Monday, February 13, 2012

Bringing Up Bébé


You have probably heard about the book written by American in Paris, Pamela Druckerman. It was released last week. I have not read it, but I read the Wall Street Journal review and the live interview with the author.

Remember, I haven't read the book. I am solely privy to what she said in the interview and what the WSJ offered in its story. I'm being cautious because there are perhaps opinions and behavior included within the pages with which I might not agree. Now that I have dispensed with my qualifiers, let me say: I agree totally with what she says.

For the most part and obviously I'm coming at the subject as an adult and we can be biased in these situations, I find French children to be an absolute delight. For French parents childhood is not a necessary nuisance on the road to adulthood, it is practice for a life well lived brimming with fun and adventure under parental guidance and with abundant affection mapping the journey.

Hugs and kisses are showered on little ones while at the same time "no" means "no" not "maybe" or "we'll see." Equivocation, French parents understand, undermines every attempt to "educate" their off-spring.  Discipline is love in the French parental system of child rearing and patience teaches independence.


French children do not interrupt adults when they are in conversation, of course they try early on, but are quickly advised that unless the house is on fire they can patiently -- operative word and we all know extremely difficult for children -- until maman momentarily transfers her attention to her enfant to see what  she needs. Children learn to construct urgent expressions to hasten a refocus of a parent's attention.

Do not think for a moment that children are "seen and not heard," on the contrary they learn to speak to adults from the day they learn to say "bonjour." In fact, they never simply say bonjour, they are required to say "bonjour madame" or "bonjour monsieur."  Andrea's best French friend, Pamela, has three little boys -- two, four and six-years-old. Pam recently visited us with her children and before she knocked on the front door I heard her practicing with the boys, "Repeat after me, when you enter you say "bonjour madame et bonjour monsieur" OK? A chorus of OKs followed and they followed through.

Meal time is not a war zone with pouting, food throwing (absolutely unheard of!), whining and stubborn refusals to try new foods. How do you know you don't like turnips unless you try them? How do you know that you will love Brussel sprouts unless you try them? Cheese? Why not? Just a sample.

Among my friends food is not placed on plates in the kitchen, but rather in serving pieces on the table which means everyone can control his or her portions beginning at the very youngest of age. Mothers can serve their children with the accord of the little one -- "yes, please lots of potatoes, a little serving of fish, I'll try the broccoli, merci." I'm convinced this method helps adults keep their weight under control. Small portions to begin, followed perhaps by a second helping. It's all about timing. Time to experiment with new flavors and textures, time to enjoy what we know we like and finally time to register when appetites have been sated.


Politesse is the coin of the realm in France and I don't care what anyone says, it makes life exceedingly civilized. Good manners get one through almost any situation and children are taught the value of treating others with this basic human kindness.

Do children rebel? Of course they do and French parents expect rebellion. They simply hope that what their children have learned from infancy will create some protective boundaries, and from what I've observed they usually do.

Remember, Andrea and I arrived in France when she was eight which means she and I were privy to the French system of child rearing which we both admire -- family dinners around the dining table every night, real conversations, instant help offered by children when they are old enough to set and clear the table (they do not have to be cajoled) and perfect table manners are non-negotiable.

Now, I can hear some of you saying, "that's precisely the way I raised my children," while others may be thinking, "what no freedom, all these rules. . .?" Yes, rules. Life in the real world is constructed upon rules and it seems to me that parents who allow their children to run wildly around a restaurant with no consideration for other diners are breaking some basic rules about respect for others.

This is where I stand on the subject: What French parents and most certainly parents throughout the world give their children by establishing rules, demanding impeccable manners, teaching patience is a precious, priceless advantage in the rough and tumble life that awaits them outside their safe, warm loving home.

29 comments:

Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

I saw an interview with her on TV and thought what she said made a lot of sense. I teach high school and have seen the devastating effects of parents who constantly say maybe and do not set rules to live by. We could learn alot from the French!!

sharon said...

I like the bit about only interrupting if the house is on fire ... I wonder if she works out in her book what infuses the French children with so much self confidence?
xx

Zénaide said...

Bravo!
I work as a Nanny and when I interview with/for a new family, I always stress that I am a stickler for manners. I can think of no better gift to give a child than that of having impeccable manners being second nature!

déjà pseu said...

We were raised to mind our manners, to behave at the table, to not interrupt. And I'm grateful for that. I think kids (and most of us, for that matter) do better when they know where the boundaries are. And you're right, Tish: the grownup world has lots of rules, and we're better off learning young that the world doesn't bend to our whims.

Lost in Provence said...

