February 22, 2012
This is a very interesting article I would like to share with you:
On questions of how to live, the French never disappoint: They’re all for liberté, so long as it’s stylishly tasteful. How to eat, how to dress, how to love—we all know, because they’ve told us, that the French have a distinct, and better, way of doing each of these. Maybe it all starts in childhood.
That is the conclusion that readers may draw from “Bringing Up Bébé” by Pamela Druckerman, an American writer who moved to Paris with her British husband 10 years ago and has had three children since. She experienced firsthand how French parents rear their children, and she came away impressed. She celebrates the Gallic method, a combination of unyielding expectations and an insouciant, hands-off approach.
In Ms. Druckerman’s account, no one in France ever purchases the French equivalent of a “Baby Einstein” video or attempts to teach a child to read at age 3. But everyone preaches the necessity of fixed meal times, including a sit-down lunch at midday starting with salad and ending with cheese. You’ll never catch a Parisian mother carrying around the Ziploc bag of Cheerios that clutters the purse of every American toddler’s mom. Snacking is a big non-non in France.
And few French mothers breast-feed their newborns for more than a couple of weeks—not because the women haven’t heard about the health benefits of mother’s milk for babies but because, one suspects, it’s so hard to look chic while attached to a guzzling infant. And in Ms. Druckerman’s telling, the sort of soul-searching about the downsides of day care that haunts American mothers seems not to disturb the typical Frenchwoman, who appears grateful to be able to get on with life by enrolling her newborn at one of the state-run day-care centers available in every city.
Ms. Druckerman has clearly gone over to the French side—the book’s subtitle is “One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting”—but the reader may wonder if the wisdom is really so smart. Maybe the author had no choice but to go native. It was that or face the disdain of her Parisian neighbors when her 2-year-old threw a pomme frite on the floor or raised a ruckus when told it’s time to leave a birthday party.
By Pamela Druckerman
(The Penguin Press, 284 pages, $25.95)
Even before the birth of her first child, Ms. Druckerman felt the pressure. When French women get pregnant, they are advised by parenting magazines to be happy, have sex, avoid putting on too much weight so that they’ll quickly regain their slim figures, and “above all resist the urge to borrow your partner’s shirts.”
When Ms. Druckerman learns that she is pregnant, in earnest American fashion she immediately starts worrying. She wants to be certain that she is eating enough for her and her baby to be healthy; she reads child-rearing books; and she is on the lookout for environmental hazards that might harm her unborn child. But when she asks in a restaurant if the Parmesan on her pasta is pasteurized, the French waiters look at her as if she’s crazy—she’s clearly out of sync with the local sensibility.
Only in the matter of infant sleep patterns may the French have a corner on bringing-up-baby wisdom. Unlike in the U.S., where numerous sleepless parents spend months taking turns rushing in to comfort their crying babies during the middle of the night, French parents are eager for infants to sleep all the way through the night by the 10-week mark. Better for baby, better for the whole family—no argument there.
French parents practice a kind of attentive listening: Rather than picking up the baby at the first sound of complaint, parents wait for five or 10 minutes, making sure that the baby is truly awake and unhappy. The child may be just moving noisily through the sleep cycle and on the verge of drifting back to dreamland. The French approach calls to mind the popular “Ferberizing” technique, shorthand for the method promoted by Dr. Richard Ferber that encourages parents to let babies gradually “cry it out” until they sleep. But in this country parents don’t usually Ferberize until a baby reaches 6 months.
In many ways, the French expect more of their children sooner than we do, as Ms. Druckerman reports. They are determined to counter the squalor and disorder of life with small children and preserve the “rights” of parents to enjoy adult existence. At the day-care center where she sends her 9-month-old daughter, Ms. Druckerman learns that the national parenting ideal is called the cadre, or frame. Children must arrive and depart at a set time; they must eat quietly at the table at the scheduled hour; and they must nap when told to nap. The rest of the time they can do whatever they choose, ambling around the playroom undirected. Ms. Druckerman wants to know: “Where are the music circles and organized activities?” She is told that children should be allowed to get bored—and learn to amuse themselves. Meanwhile, her daughter picks up a lot of French phrases in the command form: couche-toi! (go to sleep) and on va pas crier! (we’re not going to scream).
Though she admires French parenting, Ms. Druckerman finds that she can’t quash her American instincts. All around Paris, at playgrounds and parks, she notices how readily her French peers detach from their kids. “I’ve never seen a French mother climb a jungle gym, go down a slide with her child, or sit on a seesaw—all regular sights back in the United States and among Americans visiting France,” she writes. At a merry-go-round near the Eiffel Tower, a French mother describes how she mentally checks out for half an hour while her young sons ride: “I spend 30 minutes in pure relaxation.” Ms. Druckerman, when her daughter gets on the ride, spends the entire time “waiting to wave . . . each time she comes around.”
Many of Ms. Druckerman’s American peers will recognize themselves in that merry-go-round scene. It may not look cool, but it sure does feel good. And the delighted child waving back translates into any language.
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