Bringing up bébé


I have a friend who recently suggested an interesting read to me: Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, an American journalist who is raising her children in France and studies the art of French parenting. Not like that's a thing, such as French fries or French kiss. But it's fascinating (and somewhat common sense) the principles that the French follow while raising their children.

A few nuggets of French wisdom:

Children are not the center of your universe. Nor is it healthy for them to be. They are an integral part of the family, but they are not the center of it. So don't treat them like they're the king.

Teach your children to wait. Patience is a virtue, yet we Americans are so quick to respond to our children's every beck and call. What does that teach them? To be demanding and impatient. Instead, the French look for opportunities to delay their children's gratification, so their children learn how to deal with frustration and to distract themselves while they wait patiently for their needs (and wants) to be met.

Train your children to be polite. The French are militant about making their children greet adults in their company. It teaches them respect, and helps others see your children as people, not afterthoughts. I love this one.

Say au revoir to the kids' menu and goldfish crackers. Apparently, kids' menus don't exist in France, and you'll rarely see a mother pull snacks out of her purse. Children eat at specific times during the day: breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. And they eat the same things adults eat. Mealtimes are experiences built on discovery and enjoyment. The French support the idea that picky eaters are made, not born. I may have screwed this up with Liam, but I'm going to try meals the French way with Riley.

Set firm boundaries. Unlike a lot of us Americans, the French do not let their children run wild in the name of exploration. Kids are given very strict boundaries, but much freedom within those specific limits. Boundaries give children a sense of security and help them develop self-control; they prevent children from giving themselves over completely to their every desire. It seems like American parents give up all their power to their children to prevent "stifling their independence" or "breaking their spirit." Blah. Children aren't nearly that fragile. The French are living proof.

Let them be. Children need permission to discover who they are independent from their parents, and independent from who their parents want them to be. French parents don't hover over their children at the playground or rush to teach them their ABCs. They let their kids play by themselves and discover new things at their own pace. And their children are calmer and more confident because of it.

Strike an ideal balance between training and discipline. Better yet, call it éducation. That's how the French see parenting; they see training (and correcting) their children as a normal part of the child's learning process. Teaching their children not to color on the walls or touch the family antiques is just a normal part of daily life. And they spank their children. Not over every little thing, but over important lessons that must be learned. They don't apologize for it, either. 

Druckerman also observes how French women relate to one another. There are no girls' nights where women confess their many failures and shortcomings to get a resounding dramatic response of "Me, too!" They don't obsess over their weight or make lists of foods they aren't allowed to eat. They don't see pregnancy as an excuse to eat their weight in doughnuts, and they waste no time losing the baby weight (but they don't allow themselves to gain that much in the first place). They "pay attention" to their diet, but they don't drive themselves mad over it. They aren't negative and demanding or sit around complaining about their kids and husbands. And they are much healthier and more laid back because of it. 

I can definitely take a few lessons from the French and aspire to bring some simplicity and calm to my parenting skills. How about you?