By Nara Schoenberg, Tribune Newspapers
February 28, 2012
Pamela Druckerman has seen a place where kids sleep through the night at 3 months, happily chow down on fresh fruits and vegetables, and behave beautifully during lengthy restaurant meals.
It's called France.
Druckerman, author of the much buzzed-about "Bring Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting" (Penguin), is a journalist living in Paris, so she's intimately acquainted with parenting styles on both sides of the Atlantic. She makes a compelling case that the French emphasis on good manners, structure and balance produces happier, higher-functioning families.
"When I was pregnant in 2005, that was exactly when the critique of American parenting kind of crystallized: this idea that we may be parenting too intensively for our own good, and these names started coming out like 'helicopter parenting' and my favorite, 'kindergarchy,' this idea that children rule the roost," she says.
In France, she found, adults rule the roost — although, beyond a few very firm rules focusing on areas such as food, sleep, TV and respect, parents give their kids great freedom. The minor mischief of childhood is accepted and appreciated. She also found parents taking time for themselves and insisting that children learn to be patient and amuse themselves.
Among the key ideas in her book:
Let your baby sleep through the night: At 2 or 3 months, many French babies start sleeping through the night — we're talking eight to 12 hours at a stretch.
Among the reasons: French parents are better at reading their babies' cries. Out-and-out wailing calls for comforting, but after the first few weeks, a bit of crying and resettling is normal for a baby learning to connect two-hour sleep cycles. French parents tend to pause and assess, rather than reflexively picking up a baby who is learning to sleep longer.
Use your mom (or dad) voice: In one of the book's most telling scenes, Druckerman tries to carry on a conversation with another mom while their kids play in the park. The other mom is French and thinks this is entirely possible, but Druckerman finds herself constantly jumping up and down to fetch her toddler son, who is intent on running out of the playground.
The French mom observes that Druckerman needs to make her "no" stronger. Druckerman tries and fails. Urged on by her friend, she keeps trying, speaking more firmly but not more loudly. "Gradually I (felt) my 'no's' coming from a more convincing place," Druckerman noted, and on the fourth try, her son obeyed.
Give yourself a break: Druckerman's descriptions of American parents running around the playground maniacally narrating their very young children's every move ("You're swinging on the swing!") — are funny, familiar and illuminating. Does any adult really enjoy these one-sided conversations? Is the kid even listening?
In Druckerman's account, French moms care about adult time, couple time and their jobs, and they feel minimal guilt about balancing their own needs with their children's. And guess what? Their kids turn out just fine. A lot like ours, in fact, but with better manners.
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