The concept of Bringing Up Bébé is of one American mother discovering the wisdom of French parenting. To be honest, I didn’t even know French parenting styles are talked about as a concept but I loved that this was a readable book rather than a generic pregnancy guide.
The book itself is by American journalist Pamela Druckerman. Living as a Parisian expat, she explores what French parenting entails, backed up with real life parenting stories and studies, while comparing to the American style of parenting throughout. Her attitude towards France and the emphasis on comparing to Mother’s in America wasn’t something I was particularly interested in, it is the techniques used by French parents that fascinates me.
French Sleep Training
A topic that the book covers is the idea of ‘La Pause’, which is essentially a method to help children sleep through the night from around 2-3 months old, or that they completely ‘do their nights’ by 6 months. Obviously not all children sleep through the night in France but it seems following ‘La Pause’ helps the baby learn to sleep through the night.
“One reason for pausing is that young babies make a lot of movement and noise while they’re sleeping. This is normal and fine. If parents rush in and pick the baby up every time he makes a peep, they’ll sometimes wake him up.”
Natural instinct means that most parents rush to their baby as soon as they hear a cry – resulting in sleep-deprived parents – but French parents don’t immediately do this, instead they pause, watch and wait to see if the baby falls back to sleep on his/her own. They don’t ignore the baby if it cries for hours but they let the baby learn its sleep cycle and, for a few moments, pause before they make their presence known.
A few other points I picked up on is the family ritual of eating together at the family table and the baby eating the same foods as the parents from 6 months. Baby-led weaning is popular all over the world but the idea here is on socialisation rather than nutrition, and children become more adventurous eaters (rather than fussy) as they are exposed to a variety of foods from an early age.
“Awakening is about introducing a child to sensory experiences, including tastes. It doesn’t always require the parent’s active involvement. It can come from staring at the sky, smelling dinner as it’s being prepared, or playing alone on a blanket. It’s a way of sharpening the child’s senses and preparing him to distinguish between different experiences. It’s the first step toward teaching him to be a cultivated adult who knows how to enjoy himself. Awakening is a kind of training for children in how to profiter – to soak up the pleasure and richness of the moment.”
Children also learn patience and control from a young age in typical French parenting methods, as they are given the freedom to entertain themselves and gain more responsibility in learning solutions to problems rather than relying on the parent all the time. In this way, children learn how to discover the world at their own pace and play happily independently.
You’ll find plenty of other interesting differences in French parenting methods but a lot of it is to do with the lifestyle offered to parents in France – toddlers attending a full-day creche from 9 months for example (there are far more working mums than those that stay at home), and how epidurals are the norm when giving birth, reducing the number of quite often traumatic birth experiences.
“When I ask French parents what they most want for their children, they say things like “to feel comfortable in their own skin” and “to find their path in the world.” They want their kids to develop their own tastes and opinions.
Another point I liked in the book is the importance of children greeting people with the magic word: Bonjour. It’s a way of life that children grow up from an early age greeting others. I like this as I’ve often found that children have very little to say unless prompted. By saying Bonjour and Au Revoir to others, it puts a child and adult at equal footing, cementing the idea that kids are people in their own right and encourages politeness.
While I do buy into typical French parenting styles of a more balanced parenting experience, a calm family environment and cultivating a sense of patience for their children, it is just a different way of parenting. It is useful to see another perspective and I am sure I’ll try and use some of the methods but in reality, I’ll just try my best.
I’ve been listening to Bringing Up Bébé on Audible and recommend it for a light, less formal read during pregnancy.