My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I should preface this by stating that I have no children, nor any desire to have any. Regardless, I saw this book reviewed on Amazon, and it seemed like such an interesting read that I picked it up anyway.
As the inside flap states, “When American journalist Pamela Druckerman has a baby in Paris, she doesn’t aspire to become a ‘French parent.’ French parenting isn’t a known thing, like French fashion or French cheese…Yet the French children Druckerman knows sleep through the night at two or three months old…[and] eat well-rounded meals that are more likely to include braised leeks than chicken nuggets.”
So she sets out to discover why, and how to implement it during her own child-rearing process. And I have to be honest; apparently, French people train their children much like I train my dog, and it works just as successfully.
Much of this training consists of what French parents call cadre; a framework of consistent rules which surround a great deal of freedom. From infancy onward, cadre provides children with an exterior system of boundaries, within which they have the freedom to make their own choices. One such anecdote describes how a French mother provides cadre by allowing her child to wear whatever she wants while at home. When venture outside, however, the child understands that Mom gets to decide what they’ll be wearing (which doesn’t include pajamas or a Halloween costume in February).
Most French children sleep through the night by four months old. In America, and certainly among the small children I’ve seen, this seems practically impossible. French parents apparently use a combination of “cry it out” and what’s called “la pause.” The idea behind “la pause” is that you, as the parent, take a moment to determine why they’re fussing. Are they simply resettling, and a moment’s delay will allow them to go back to sleep? Do they actually require your attention?
Here’s where the dog-training analogy really kicks in. If your dog barks for your attention, and you give it to him, even if it’s to scold him for barking, he’s succeeded it getting what he wants. You’ve rewarded him for positive behavior, and he’ll continue to do it. He’ll bark, you’ll shout “No!” Over and over and over. The same concept applies to your infant. If they cry because they simply want you, and not because they need a diaper change, and you come in to soothe, then you’re creating a self-perpetuating cycle. They got what they wanted, didn’t they? And they’ll get the same thing at 3AM every single night.
Another interesting note focused on how French children, from a very early age, have a regulated eating cycle. They eat, on average, at 8am, 12pm, a snack at 4pm, and dinner at 8pm, and they don’t eat at any other times. Because they aren’t constantly grazing on Cheerios or fruit snacks in between meals, they eat when they’re fed, because they’re actually hungry. Again, this is similar to how we feed our dog. He gets a cup of food in the morning and a cup in the evening, and by 8pm, the food is gone. He’s learned to eat it when it’s there.
Some of the advice is useful even to people, like myself, who don’t have children. Druckerman notes how most French couples take time to indulge themselves, and don’t hesitate to put their personal happiness above demands from work, and (unnecessary) demands from their children. They carve a space for themselves. There’s no focus on “date nights” in a marriage, because they endeavor not to let their marriage get to that point in the first place. In fact, when the movie Date Night came to France, it was retitled Crazy Night. C & I thought this movie was hilarious, but it is absolutely told from an American viewpoint.
If you’re an American struggling with parenting (which seems like a given these days), definitely pick up this book. If nothing else, Druckerman has a witty, slightly neurotic style that should make you laugh. If you don’t have kids, don’t want kids, but love your dog, I recommend it to you too 🙂