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: