Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bringing up Bebe

Last week I finished reading Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. I hadn't set out to read any parenting books but I was inspired by an article a friend posted on Facebook, about France versus US treatment of ADHD. In the article they reference this book. I was intrigued when the article talked about the more varied and gourmet palate that French children had. After reading a couple reviews of the book, I figured it couldn't hurt.

The book is about an American woman who lives and raises her kids in France and the parenting concepts she observes.

I definitely got a lot out of the book and wish I had read it sooner. A lot of it supports my overall parenting style, and the book definitely gave me some new insights.

Let's start with why I wish I would have read the book sooner. Dylan and I had been blessed with a really great sleeper, until Vander was around five months old. So I hadn't really given sleep training, in any form, much thought. I read this book after a month straight of Vander not sleeping through the night and the concept presented behind sleep training really clicked for me. Essentially all people have 2-3 hour sleep cycles. As adults we automatically connect between these cycles and don't wake up at all, but babies need to learn how to do this. Specifically, babies need to learn to connect their sleep cycles on their own, without assistance or intervention from parents, or else they will become dependent on the help to get them back to sleep. This means a little bit of "pausing" to listen and observe your child. While it sounds a little like cry it out, it really is about giving your child some time to put themselves back to sleep. I can vouch for Vander not even being awake when he makes noises in the middle of the night. He will be totally sleep, but fussing pretty loudly. Granted there are plenty of times he is awake too, but I like the idea of the pause to wait and see how he is doing instead of just rushing in and picking him up. The book says that babies can "do their nights" (sleep through the night) as soon as a couple weeks old, but if they go much past four or six months, then they lose their window to learn to sleep on their own easily and other methods will have to be used.

I really appreciated the importance placed on teaching children patience. French parents emphasize patience in order to maintain their own balance (they believe no one aspect of life should outweigh the others, including parenting), and while that may be a little harsh for my taste, I like the general idea. The book outlines how teaching your child patience allows the child to be more sure of himself. "In the French view, having the self control to be calmly present, rather than anxious, irritable and demanding, is what allows kids to have fun." When kids are able to entertain themselves they are able to exercise their imaginations better and mom is better able to chat with friends or clean the house. Everyone wins.

The next concept, that really supported how I parent, was that parents should treat babies as people who can understand the world. I always make an effort to treat Vander as a fully understanding person. When I talk to him I ask his opinion and explain why I do things. I always say please and thank you. When he chats at me I listen to him. Not only does this teach him manners, but it also treats him as a more than "a helpless blob." This creates a respectful relationship between babies and parents. It allows the parent to better reason with their child as they get older.

The reason I looked into the book was the gourmet eating of French children. The book opens up with the author and her husband eating dinner on vacation and considering how they will never be able to enjoy a simple meal out when they have kids, but then noticing a French family, kids and all, enjoying a calm and full meal at table nearby. Here in America I always hear how you don't really go out to eat as a family until your kids are a certain age. Apparently that is not the case in France, namely per the concepts I mentioned above. French children learn to eat only four times a day, the traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus one afternoon snack. So when they eat, they are hungry. This is in stark contrast to American children who hardly go anywhere or do anything with out a snack. French children have learned the patience to wait and are expected to do so. French families tend to eat together more and have more home cooked meals, so meals are a cherished time together and children are more respectful and patient at meals as a result.

To encourage a more diverse palate, French parents vary the foods they offer early and ask their children questions about he flavors and textures they experience. As children get older, while they don't have to eat everything on their plate, they are expected to at least try everything. After you have tried something often enough, you will learn to enjoy it. Culturally, French parents spend a lot of time teaching their children to bake and cook from a young age. Not only does this encourage patience (to measure ingredients correctly and to wait for food to finish cooking), but it helps them appreciate and understand their food better.

I definitely recommend the book to new parents. As a new parent, I don't think I would have gained as much from the book until I actually had Vander, so part of me recommends you wait until you are a couple weeks in, but the sleep part would have been great to know earlier.

I by no means consider the book a bible to follow on parenting, but it has some really great ideas. It definitely provided a new perspective on France and on parenting. It can never hurt to add to your parenting toolbox!


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