“Bringing Up Bébé” : discovering my inner French mother

Pamela Druckerman entered my life at just the right time.  Let me explain why.

I’ve reached a new all-time low in knowing how to manage the toddler.  He has entered a stage of outright rebellion, whether it’s a raging tantrum about not being allowed to have a quilt in his bed on a hot summer night or completely ignoring whatever I have to say.  I take pride in considering myself a strict parent, but enforcing the rules are becoming a truly exhausting job.

When I got Druckerman’s book “Bringing Up Bébé” out of the library,  I was expecting an entertaining read.  (I blogged about an article in the Wall Street Journal that reviewed her book back in the winter.)  Instead, within the first few pages, I found validation and encouragement.

Druckerman is an American mom living in Paris.  She writes about the differences between American and French parenting styles.  Of course there are many, none of which can be deemed ‘correct,’ but the one that jumps out at me is the American “child-king” approach, in which everything revolves around the kids, and the French approach where kids are expected to submit fully to parents’ authority.

As I read, I realized that certain aspects of Canadian/American parenting that absolutely drive me nuts are, in fact, unique to this area of the world.  I could very easily move to France.

For instance, I hate snack time.  My kids eat a lot at mealtime and very little in between.  When we go to play group and my son gets stuffed to the gills with a gigantic snack at 11 a.m., he never eats his lunch.  No wonder North Americans have so many weight problems if we’re programmed to eat all the time as kids.

Also frustrating is the expectation that buying into mini van culture is inevitable.  My husband’s coworkers are always saying, “Just wait and see!  You’ll need it to drive your kids and their friends to hockey practice.” #1 – I won’t be a maman-taxi, the derogatory term that Druckerman encounters in Paris, and #2 – My kids won’t be playing competitive hockey for a number of reasons unrelated to mini vans.  So, problem solved, and stop telling me otherwise.

I agree with the French approach of giving kids more free time and fewer extra-curricular activities.  I grew up with one music lesson a week, and that was it.  The rest of the time I played.  Not only is it healthy for the kid, it’s even healthier for the parent.  One French mom describes feeling “constrained” by driving her kids around and waiting for all their practices; she has better things to do with her time.

I intend to enjoy these child-raising years wholeheartedly, and that requires a lot of limits and structure to make it enjoyable for everyone.  “Bringing Up Bébé” has given me renewed strength to enforce the rules at home and create that happy, relaxed atmosphere that one has when a child knows his limits, respects them, and the parents are not stressed out.

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13 thoughts on ““Bringing Up Bébé” : discovering my inner French mother

  1. I totally agree. I was really strict with my kids when they were little. Then, when they were older they behaved themselves and I could lighten up. Some parents seem to think that their children will magically behave nicely when they reach a certain age. Your toddler will get over it. Really.

    1. I know… it’s just hard to believe right now. He’s SO stubborn! My mom tells me I was far worse 🙂
      And I too agree with your philosophy. It’s much preferable to lighten up when they’re older and able to make decisions rather than suddenly come down hard, which is not fair to them at all.

  2. I wish there was a perfect formula to bring up the perfect kids. But there isn’t. In the meantime, doing our best should suffice.

    1. You’re very right. The key is choosing a path that suits each of us, and as we luckily all come differently, it makes for a wonderfully diverse world in the end.

  3. I am coping with the same battles, on a different level. My other half has a little boy who is nearly 2 1/2. He has been living with us full time for the last 5 months as his mother completely abandoned him and moved away to live with -yet another- internet boyfriend somewhere in the States. We were given the opportunity to collect his toys and clothes by her landlord (she literally fled without paying rent/bills etc) and we discovered his room was set up like a cage… she left him barricaded in it with a T.V. so she could do anything she wanted and not have to raise him. Neighbors of hers said they’d hear him running around past midnight every night (kept up so she could play her video games, and then sleep in in the morning) and that she yelled and screamed at him non-stop.

