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As a new parent, you may have already formed your philosophy on raising children, and started executing your convictions from day one. Or, you may be saying to yourself, “I’m supposed to have a philosophy?”
My husband and I fell somewhere in between these two scenarios. I had a vague idea about the types of food I wanted to feed my daughter (lots of fruit and veggies, no sugary beverages), how we would discipline (firmly set limitations with a meaningful “no”, but no spanking), and how we would sleep train her (modified crying it out).
This basically got us through the first year … so then what? I knew about the million or so parenting books on the market, but I couldn’t see myself powering through any of them, let alone taking all the advice they offer. Self help books have never been my thing.
Then I heard about Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. This is not your traditional child-rearing book. Instead, it’s one American mom’s story about bringing up her children (particularly her daughter) in France.
Pamela Druckerman’s take on French parenting isn’t just a collection of personal anecdotes, either. Although the book is peppered with funny stories and reads like fiction at times, Druckerman did a lot of research and backs up her observations with facts.
She also reminds the reader that many of the lifestyle and parenting choices made by the French (more specifically, Parisians) happen because everyone else is doing the same thing. There are a lot of rules and social skills that would be nearly impossible to teach an American child, simply because they live in America.
A good example Druckerman discusses is how the French teach their children to greet adults when they walk in a room. In France, this is considered a very basic courtesy, even more important than please and thank you. When a child enters a room, he or she is expected to say “Bonjour”. Not greeting a person is considered the height of rudeness. Here in America, not so much. Kids in France learn to do this early in life and are pretty consistent about it. This is partly due to the fact their peers are doing the same thing and every adult they come in contact with expects it.
So what else do the French do that’s so brilliant? Well, I’m not sure if they are brilliant or not, but after reading Druckerman’s observations, I’d say common sense rules over everything else when it comes to French parenting. Here are a few highlights from the book I found particularly interesting:
Sleeping: Right from the get go, French mommies expect their bébé to get with the program when it comes to sleeping. They believe it’s possible to teach a healthy baby to sleep through the night when he’s just a few weeks old. So what’s the big secret? Well, they listen and wait. That’s right, when their tiny infant starts to stir and cry, they wait to see if he’s really waking up to be fed or changed or if he’s simply fussing a bit before going back to sleep on his own. Druckerman calls it “The Pause.” She says French moms use “The Pause” right from the beginning, and observes that it’s pretty rare to find a French baby who isn’t sleeping through the night by four months. Hmm. Maybe they ARE on to something!
Eating: Oh boy, this one was a doozy. I’m going to be blunt: French parents are not putting up with the mac-and-cheese and chicken fingers menu that is omnipresent in American children’s daily diet. Most French children attend a crèche (a daycare) where they are served multi-course meals every day. Fruits, vegetables, fish, a cheese course and bread are all on the menu. Of course, the French realize kids are picky and their tastes can be limited. But unlike Americans, they see it as their duty to introduce their child to new flavors over and over again and make meal time a social, family event. If you only read one chapter of this book, this is the one to read!
Independence: Druckerman gives several examples of French parenting that illustrate a more relaxed attitude towards their young child. For example, they think nothing of sending a five-year-old on a weekend class trip. They also are less quick to praise. Certain behaviors are simply expected. If their child executes a task or behaves correctly, well … that’s what he was supposed to do. Unlike an American parent, they aren’t going to be heavy-handed with accolades or over praise for a small task.
So what did I learn from reading Bringing up Bébé? I like the common-sense approach the French take with their children. Do I think everything they are doing is perfect? No. For example, it’s fairly uncommon for women to breastfeed much longer than two or three months in France. We all know studies show it is much more beneficial for a child to be breastfed for a year, or sometimes even longer.
But overall, I was fascinated with French children’s eating habits, sleep patterns and the disciplinary methods French parents use. Give this book a read—it’s not an advice or self-help book. It’s observations and research about another culture’s method of child-rearing, and it’s fascinating.
*I was not compensated in any way for this review. I read the book and loved it!