Obsessed with French parenting

I don’t often like to read books about what I’m already doing 24/7 (ie. parenting — or, last year, being pregnant). But I kept coming across this memoir called Bringing Up Bébé by American journalist Pamela Druckerman, about her experience raising kids in Paris and the vastly different approach French parents have when it comes to child-rearing (and I don’t just mean feeding croissants to 4-month-olds). After reading a few sample pages on Amazon, I decided her tone was warm and funny and self-deprecating enough that I might actually be able to read it during M’s naps and not feel overwhelmed, so I bought it, plowed through it, and have to admit that, despite my resistance to joining any kind of parenting cult, I’m kind of obsessed with this French approach. Let me count the ways:

1. It spins laziness into cultivating autonomy… Apparently most French babies sleep through the night by three months of age. Now, I’m not sure if this is the “five straight hours” definition of sleeping through the night or the “7 pm to 7 am” definition, but whatever — that’s pretty damn impressive. And how does this work? Basically, moms do a teensie-tiny version of cry-it-out from the day they’re born; when the babe cries, they pause for a couple minutes before picking him up, stopping to analyze the situation and determine whether baby really needs feeding or is just trying to settle himself. This is like what I do already: M starts crying at 6 a.m.; I turn off the monitor and “pause” for five minutes (also known as desperately try to cram in more sleep), allowing him to self-soothe and learn to cope with his own frustration. Obviously this isn’t a cure-all for babes with sleep problems, but I would be curious to try this technique if we have kid #2.

2. It provides lots of tips and tricks for getting your kid to eat stinky cheese and charred eggplant and whatever else you plonk on the table… Long story short: NO SNACKING, and start offering the camembert early. This was kind of enlightening for me because I feel like we were encouraged very early to plump our baby up as much as possible and that chubby = healthy; because of this, I’d been shoving food in M’s mouth every hour, all in hopes that he’d be on track for his next weigh-in at the doctor’s office, but also so that he’d be full enough by evening to sleep 12 hours without any food or breastmilk. Now, at almost 9 months old, we’re sticking to the every-four-hours rule and he seems just fine with it. He’s still not touching the eggplant, and most of the food ends up on the floor, but I’m trying to be patient and adopt the whole European, que sera (ie. lazy) attitude here.

3. The author basically calls for a crackdown on this weird trend of treating one’s child as a colleague or collaborator — asking them if they could “please not bite daddy while he changes your diaper?”, as if this is optional, or attributing a temper tantrum to a child’s energetic nature, implying that it’s out of anyone’s ability to control. I’m all for giving kids options and involving them in decision-making, but I want M to understand that, ultimately, I’m in charge here (ed note: obviously I reserve the right to drastically alter this stance when my kid is 2 years old and I’ve turned into a pushover). Apparently the key to establishing authority is to employ the “big eyes” technique — opening your eyes wide like an owl on crack and maybe even twitching one eyelid slightly while you shoot “don’t you even dare” daggers from them (loving daggers of course).

So has anyone else here read this book? Thoughts? Criticisms? And are there any other parenting books that you’d recommend (ideally ones that have a sense of humour and can be flipped through during naps and other short bursts of freedom)?

And for good measure, here is my child behaving like a perfect, well-read French citizen:


12 thoughts on “Obsessed with French parenting

  1. So nice to hear from you and see an updated photo of the adorable M. What a well-behaved boy…he must have been raised properly :).

    I read this book during the trip my mum and I took to England with the boys when they were 5 months. The trip was a total effing shit show, and I’m pretty sure Felix didn’t sleep the entire time we were there.

    Anyway…my state of mind may have coloured my impressions of the book. I love the idea of raising kids to say hello and goodbye to guests—I think manners are super important, and I appreciated her respect for them. Her reverence for the French was a bit misplaced, in my opinion, and I didn’t necessarily feel like certain elements were challenged enough. She made French culture sound really mysoginistic, yet talked about these aspects with this starry-eyed wonder that rubbed me the wrong way. The pressure women feel to spring back to their pre-pregnancy body sounded really wacky, and I felt like she just continually dumped on herself for not sizing up (pun intended). Also, there seemed to be zero challenge to the idea of not breast feeding for fear of having ugly boobs as a result. Yikes.

    It was a quick, breezy read, and maybe I just took the whole thing too seriously. Maybe I would be less negative about it if my babes actually started “doing their nights” :).