    So as I said, we’ve had him full time for the last 5 months (more thankful than anything that we got him out of that horrible situation he was living in), but the fact of the matter is he has lived the first 2 years of his life without being in a loving, regimented house hold. I have been trying my best to implement everything I can, but it is the worst battle I have ever encountered. His life changes; we moved 6 months ago, he moved in with us full time 5 months ago, his grandparents/aunts spoiled him to the point it’s an earth shattering tantrum any time we leave anywhere while I was still working, 3 months ago I started my mat leave so I was home 24/7 with him and 2 months ago I gave birth to his sister.

    We went from being care free couple, to full time parents of 2 within a very short time span (we had Marcus on weekends previous as she was on E.I. right after Mat leave and was home full time). I love them more than anything, but the battles really do break me down sometimes… He only has a vocabulary of about a dozen words since his mother never encouraged him. There are tantrums, whining, rages and physical flip-outs and I do everything I can to keep strict and regimented. We’ve tried every method and none seem to have any effect. We’ve decided to stick with one method in hopes that he will eventually catch on, but its still exhausting. I have only just recently built up enough courage to go out alone with both kids, but I go out fearing tantrums that happen for no reason (example: asking “did you say thank you?” resulted in him whipping his sandwich in the back of my friends brand new car **shudder**), and whining that starts for no reason and lasts for what seems like forever.

    This has turned into more of a rant then a comment, so I will end this here with I understand what you’re going through. I wish it were easier, and I know it will get easier eventually, but right now it is absolutely wearing me out.

    1. Hey Alexa,
      Wow, that’s unbelievable. Marcus is definitely a very lucky little guy to now have a proper family life after such a rough beginning. I can imagine it’s the toughest battle you’ve ever been through. It’s hard enough with my own almost-3-year-old, let alone someone else’s kid with that kind of emotional baggage. And with a newborn thrown into the mix, you’ve definitely got your hands full.
      Hang in there, girl! Don’t let yourself get too discouraged. If you’re giving your best, it’s the best you can do, right? I think you’re wise to stick to a method and keep going – I’ve read in a lot of books that issues aren’t so much with lack of method efficacy as they are with lack of implementation. Consistency is key with kids. Usually you can’t see the effect you’re having on toddlers, but be assured that it’s working somehow, somewhere, and the results will appear eventually. Everything worthwhile takes time to establish.
      You’ve probably already got lots of resources, but I love the Baby Whisperer books by Tracy Hogg. There’s one for toddlers that I found helpful.
      It sounds like you’re doing great work, and hope everything’s going well with your beautiful new baby girl!

  4. I listened to a piece on CBC radio about this book and forgot to mark it on my “To Read” list – thanks for the reminder! And by the way, I too will never see it mandatory nor will I ever drive a minivan just because I have children!

  5. Hi Alexa,

    I recently moved to UK from Canada. I have a 3 year old boy and took him a good 4 months to adjust in the new place and stop having tadrums. Already the age of 2.5 (when we moved) is a very difficult one – kids get very active – but to change everything in their life is very difficult. The hate to change their routine. I think in your case it is the combination of big changes in your life and the toddler’s life. Try to continue the good job you do with him and you will soon see the good results. Take care and good luck!

  6. Hey Katherine,
    I’m home sick today and I went looking for today’s blog and there’s not one! I did enjoy yesterday’s though. You know my experience of French kids is that they are courteous, are comfortable with adults and seem to know their place in society. I was so impressed when going to the local boulangerie with a friend how this pint-sized little girl first kissed my friend on both cheeks and then without stopping moved on to kiss her friend’s friends -that was Harold and me! This Bringing up Bebe sounds interesting. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. I’ve been thinking about the same thing … how much is too much in terms of activities (and my kids do a lot).

    The only thing I would say about driving kids places is that we resisted for a long time until our kids really wanted to play competitive sports (it’s soccer in our family). My solution to the maman-taxi problem is to take the opportunity to run while my daughter is at her soccer practices/games. We bike to the fields that are nearby. And if I have to take other kids along, we all bring soccer balls and practice and play by the side of the field. I find that as long as I’m being active too, it works for me too. (Though I will say that I’m the only parent who ever does this; returning from a hard run to watch a game, pouring in sweat … well, it’s not great for social bonding by the soccer field.)

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