Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bringing Up Bebe, One (American) Mother's Takeaway

This past weekend I read Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up Bebe. Druckerman is an American expatriate living in Paris. The book is a well researched and documented story comparing middle class Parisian parents to middle class (mostly NYC) American parents. Druckerman is a fabulous story teller and the book was a fun read. I keep coming across parenting articles that cite her research or anecdotal stories. So I decided I needed to get it from our local library. Druckerman offers a lot of great advice (and criticism, she isn't totally head over heels with the French).

Here are five quick self help ideas I'm hoping to implement:
1. Pay Attention Druckerman dedicates a few chapters to health, but not just kid's health. She notices French women aren't nearly as obese as American women, and she also notices they do not snack. There are three meals a day (four for kids), and that's it. No snacking. Chocolate and sugar are not banned or campaigned against, they are just used in moderation. Druckerman believes this stops the binge culture we often see in the states. When she talks to a french friend about dieting the friend simply says she "pays attention." That was such an ah-ha moment for me. If I pay attention I won't eat snacks late at night or finish my entire plate when we occasionally go to restaurants. No secret diet, no banning sweets, just pay attention. I've been working on this and I already feel better about what I've been putting into my body (and when).

2. Autonomy French kids have a lot more freedom than their American counterparts. They go on week long field trips, stay with Grandparents in the country side, and play on their own at home and at the park. Druckerman also realizes French men and women have more autonomy than their American counterparts. She sees her own marriage improve when she decides she needs to give her husband more autonomy. There is a strong sense of community, but there is also a lot of room for the individual in France. Women aren't praised for sacrificing their lives and bodies for their families. They don't wear yoga pants in public (something I'm not ready to give up), because each individual has a style and a personality and that doesn't get lost in their many roles as mother and wife. More autonomy also means less pressure on kids. They can grow and develop into their own little selves, which improves behavior.

3. The Cadre French parents talk a lot about the cadre, or framework. I've always believed kids need structure to thrive. This is true in the classroom and in the home. Kids want boundaries. They test the hell out of those boundaries, but they do that because they want to make sure they are there. They feel safe inside the rules and the predicted structure of each day. Even though structure is already an important part of my parenting, Druckerman reminded me of the need to continue working on it. Our routines and schedules are always changing and I'm going to need flexibility as I help my kids grow and try new things.

4. Stop feeding guilt I first heard about this book when I read an article on guilt. In America many mother's hold on to guilt as a way to make them feel better. We think that feeling guilty about our mistakes somehow acknowledges our desire to do better, without really having to do any better. Somehow we've conditioned ourselves to need guilt in order to feel good about failed efforts. This is so nuts! French mother's know the perfect mom doesn't exist. Going back to autonomy, they don't watch their kids' sports practices. They don't sign them up for every activity the city offers. And they don't beat themselves up over it all. They know there is no perfect mom and they can't offer their kids everything so they don't waste time comparing their failings to others nor do they feel guilt about their short comings. I am not going to watch my children's sports practices and I am not going to feel guilty about it!

5. Firm No's Druckerman shares a couple of moments where French parents actually coach her. They don't do it to step on toes or make her feel bad, they do it to help her kids' behave. One moment actually comes from a woman who isn't even a mother yet. What Druckerman realizes is that the French work hard to maintain authority without being authoritative. When they say NO their kids know they mean no. One friend tells her she has to believe her toddler will stay in the sandbox when she tells him to (the friend coaches her through the whole process and soon enough her wondering toddler doesn't even think about leaving the sandbox). The idea that kids can behave is a big theme in the book. Druckerman notes the differences in the way the French approach development. They believe infants understand what you say to them, so when you tell them to sleep all night they sleep all night! In America we think tantrums are natural and we don't expect kids to behave well all the time, so they throw tantrums and don't behave well all the time. Ironically, Druckerman notes that American's want to rush their kids to each developmental milestone, but the French aren't rushing anything (or over-scheduling). It may not seem like this all goes back to firm no's, but it is all connected to the idea that my children understand, and if we both believe I mean it when I say no our lives will be much easier. This is the one area of improvement that is going to take the most work! Wish me luck.

Bonus! I'm going to pat myself on the back for the other useful bit of advice I found in the book, The Pause. In the chapter that discusses French children's ability to sleep through the night, Druckerman credits The Pause. It is the idea that French parents don't run to their children the moment they stir. They know sleep is noisy and they fully expect their infants to fuss, stir, and even wake up throughout the night. They do not run in and feed them when these inevitable noises happen. Even as adults we wake up between sleep cycles. We just don't realize it because we have trained ourselves to fall right back to sleep. As parents it is our responsibility to teach our infants to do the same thing. Of course, if an infant fully awakens and cries out for help you go to them, but you don't rescue them at the sound of every little noise. You Pause, observe, and then most likely fall right back to sleep, just as your infant does.

I love learning about other cultures and strongly believe we all have something we can learn from each other. I highly recommend this book, if you're into parenting and Europe and stuff like that. 

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...