“Bringing Up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman: Part Two

I apologize for the length of this post. Not much thought involved on my part but here are the next set of ideas that I wanted to capture from this very practical book. Here are the notes from Part One of “Bringing Up Bebe”.

  1. American mothers complain that every activity, no matter how brief or at what time of day, now includes snacks. “Apparently we have collectively decided as a culture that it is impossible for children to take part in any activity without simultaneously shoving something into their pie holes.” In France, the gouter is the official, and only snack time. It’s usually at about 4:30 p.m. when kids get out of school. It has the same fixed status as other mealtimes, and is universally observed for kids. The gouter helps explain why these French kids I saw at the restaurant were eating so well. They were actually hungry, because they hadn’t been snacking all day.
  2. A child who can play by himself can draw upon this skill when his mother is on the phone. And it’s a skill French mothers explicitly try to cultivate in their kids more than American mothers do. American moms said that encouraging one’s child to play alone was of average importance. But the French moms said it was very important. Parents who value this ability are probably more apt to leave a child alone while he’s playing well by himself. When French mothers say that it’s important to take cues from the child’s own rhythm, part of what they mean is that when the child is busy playing, they leave him alone.
  3. The sensitive mother is aware of the child’s needs, moods, interests, and capabilities. She allows this awareness to guide her interactions with the child.
  4. “Cadre” means that kids have very firm limits– that’s the frame– and the parents strictly enforce those limits. But within those limits, the kids have a lot of freedom.
  5. The best way to make a child happy is to frustrate him. That doesn’t mean that you prevent him from playing, or that you avoid hugging him. One must of course respect his tastes, his rhythms, and his individuality. It’s simply that the child must learn from a very young age, that he’s not alone in the world, and that there’s a time for everything.
  6. Capitulating to kids starts a dangerous cycle. If kids have the experience that when they’re told to wait, that if they scream, mommy will come and the wait will be over, they will very quickly learn not to wait. Non-waiting and screaming and carrying on and whining are being rewarded.
  7. In the French view, you are doing a child no service by catering to their whims. French experts and parents believe that hearing “no” rescues children from the tyranny of their own desires. As small children you have needs and desires that basically have no ending. This is a very basis thing. The parents are there– that’s why you have frustration– to stop that process.
  8. If the parent can’t stand the fact of being hated, then he won’t frustrate the child, and then the child will be in a situation where he will be the subject of his own tyranny, where basically he has to deal with his own greed and his own need for things. If the parent isn’t there to stop him, then he’s the one who’s going to have to stop himself or not stop himself, and that’s much more anxiety-provoking.
  9. Making kids face up to limitations and deal with frustration turns them into happier, more resilient people. And one of the main ways to induce frustration, on a daily basis, is to make children wait a bit.
  10. After the first few months, a baby should eat at roughly the same time each day. The second is that babies should have a few big feeds rather than a lot of small ones. And the third is that the baby should fit into the rhythm of the family.
  11. He didn’t think that pushing kids to acquire skills ahead of schedule was either possible or desirable. He believed that children reach these milestones at their own speeds, driven by their own inner motors.
  12. French parents just don’t seem so anxious for their kids to get head starts. They don’t push them to reach, swim, or do math ahead of schedule. They aren’t trying to prod them into becoming prodigies. I don’t get the feeling that– surreptitiously or otherwise– we’re all in a race for some unnamed prize. They do sign their kids up for tennis, fencing, and English lessons. But they don’t parade these activities as proof of what good parents they are. Nor are they guided when talking about the classes, like they’re some sort of secret weapon. The point of enrolling a child in the Saturday morning music class isn’t to activate some neural network. It’s to have fun. French parents believe in “awakening” and “discovery.”
  13. Awakening is about introducing a child to sensory experiences, including taste. It doesn’t always require the parents’ 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 to teaching him to be a cultivated adult who knows how to enjoy himself. Awakening is a kind of training for children in how to profiteer– to soak up the pleasure and richness of the moment.
  14. “The surest way to make your child miserable? It is to accustom him to getting everything. Since his desires grow constantly due to the ease of satisfying them, sooner or later powerlessness will force you, in spite of yourself, to end up with a refusal. And this unaccustomed refusal will give him more torment than being deprived of what he desires.
  15. The ideal of the cadre is that parents are very strict about certain things but very relaxed about most everything else.
  16. There are some rules that if you let go, you tend to take two steps backward. These areas are eating, sleeping, and watching TV. For all the rest she can do what else she wants.
  17. Dolto claimed that even infants are rational, and indeed that they understand language as soon as they’re born.
  18. If you accept that children are rational as a first principle, then many things begin to shift. If babies understand what you’re saying to them, then you can teach them quite a lot, even while they’re very young. That includes, for example, how to eat in a restaurant.
  19. Dolto insisted that the contents of what you say to a baby matters tremendously. She said it was crucial that parents tell their babies the truth in order to gently affirm what the babies already know. “The child’s best interest is not always what will make him or her happy, but rational understanding.”
  20. She thought that parents should listen carefully to their kids and explain the world to them. But she thought that this world would of course include many limits, and that the child, being rational, could absorb and handle these limits. She didn’t want to upend the cadre model. She wanted to preserve it. She just added a huge measure of empathy and respect for the child– something that may have been lacking in France pre-1968.
  21. The political implications of believing that a baby or toddler understand what you say and can act on it are considerable. It means you can teach him to sleep through the night early on, to no barge into your room every morning, to sit properly at the table, to eat only at mealtimes– at least a little bit– what his parents need too.
  22. Some French parents store toys in the living room, but plenty don’t. The children in these families have loads of playthings, but these don’t engulf the common spaces. At a minimum, the toys are put away at night. Parents see doing this as a healthy separation and a chance to clear their minds when the kids go to bed.
  23. In France, the dominant social message is that while being a parent is very important, it shouldn’t subsume one’s other roles. Women in Paris express this by saying that mothers shouldn’t become “enslaved” to their children.
  24. What really fortifies Frenchwomen against guilt is their conviction that it is unhealthy for mothers and children to spend all of their time together. They believe there’s a risk of smothering kids with attention and anxiety, or of developing the dreaded “relation fusionnelle”, where a mother’s and child’s needs are too intertwined. Children, even babies and toddlers, get to cultivate their inner lives without a mother’s constant interference.
  25. Four magic words:
    1. Please
    2. Thank you
    3. Hello
    4. Goodbye
  26. In France, kids don’t get to have a shadowy presence. The child greets, therefore he is. Just as any adult who walks into my house has to acknowledge me, any child who walks in, must acknowledge me too. “Greeting is essentially recognizing someone as a person. People feel injured if they’re not greeted by children that way.”
  27. Kids who ignore people, and don’t say bonjour or au revoir, they just stay in their bubble. Since parents are dedicated to them already, when will they get the sense that they are there to give, not just to receive? Saying “please” and “thank you” puts children in an inferior, receiving role. An adult has to do something. Bonjour and au revoir put the child and the adult on more equal footing, at least for that moment. It cements the idea that kids are people in their own right.
  28. Endings don’t have to be tidy to be happy. It’s a cliché about Europeans, but you can see it in the morals of French stories: Life is ambiguous and complicated. There aren’t bad guys and good guys. Each of us has a bit of both.
  29. Some American parents have adopted such specific diets and discipline techniques that it’s hard for anyone else, even a grandparent, to take over and follow all the rules.

Check out the exciting conclusion in Part Three of “Bringing up Bebe”
Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (now with Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting)

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