C has officially entered the world of needing parenting. My number 1 goal each day is not just to keep him physically alive, but now it’s to teach him how to become a functioning little person.
My general rule is to stay far, far away from parenting books, but recently there’s been a lot of talk about French parents and the book Bringing Up Bebe written by Pamela Druckerman. A friend started reading it and recommended it, so I picked it up from the library.
No parenting strategy is perfect and the French are no exception, but I thought there were a lot of common sense ideas that in general Americans have seemed to forget or have been guilted into not doing.
1. No mother is perfect – We are so hard on ourselves. I’m not sure if our culture is to blame or what, but moms let themselves feel guilty over just about everything. Whether they stay at home or work, formula feed or breast feed, and on and on. Druckerman reports that the French mothers she talks to don’t feel guilty about their choices. They trust that they are good moms and make the best decisions for themselves and their families. Beyond that, there’s no reason to worry, because there is NO SUCH THING as a perfect mother.
2. Kids are capable of a lot more than some of us think – A general philosophy that families in France seem to operate by is the belief that kids are rational basically from birth. This translates to speaking to our kids like the human beings they are. If my son is crying because he wants his food NOW, I should tell him that he has to wait because I have to make it for him. It’s not that he is magically going to stop crying – especially at first – but it’s just parenting with the expectation that he can understand. For example, C was playing today and had a big drool on his chin. I jokingly tossed the washcloth at him and told him to wipe it off. He actually leaned over, picked up the rag, and then wiped it off. He didn’t quite get it all so I told him to try again and he did. He is 15 months old and I don’t think this was some spectacular feat of intelligence. I just think he understands way more than I give him credit for. I feel like this translates to a lot of discipline issues. Sometimes it seems like parents don’t think their kids are capable of not doing certain things because they are so little. That age of “too young to understand” seems to be getting older and older.
3. Say No and mean it – I learned this one teaching middle school. If you don’t have any authority behind your ‘no’ then no one is going to listen. As a teacher I tried to keep a pretty upbeat attitude in my classroom. I wanted my students to enjoy their time in my classroom, but no had to mean no. If I wasn’t careful, it would be easy to spend hours arguing with students about why they should listen to me. The old mantra “It’s my classroom and we do what I say” goes a long way. Not because I want to control everything they do, but because we have stuff to do, I’m in charge, and I said NO. Not everything needs to be argued about. I think, as a gross overgeneralization, Americans are becoming afraid of the word no. I agree (and so do the French moms) that we should hope to spend most of our time saying yes to what our kids are asking for. However; that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t hear no. Structure and discipline are good for kids. Setting boundaries helps them feel comfortable and thrive in a setting they can trust.
A great example from the book is when Pamela is at the playground with a friend. They are trying to have a conversation, but every few minutes Druckerman’s son runs out of the gated area. She scolds him and puts him back in the sandbox, but just a few minutes later he does it again. The friend finally suggests that she just tells him no. Druckerman points out that she has been saying no, but he’s still doing it. The friend instructs her to say no with some authority. She needs to actually mean it. After a few more tries, the little boy finally stops in his tracks, looks at his mom warily and then goes back to playing. The part to note is that now the boy seems much happier. He no longer feels like he’s stuck in this area and trying to escape. Now he sits in the sandbox and plays with his friends. He can enjoy his time there and so can his mom. Boundaries are a good thing.
There were a ton of other interesting things. I especially liked the emphasis on teaching children how to wait. Waiting is such a valuable skill that I know I struggle with and would love to (and am now working on) teaching my son.
From Druckerman’s sources, it seems the major goal of French parenting is on teaching. Teaching children how to sleep well. Teaching them how to wait. Teaching them how to respect others. The focus isn’t on what the kids can’t do, but on how to do the things they should be doing well.
I strongly believe that mothers have intuition about what their kids need. Trust that first. Parenting books should always be taken with a grain of salt, but I would recommend this one. I feel the greatest thing I got out of it was the encouragement that I’m a good mom and it’s not only ok, but important for me to say that out loud. I liked most of the observations she made and I think it’s good to challenge your own views every once in awhile.
Have you read Bringing up Bebe? What do you think?