Wednesday, August 20, 2014

To "French" or not to "French"

I'm not referring to kissing but to parenting. One of the books recommended to me the most when I was pregnant was "Bringing up Bebe": an American mom's account of what she learned from raising her kids in France. The book focuses mostly on what the author feels American parents can learn from the French: how to have a well behaved child. This involves things like getting them on a schedule young so they sleep well, not snacking in between meals, teaching them independence, and teaching them manners. I decided not to read a lot of parenting books knowing that too much information would actually overwhelm me. But based on the recommendations and some research I decided that the books I wanted to read were "Bringing Up Bebe" and a great companion book called "French Kids Eat Everything".  And now they are the books I recommend too! They really aligned with what D and I had wanted to place value on when we discussed parenting and they helped us formulate our approach. And 17 months later I think we've had great results. The Pepper is a pretty good sleeper, a very good eater, and a fairly well-behaved toddler (so far anyway!) Partly I think we just got lucky, but I also have to credit some of our parenting choices that were helped along with the info we learned in these French parenting books.

So I was surprised when I read this article discrediting a lot of what the book purported. To be fair, the article I think is more about what the author expected to happen vs the reality of moving to a new city with small children. But it reminded me of a conversation I had at a BBQ when the Pepper was about 4 months old. An expecting couple asked me and another mom what books we recommended and I of course mentioned the above. But immediately the other mother chimed in saying that the French don't really raise their kids that was and the book was a lie. And that's a fair topic for discussion but it was said in a way that was meant to dismiss my recommendation. It was something I didn't appreciate. And it missed the point.

The point was that these books were helpful to us. Whether they are accurate or not to how the majority of French parents run their families doesn't really mater to me. The ideas and suggestions within helped D and I be what we considered to be better parents. I didn't think the books would solve all our problems. I didn't think they would create a perfect kid. And I knew that they couldn't make parenting easy. But they talked about parenting in a way that made a lot of sense to D and I and therefore the books allowed us to have conversations (and continue to have conversations) about how we want to handle various aspects of parenting. And in this way they did make parenting easier for us: by providing us a "parenting philosophy" we could get behind and use as a guide.

An example of something we took from the books: getting our baby on an eating schedule. The book claims that French kids eat at regular times  (8am, 12pm, 4pm, 8pm). And this applies to babies. The idea being that they learn to go longer without food and this helps them sleep. Once they get older the lack of snacking means that they eat well during meals (which tend to have a more robust nutritional options) and can participate in mealtime as a member of the family. This worked great for us. By about 4 or 5 months old the Pepper was eating 4 times a day and she still does to this day. This means that she was also pretty much sleeping through the night by that time as well. Had D and I not read "Bebe" we wouldn't have thought of this on our own but it really brought sanity to our household during that chaotic first year as parents. And if you want additional info on how to get your kid on a schedule I can also recommend "Twelve Hours' Sleep By Twelve Weeks Old". I know some people thought we were nuts to be so "rigid" with our kid but it meant we were all happier (and more well rested!).

So, I still recommend these books to people who want to read out parenting. Even if you don't want to get your kid on a schedule maybe you'll like their approach to saying "no", or manners, or meal planning. I can't speak to it's ability to turn your kids into perfect French children, but it has some good tips for people who want to take a balanced approach to parenting.

Did you guys read the books? Anything you took from them?

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