Haven't read the book, heard the interview, nada but after having lived in France for 10 years, I really see this to be true. Rules change everything as does politeness. One other idea which might be of an influence is the idea that the family is there to support you. More often than not, someone (whether parents, grandparents, une tante) will pay for your first car, your first apartment, etc. A sense of security is built up since childhood and remains.

Cheryl said...

Having raised my children with rules, I can only agree with what you have said of this book. It is hard work, but worth every minute.

Susan said...

All I can add is AMEN!! Love your description of child rearing. And, it works. Americans perhaps have much to learn.

BigLittleWolf said...

I haven't read the book yet either, though I'm looking forward to it.

Writer Debra Ollivier addressed some of these French parenting issues about 2 weeks ago, at the Huffington Post. Like you (and Ms. Ollivier and Ms. Druckerman) I see distinct advantages, but find that many of the principles are more challenging to implement on this side of the Atlantic.

Not so much because of our more permissive culture, but because of something more problematic that I believe is a factor in everything - our lack of humanist social structures that protect the family.

These exist in France (and other countries), but certainly not in America. I'm not saying there aren't other challenges (and even some of the same challenges), but having lived in both cultures and having raised sons that are a by-product of mixed cultures, I do believe that it's more complex than meets the eye. It's a fascinating subject, and I'll be interested to see if Ms. Druckerman addresses the issues of employment environment, health care, divorce, and other factors that certainly impact our ability to be better parents, which doesn't mean helicopter parents.

That said, we (in the US) could do well to put a few more fundamental rules in place, wherever we can.

FYI - if of interest:
http://dailyplateofcrazy.com/2012/01/25/parisian-parenting-should-we-take-a-lesson/

hopflower said...

Oh,no! Rules? In America? the first thing you are accused of is that you have no freedom (and of course that means you have the right to do anything you wish!) I was raised by an English mother; there were rules, and rightly so. I still have them in me; but am still accused of being too uptight.

And we wonder why a lot of American youth is going downhill so fast.

webb said...

There is hope in the U.S. - some young parents do see to get it, and are raising calm, polite and helpful children. I suspect it is difficult, tho, since they are clearly the minority here! Their children are as refreshing as the French children you describe. We definitely need help!

BB Kowalski said...

I have read the book and a thoroughly enjoyed it: it combines her own experiences together with well researched reviews of the psychology of child rearing, making it a bit more substantial than some other books of the genre.

Lorrie said...

Yes, yes, yes! I heartily concur with your observations and the comments above. And I'm happy to see my son and his wife raising their daughter in the same way. No means no. Not "I'm going to count to 10."

A bird in the hand said...

That's precisely how I was raised, which is the reason why I'm offended by all the bad manners -- both adults and children -- I see daily all around me.

I hope the book makes a dent in all the impolitesse...

Joni said...

I picked up Ms. Druckerman's book this past Friday. I'm not too far into it and so far so good. I'm a firm believer in rules and good manners, and I definitely make my 4- and 6.5-year old toe the line. My husband and I became parents at a much older age, and we can definitely see a difference in how we parent and that of the younger set.

Joni said...

Coming back to say (brag):

We had to go to our attorney's office today, and we had to take our 4-year-old with us. She sat there drawing quietly for over an hour while we discussed and signed trust paperwork. I was so proud of her for her excellent behavior.

Curator said...

Absolutely right. It's the best way to be...and it works.

Mary said...

I, too, heard the interview and read the article in WSJ. Druckerman made some very valid points although she was, of course, generalizing about American parental style. I was a Mother with rules, we had no issues of throwing food or difficulties that required a plumber in our house. When a child knows what is expected, I feel it must be easier to do the right thing.
There were times I was a little more egalitarian...no one's perfect.

Mary in Oregon

The enchanted home said...

This is SO interesting to me......as we made a few of our own observations when in France a few times over the last few years. One time we visited my aunt, married to a Frenchmen and their 3 kids and 2 other French families and us went out for a long leisurely lunch, I was AMAZED at how we basically never heard the kids, they sat politely at one end of the table and it was almost as if they were not there. Then when we went out about town, we just didnt' see many kids and started wondering "where are all the kids"!!!! We noticed some in fancier restaurants and again amazed at their seeming level of sophistication and manners, (VERY IMPRESSED I MIGHT ADD) So, this is very much in keeping with my own personal "findings" and I find it fascinating, and think we could learn something from them!

Anonymous said...

My sisters and I were fortunate in being raised by loving and firm parents, and I'm pleased that my nieces and nephews are also well-mannered children who know the rules.

There is one who could do with some remedial table manners (Eating broccoli with his fingers at age 9? I don't think so!) and who needs to be reminded that he is neither the most important nor the most interesting person at the dinner table... I've taken it on as my personal crusade!

Jill Ann said...

