rice cereal) and then fruits and so on. Experimenting with textures and flavors. Some kids will be finicky, but if you keep trying things, you will eventually come to like them. So try, try and try again.
  • Eating a meal means sitting down at the table – not on the go, not standing up, not in the car. To truly enjoy your food, you need to take the time to eat it.
  • “I’m not forcing her to finish, just to taste everything and sit with us.
  •   Four meals are served in a given day and served in courses:
    •  Breakfast (around 8ish) Fruit first then your toast or cereal or eggs.
    •   Lunch  (around noon/1)– Veggies first then main course (protein heavy). For the veggies think sliced avo, tomato in a vinaigrette or steamed broccoli with a dash of soy sauce or carottes rapees.
    • Le Gouter (snack for children) This is usually sweet – hot mug of cocoa with a baguette to dip, croissant, cookie.
    • Dinner – same as lunch but more carbs/veggies and less protein.

  • Very firm limits but within the limits, the kids have a lot of freedom
  • C’est moi qui decide – be confident in your decision and it will come out in your voice. It is you who decides, not your child. So when saying ‘no’ your child will know you mean it.
  • Instead of “Don’t hit Jules” say “You don’t have the right to hit Jules” or “I don’t agree with you throwing your food” Instead of dramatic punishments, focus on making lots of small, polite, preventative adjustments based on well-established rules. This gives the child a sense of responsibility regarding their actions, they have the authority to decide whether to hit Jules or not, but if you don’t agree with it, their decision is not the right one. But at least you allow them the opportunity to have a decision.
  •  Speaking with eye contact – just as you would any other person.
  •  Explain the reason behind it being forbidden
  • The Musts:
    •  4 magic words: bonjour, au revoir, merci and s’il vous plait (hello, goodbye, thank you and please)
    • speaking respectfully to people
    • no physical aggression
    • bedtime = adult time
    • saying 1,2,3 – respectful to the child, gives them a moment to process what is being asked of them

  • Teaching kids to wait – to delay gratification. Kids bake early on – by 3 you should be able to bake on your own (aside from using the hot stove). This gives the kid a sense of responsibility, accomplishment, confidence and how to control their urges. Instead of tasting the whole way through, they must concentrate on the act of baking and wait until it is all ready and time for gouter to eat.
  •  Family’s daily rituals are an ongoing apprenticeship in how to delay gratification.
  • Learning to play by themselves. Have to believe that a baby is a person who is capable of learning things and coping with some frustration. It’s a crucial first lesson for children – self-reliance and enjoying one’s own company.
  • Pain and disappointment is inevitable, learn to deal with it early one. “Making kids face up to limitations and deal with frustration turns them into happier, more resilient people. And one of the main ways to gently induce frustration, on a daily basis, is to make children wait a bit. They treat waiting not just as one important skill among many but as a cornerstone of raising kids.” In the French view, having the self-control to be calmly present, rather than anxious, irritable and demanding, is what allows kids to have fun. Developed internal resources to cope with frustration. They don’t expect to get what they want instantly. The way to wait is to self-distract but you don’t have to teach distraction techniques just give opportunities to practice waiting. 

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