Let me start with this bold statement: Parents decide how they want to parent; this happens either intentionally or unintentionally.
To every non-parent this probably sounds quite logical and simple. I’m guessing some parents read that as a loaded, if not judgmental sentiment.
I’m a novice mom. I have two kids both under the age of four. Every day I learn something new. Before I had my kids, my only expectation about parenting was that it is was incredibly hard and equally rewarding. Throughout my childhood, teenage years, and young twenties I actively babysit and observed parents and kids. My husband and I waited seven years to have kids because of my observations and expectations.
Now that both my kids have exited the baby phase, I find myself researching and wanting to learn about parenting kids. It’s a big switch. I decided to ease myself in with an observational, cultural, anecdotal book: Bringing up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman. The book was recently re-released as Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting.
Before I dive into the book. Let me go back to the initial statement I made. The one thing I have observed as a parent surrounded by other parents is whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we generally think we know what’s best for our kids and attempt to parent through that belief. Some parents believe more strongly than others and communicate those feelings while others just do what they do and leave it at that.
I have two primary responses to the book, one is philosophical while the other practical. Here are my main takeaways from the book when it comes to foundational aspects of French parenting that I can learn from:
- Consistent and strict boundaries that are loosened over time provide a sense of safety for kids to grow and develop (as she learns, “it’s easier to loosen a screw that to tighten it”)
- Self-control and autonomy are essential elements to learn as a child
- Rather than “raising” kids, they “educate” them in every aspect of life
- Praise is given specifically and genuinely rather than for every little accomplishment
- Teaching kids to say hello, goodbye, please, and thank you as well as other social etiquette and verbal communication are priority before any learning the alphabet, numbers, etc.
- Guilt is a negative thing when it comes to parenting; because it’s not helpful, it’s not dwelled on
- Parents’ needs are valued and prioritized; kids are valued but within a hierarchy (it’s like the oxygen mask in the airplane: in order to help your kids you need to help yourself first)
Takeaways from the book about American parenting that caused me to pause and reflect while reading:
- Choice is everything in American culture which translates so easily and pervasively into parenting: choices on how to parent, choices given to kids, choices on doctors, food, schools, daycare, toys, and on and on
- Independence and self-expression are more highly valued than autonomy (very different from independence) and self-control
- The diversity of resources and styles in parenting brings out the best of the best and the worst of the worst (there is rarely a happy medium or moderate approach to anything in the U.S. and this definitely translates into the world of kids)
- We are obsessed with milestones and quantifiable achievements
- Guilt is sometimes glorified and expected as a normal feeling to have as a parent
It’s difficult to write about parenting in two cultures without being stereotypical. Druckerman avoids this by being specific (for the most part) with her anecdotal experience comparing parenting in Paris to parenting in New York. She also avoids it by bringing it A LOT of research and statistics.
Here’s the one practical thing I’ve implemented since reading the book: being more structured in my approach to food with my kids. Here are a few of the changes:
- They eat all their food at the table no exceptions
- They have breakfast, a tiny morning snack of fruit, lunch, a small afternoon snack, and dinner
- Their drinks remain at the table throughout the day
- Their lunch and dinner is given in courses: first vegetables, second protein and carbs, third fruit, and sometimes fourth dessert
- They don’t have to finish or even like everything, but they must try one taste of everything
Returning to my statement at the beginning: Parents decide how they want to parent; this happens either intentionally or unintentionally.
I have been very intentional about certain aspects of my parenting, while others have evolved unintentionally over time. Reading Bringing up Bébé has forced me to think about how and why I do the things I do.
Becoming a parent is like entering a boxing arena you didn’t even know existed. There are punches being thrown from every direction, people watching and giving their advice from every angle, and you’re just trying to survive. Every once in a while it’s refreshing to read something from a completely new perspective because it pulls me out of the boxing arena to observe what is actually happening from a distance in order to think, strategize, and pray that when I go back in I can change some things for the better.