Recently, I was at the library and on the way out, I passed the “New Non-Fiction” display table and saw this book. I decided to check it out and see what it was all about.
I heard about Bringing Up Be Be: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman when it first came out earlier this year. I do remember that some people who reviewed the book were not too impressed with the author’s research and the fact (that the author also acknowledges) that this “French parenting” is based solely on her observations on the upper middle class families with whom she socialized. So when I mention French parenting or French parents here, I am referring to the families that the author wrote about in the book. Obviously I have no idea if all parents in France follow this parenting philosophy!
Bringing Up Be Be was an interesting read. While I’ve never thought there is a be-all and end-all parenting style, there were definitely some parts that I found a bit off or didn’t agree with (e.g. limited breastfeeding because it is not attractive, keeping the husband out of the birth room in order to keep the woman’s “mystery” alive…ha. Ha. HA.) and I found that some of “what the French do” is pretty much common sense– something we know we should do, but the people described in this book actually do it!
These are the parts of “French parenting” from the book that I did agree with and like, some of which I found aligns somewhat with the Montessori philosophy. (I am writing this a few weeks after I’ve finished and returned the book, so I can’t promise that my memory of the book is 100%!).
1. Bonjour, Au revoir!
The author observed that, manners-wise, Americans focus mainly on teaching their children to say “thank you” and “sorry,” (I totally did this!) while French parents also emphasize saying”hello” and “good-bye” to adults. This is so children become more aware of others (and that they are not the centre of the universe) and that they need to acknowledge the presence of these other people. It is also a simple way to acknowledge their presence and a basic gesture of respect.
I found this similar to the routine set in a Montessori classroom. Upon entering the classroom each morning, each student greets her teacher(s) with a handshake, look her in the eyes and says, “Good morning, Mrs. MM.” At dismissal, the student will again shake her teacher’s hand and say goodbye.
This exchange is basic Grace and Courtesy— the child practices greeting others, making conversation (eye contact, appropriate body language, carrying on a conversation– all important life skills!), and it is a nice way to cap off the day.
(There is also a practical classroom reason for this: by greeting the teacher, the teacher can take attendance and check in with each student individually. It is also an extra mental reminder of who arrived/left.)
I liked this concept a lot. I agree with the thinking behind it and started consciously reminding Freestyle to greet and say goodbye to everyone (not just adults).
Sidenote: I’m not sure if I ever mentioned this before, but one thing I will never make Freestyle do is hug/kiss someone when greeting/saying goodbye. I do not believe that children (or anyone, really) should be coerced to hug/kiss someone if they do not want to do it (even relatives). Kids should never feel obligated to submit to physical touching if they don’t want to, right? Also, I’ve read that if a child is abused, most likely it is by someone he or she knows or trusts. So, when we are leaving, I will usually ask Freestyle, “It’s time to say goodbye! Do you want to hug So-and-So?” Usually she does, but on those rare occasions when she refuses, I’ll just say loudly and firmly (so that that person overhears and hopefully understands), “That’s okay, you don’t have to hug anyone, but you do need to say ‘goodbye’ to her.”
2. Le Cadre
En Francais, cadre means “frame.” The author wrote that French parents are stricter than Americans about limiting the amount of freedom that their children have, but within that “frame” of freedom they can do what they like. One example (that I vaguely remember) is that one parent said that for bedtime, they would say goodnight to their child and leave the room. The child does not have to go to sleep immediately, but must remain in the room doing something quietly (read, play, etc.). Eventually, they would find the child has fallen asleep on his own.
In Montessori schools (and homes!), children are given a certain amount of freedom but are expected to exhibit a corresponding amount of responsibility (appropriate for his or her age and level of development).
The concept of freedom with responsibility makes sense, right? It extends to the entire school experience for the Montessori child.
For example, in the classroom, there are no assigned seats. Children work at tables or on a mat on the floor. So, in this situation, here are the child’s freedoms and responsibilities:
- He can choose where to sit.
- He can choose to work alone or with a friend or two.
- He will choose an appropriate place to work (with enough space for the materials, not sitting at an over-crowded table, etc.).
- If he chooses someone to work with, he will choose someone who will not distract him from completing his work.
- He will not distract others from doing their work.
If the child does not uphold these responsibilities and does not make better choices after a reminder or two from the teacher, then the teacher may have to limit his freedom by either asking him to choose another place to sit or taking away the privilege of this choice. He may also not be able to work with that particular partner if they are not remaining focused on the task.
The child can always earn back these freedoms by demonstrating that he is able to be responsible to handle them.
This “cadre” works for children because they need (and want) limits. You always hear of kids “testing the limits” with their parent, caregivers, or teachers. This is because she
wants needs to know what the limit is– if she has unlimited freedom, she will not feel safe.
Montessori believed that young children (first three years of life) have a strong Sense of Order— they are learning about the world through their senses and are trying to make sense of all this information by creating order. Children want to know the place and function of everything in their environment. This Sense or Order gives them security and allows them to continue developing.
A sense of security…
- Allows the child to become confident in making choices (since they know where the boundaries are).
- Promotes independence and responsibility (because they are trusted to make those choices, as long as they stay within the boundaries).
