My review of Bringing Up Bébé
When I first decided I wanted to read a book on French parenting I expected to agree with a couple of their ideas. I already knew I liked the way they feed their children – encouraging them to taste everything on their plate but not requiring them to finish a whole plate of food with everything on it. I knew this developed a broader appreciation for food and encouraged children to eat as adults do (or should). I was not prepared to have my whole paradigm of parenting shifted in such a dramatic way.
The western way of parenting is not exactly based on Biblical principles, so we wanted to see what other cultures had to add to the subject. I found myself wishing that I had read this book three years ago. Being constantly bombarded by the literally dozens of parenting “philosophies” of American parenting, I often felt overwhelmed with opinions of how to deal with sleeping, feeding, disciplining and nurturing my children. I agreed with about 80-90% of this book. They definitely push their children to become autonomous – a little on the extreme side, but I feel like it’s still better for us than the micro-managed, hyper-paranoia parenting of the west. This was the first book (or article) on parenting that didn’t leave me feeling like a failure with a list of things I had to do right or my children would turn into psychopaths for some reason or another (okay, I’m exaggerating, but still…).
I loved this book. It is written with a dry sense of humor (one I personally can relate to) as Pamela takes you on her personal journey to find out what secrets the French have about parenting (since they apparently don’t think they’re doing anything special this took quite a bit of searching). I was afraid there wouldn’t be enough practical wisdom in the book, since it reads a bit like a novel in places, but I learned so much! She sites many studies, child psychologists, and book authors, as well as personal friends and acquaintances of hers. This book was a breath of fresh air. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders as I realized the freedom of just doing what seems to be common sense.
I would highly recommend you read this book if you’re looking for some direction in your parenting philosophy. We have been implementing quite a few of the ideas over the past couple of months and have already seen dramatic changes in both of the kids. Cliff went from waking still 3-4 times a night to just once or sometimes twice, by implementing their baby “meal times” mindset instead of feedings. We also have started speaking to him as a person (since that’s what he is!) and telling him when it’s time to go to bed, how long we expect him to sleep, and that we are right there waiting for him to wake up. I feel that too has made a big difference in his sleeping.
Olivia has also made huge strides. It’s hard to tell with her what is just maturity and what is changing from our new rule implementations, but the changes have been very evident. We can go out to restaurants without me feeling like a rag doll that just finished a marathon when we get home. She sits in her seat, she talks with us, sometimes she colors or does a simple activity that we’ve brought along, and she tastes her food (or most of it at least – we’re still working on it!) Greater than that are her strides towards autonomy. Just last month I couldn’t take her to a park or play date where she would interact with children. I had to be right next to her, encouraging her to go down the slide, or climb the steps, or walk across the bridge. It was more work for me to take her to a park than was worth it, honestly. She didn’t seem to enjoy it much, and mostly just watched the other kids play. This of course made me impatient, because she was “wasting” our time, so I would run her around and suggest things for her to do.
Since I have taken a back seat, she has totally opened up. Now when we go to a play ground, I sit on the sides, and after an initial introduction to something familiar to her (like a small slide), I sit back down and just watch her. Today she did the same mini slide over, and over, and over….I found myself getting bored of it and I wasn’t even the one sliding! But I held my tongue and watched – sure enough, as she got more comfortable there and at her own pace, she moved to the next thing, and the next, and by the time we were ready to leave, she was at the top of the biggest slide and had covered the entire play ground. I didn’t realize my micromanaging (in the form of loving, parental guidance) had actually created her fear and hesitation in these settings.
Here are some of our personal goals concerning parenting that have been influenced by this book:
- Treat children like people. (They are people! What a coincidence!)
- Give them a frame (or cadre, as the French call it) of unmoving, essential rules and allow freedom within that frame.
- Say yes unless their request may be harmful to themselves or others. Don’t say no unless absolutely necessary – try to teach them to ask what they want not control what they want.
- Don’t necessarily limit (healthy) desserts – allow them to enjoy their treat time and they will learn to limit themselves, knowing that it’s not policed when they do get some.
- Snack time one time per day (after nap time for us).
- Practice “the pause” with babies (allowing them to fuss for up to 5 minutes to see of they just need to re-settle). I so wish I’d known about this from the beginning with our babies! I would have saved us so many sleepless nights!
- Encourage them to taste a bite of everything on their plates, but don’t worry about them finishing it all. Talk about texture, color, taste.
- Be firm. Once no is said, do not alter the decision. Say no firmly and with the belief that the child will listen and obey.
- If they are happy playing on their own – leave them be! Do not interrupt their time (we do not want our time interrupted when we are busy). This teaches a mutual respect of persons and time. Let them play and enjoy life without always being involved (that said, do make conscious decisions to spend certain times with them while being fully present, but don’t micromanage their activity time).
Some main rules for our cadre:
- Respect others
- No hitting
- Say hello and goodbye to adults
- Obey adults (even if time is needed [like 1,2,3] at first to make the right decision)
- Speak respectfully
- Wait patiently
- Don’t interrupt (esp. when on the phone)
- Enjoy life
- Teach them to appreciate food (taste a bite of everything)
- Encourage them to play by themselves
- Don’t rescue them out of frustration but allow them to build a calm sense of satisfaction
We’re still building our goals and working on our cadre, but I am enjoying parenting for the first time. I finally feel like I know what I’m striving for and I don’t have to burn myself out to get it! We are gaining a healthier balance in our family that is good for all of us. Thanks, France :)
Have you read this book? What did you think?