    Glad you’re all doing well, and you’re finding the time to read and write. I’ve missed you!

    • Omg YES, I should have mentioned — that was the one thing that really rubbed me the wrong way, not necessarily about the book but about the French, the whole anti-breastfeeding thing. It was so sad hearing that lactation expert speak about how no amount of science will convince French mothers to breastfeed, that the only argument that ever works is saying how pleasurable it is for mothers and babies. Ridiculous.

      Anyway, good to see you back here! I want a Family Van update!!

  2. No advice on entertaining books. I seem to be reading all technical stuff lately. Just want to say HOW STINKIN CUTE he is though! Glad you’re still making time for yourself during naps and having a minute to blog here and there….proof it does get easier I suppose. :)

  3. I remember reading and liking this book, but I need to read it again now that I have some new perspective! I am a Francophile, so it’s no surprise… but I agree with what’s been said above, the anti-breastfeeding thing is pretty appalling (I don’t remember that part, maybe I just blocked it out?). Anyway, I’m going to keep checking back here because I am also on the hunt for new parenting books. Eric already sent me a link for “The Happiest Baby on the Block” because he’s sick of being woken up a night. I think it’s funny that he expects a 2-week-old to sleep through the night. Men!

  4. I haven’t read this book (obviously), but it sounds kind of like “French Women Don’t Get Fat”. Some decent advice, but delivered with a smug “mais oui, ze French way is ZOOO much bettehr” kind of attitude. That would rub me the wrong way!

  5. I enjoyed the book- except for the anti-BF and the body issues French women must have. Otherwise, from the very beginning we let Izzy fuss for a few seconds before picking her up to see if she could calm herself down. She started “doing her nights” at 2.5 months old- but I have no idea if she is just a rockstar or if it was because we employed that technique.

    I’m still trying to get izzy to enjoy solid food- so far she is not into bland purees but does like everything that we eat. It makes it hard to follow solid food guidelines, but I guess that we already have an adventurous eater even if she isn’t eating very much? She is still nursing/taking a bottle every 2.5 hours or so, but she needs to eat more solid food before I would try to lengthen time between meals.

  6. Geez! Look at me French parenting and I didn’t even know it! Lol!
    Makes a lot of sense though about the food. There I will have to adapt! And let me tell you the battle with food does get worse! My 3 year old would love to survive on yogurt and fruit bars!
    I will definitely have to look into this book!
    By the way. … Super cute! :)

  7. I’m gonna eat your baby with some Camembert! (Not really, but he does look delicious.) Perhaps I will check this book out — I’m interested in a different perspective on parenting.

  8. I am obsessed with this book, as well! Obsessed. This and “French Kids Eat Everything” are the only parenting books I have read. I sort of was doing some of the stuff (like the pause) because of laziness or dealing with the other twin. I have 2 really good sleepers now. Is it luck or using this technique? Maybe a little of both. I really like the idea of having kids who can entertain themselves and won’t constantly interrupt the adults if we had friends over. We’ll see if I can pull it off. It’s all good in theory. The food thing will be interesting. It’s going to be hard (and so un-american) to not let the kids snack constantly or use food as a reward or a bribe, but I really want to try to instill a lot of the food rules if I can. Again, good in theory. We’ll see if I can pull it off.

  9. LOVE the pix, and I really do enjoy reading your posts. Parenting books are totally like buffet tables…take a little/lot, leave the rest, and at the end of the day, your kid will teach you how to take care of him/her.

    The starting early thing makes sense (my Romanian friends apparently ate chicken liver,which is the most disgosting thing, as babies and love it to this day and I assume they HAD to have been introduced to that super early for it to take).

    About sleeping 6-8 hours at a stretch..my 3-month old bundle of joy has been doing that for about a month now (although some horrific nights that 7-hour stretch begins at 3 am). What has really helped me achieve that is cosleeping (which is an Indian traditional thing—super low SIDS rates too) plus understanding her cues as this book discuses…i hear her start to wiggle and flail 4 hours in…I crawl over, and coax her back into deep sleep, and voila.

    The no snacking bit makes sense if you are sticking to a schedule, and if you are feeding on demand (which is what I do)….then I guess it is a mixed bag, because sometimes they want to eat every 4 hours, and sometimes they want to eat every 2 hours.

    Sounds like parenting strategies from all over the world include common tricks :)

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