- This trust that the adult gives them shows a respect for the child as a person, building on their self-confidence.
(This all reminds me of OLG‘s motto: “Know Your Limit, Play Within It!” Ha ha!)
3. Independent Play
In the book, the author observes an American parent following his child around the playground, going up the ladder, down the slide, on the swings, etc. All the while, the parent is keeping up a continuous narration of the child’s every action (“Now you are going up the stairs! Good job! Now you are going down the slide, whee!”).
French parents, on the other hand, would more likely be found on the park bench, catching up on e-mails or just enjoying a coffee while their child plays independently.
I’m of two minds on this issue. On one hand, I do agree that playing independently is an important skill for every child to have. I’m at home with Freestyle and while I love being with her, we can’t go around attached to the hip all day! So when I am making dinner, I’m happy when she can entertain herself! During the day, if I see her happily playing by herself at home, I will usually leave her to it and do my own thing until she wants my attention again.
However, I do think that it is important for bonding, language development, and general awareness to talk to (and when she learns to speak, talk with) your child during play. Doctors, speech-langauge specialists, early childhood educators, etc. here in Canada strongly encourage parents to do the whole narration thing, especially with babies. I think there’s a balance. It’s important to talk to your child and call her attention to different things in her environment while giving her the language. BUT there is such a thing as going overboard with this, as illustrated with the non-stop (and one-way) chatter of the playground parent above! Just being quiet together is valuable too– it’s a time to rest, reflect, and allow each other time to have your own thoughts.
Also, while I do like that sometimes Freestyle will play independently while I can do something else, there are many times when she wants to play with me and of course I do so unless I am doing something else that is more urgent (see #5 below). And, sometimes I want to play with her which I think that it’s healthy and fun for both of us! I can model positive social behaviours (sharing, patience, Grace and Courtesy, etc.) while relaxing and just enjoying my daughter. 🙂
4. National Meal Plan
A love quiche!
French parents conform to what the author termed “National Meal Plan.” That is, their children ate at certain times of the day without snacking in between. The times were:
Morning = Breakfast
Noon = Lunch
4:00PM = Snack
8:00PM = Dinner
Without fail, all the parents the author spoke with naturally followed this “meal plan.” It was about finding the balance of the child’s rhythm and that of the parents and why French children will eat their food at mealtimes (they aren’t full from snacking all day). Even babies’ feedings would slowly but surely conform to the National Meal Plan. The author compared this with American children who seemed to snack more often during the day.
I do like the idea of older children (and me too!) having set mealtimes with limited snacking (sorry, grazers!). I noticed that I would let Freestyle have a snack between breakfast and lunch (second breakfast, hobbit-style!) if she asked, usually around 10:00AM. Whenever we went to playdates there would always be a spread set out by the generous hostess and most of the kids would descend on the snack table like vultures who hadn’t eaten for days (and yep, Freestyle would be right in the middle of the pack!).
After reading this book, I decided to cut out the morning snack. If she asks, I just tell her that we will be having lunch soon. If she keeps asking, I’ll direct her attention to something else until then. Now she rarely asks for a “second breakfast” snack.
I’ve kept the afternoon snack (usually around 4:00, but of course I don’t stick strictly to that time!), which is nice because who doesn’t enjoy an after school/work snack? 🙂
Afternoon snack is served!
I can’t really tell if Freestyle eats more at meals now because she’s a good eater, as they say. If she doesn’t eat a lot at one meal, I know she’ll just make it up at the next!
I also like the emphasis on eating healthy whole foods from the time they are young, working with the belief that kids do eat vegetables and other healthy fare (as opposed to assuming they won’t like it), and trying foods that are initially rejected again and again in different ways.
5. “Le Pause”
Another thing French parents do is “Le Pause.” Instead of immediately picking up their crying baby or tending to their kid’s requests, they will wait for a moment or two. This “pause” is to teach patience so that their children do not expect immediate gratification.
I do believe that immediate gratification is a big problem in our culture (no points for that observation), so I do agree with the idea of having the child wait for non-urgent matters (for an appropriate amount of time for her age, of course).
Reminds me of the Marshmallow Test. A marshmallow is put in front of a child. The adult tells them that he can eat the marshmallow now or, if he can hold off until she comes back, he will get a second marshmallow. If the child can wait, the studies show that that child will be more successful in life. He has the inner self-discipline to wait and the ability to distract himself during the waiting period.
I’m tempted to try this with Freestyle! 🙂 Maybe when she’s a bit older…
Personally, I subscribe to the view that babies cannot be spoiled by being picked up. If Real Baby is screaming, then yes, I will immediately pick her up or do whatever it is that needs to be done to make her comfortable. However, if she is just fussing, I will wait a moment to see if she’ll settle herself. Right now that moment is usually a couple of minutes, but I will let it stretch out longer when she is older.
For Freestyle, I (hope) I don’t immediately give into her wants. I’ve been using the phrase “Please wait” with her lately. She seems to understand this. With Real Baby in the picture now, she will definitely have to learn to wait her turn now!
Have you read Bringing Up Be Be? What did you think of it? Are there any other parenting books that you feel are worth a read?