I'm a little uncomfortable with the inherent generalizations that seem to be in the book (admitting that I haven't read it.). Having said that, I'm all for well-mannered children. Mine are teenagers, and while they are hardly perfect, they are pretty well-behaved, and are the only children in the family who write thank-you notes for gifts! I don't consider myself a strict parent, necessarily, but my kids would tell you I never had a problem saying "no" to them. They think they never got away with anything! And while we are talking about American kids, I want to mention that my younger daughter's friends are such a nice, smart, well-mannered group of (all-American) kids!

frugalscholar said...

Well, I didn't read the original piece in the WSJ carefully OR the many comments; nevertheless, here is my comment! I think someone above may have made the same point.

France is a much more unified culture. How is it unified? Through the excellent low-cost childcare available to all. This takes a lot of stress off parents AND trains the children into what it is to be French.

beyondbeige said...

I am an American.. I taught my children how and when to say please and thank you. We had dinner together every night. We all shared the same food. There was no whining. There was no special dinner for the children. We had conversations, we tried different foods, we cooked together, washed up and put away the evening's necessary paraphernalia. We talked about the day and discussed important things that had happened in our day. We offered solutions, We read together, We put our children to bed with a kiss and a hug after homework was completed. We said I LOVE YOU and meant it. Fervently. It happens in America as well as in France. Please remember this....

kim at northerncalstyle. said...

I have read the article in the WSJ and as a mother thought it was really helpful. Parents get so many conflicting messages these days. This is a simple guide to common sense parenting, but is very needed here in the states.

It's not so much about French vs. American, but about setting limits and expectations for children. As a child of the 60s, that's how we were raised. Times were simpler. You just had to raise a good person, not a 5.0 scholar and sports star. Parents don't know how to do it all. In Europe, there isn't the same pressure to excel at everything you do like here. Life is about enjoying the present there, and not just looking ahead.

I wrote a post a bit ago about what we could learn from the French, but parenting wasn't the topic. I think we Americans could all learn a thing from the French about having a better life in general and stop having a chip on our shoulder about the French. It doesn't mean we want to live there, but we can have open minds and better our lives.

24 Corners said...

Oh my goodness, this is a wonderful post! I was raised by a very German mother who also taught me in the same manner as the French, as there were never any issues at the dining table, well, except one where I refused to eat her experimental green hamburgers...but other than that, behaving at the table was just a given, never-ever an issue! She also never placed her valuables away, such as her beautiful German porcelain and crystal...I just learned not to go near and never did...another non issue growing up.
Thank heavens I have several close friends and family members who follow these guidlines, but sadly, I also know of many that don't... wouldn't it be wonderful if basic manners and polite behaviour were the norm again? This wonderful book (and your post) can be a start!
xo J~

Linda C. said...

Manners...important in my upbringing and important in my own children's upbringing. Seems to be a 'Hit and Miss" thing in Australia now. Some people have them, others don't. The older generation certainly did.
French children...last year at Monet's garden. A group of very, very young children inside the Museum. So absorbed by the teacher's words, so attentive and polite. Beautiful.
Italy...I was walking past a group of children, and the teacher told them to say "Bongiorno Signora", each one did. Beautiful.

Cindy at enclos*ure said...

My children went to a French school in North Africa, and it was strict, but I was also amazed when in 2nd grade the teacher took the whole class (7/8 yr olds) to the mountains for a ski trip -- for a week! My husband went as chaperone and I think it was one of the most exhausting weeks of his life. Every night, the adults repaired to the bar for a drink. At the end of the week, he asked about paying his bar bill. The teacher said, "Oh don't worry, I included it in the cost to the parents."

This trip took place every year (when my 2nd child went and there was no snow, they rappelled down a cliff in harness.) Happily, I didn't find out about that until I saw the class video.

Elizabeth Eiffel said...

I absolutely agree. Parents who pander to their progeny and live vicariously through them irritate me enormously. Unconditionally loving a child does not involve incessant indulgence and an inability to set boundaries and say "no"

Susan Tiner said...

I look forward to reading the book!

Princess Freckles said...

As a children's librarian (with zero desire to have a baby of my own at this moment in time, I decided to read this book as both a possible education if i do have a child and also as a bit of a social experiment. I must say, I'm really enjoying the book, and agree 100% with all the observations the author makes and also the logic behind it. Though we do not have the creche and free preschool options here, which would make life much much easier for working mothers, all the other practices can be implemented herein the US. I could write my own book about the terrible parenting I witness everyday, the rude ill mannered children and adults, and the utter lack of discipline. This book has actually helped to ease some of my anxieties about motherhood. My mother did most of what Pamela discusses in the book, and there is no reason why I can't adopt these practices myself someday! It might be difficult dealing with other, very "American" parents, but it'd be so worth it to have my sanity! Might even make me a better mother, non?

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