Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Bringing Up Bebe

 Have you wondered how come French kids are so bien-eleve/well-behaved?

 They don't seem at war with their parents

 Ex-pat American Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up Bebe has many answers I'm seeking.
 Plus (perhaps unintentionally) what makes the French...so French. Why the culture is the way it is. Even why French women are thin.

 It begins in infancy and even before. French women experience pregnancy as a 'spa' period to lather attention on themselves. Pregnancy is not thought of as a 'personal research project'.

 Druckerman, a former Wall Street Journalist,has been living in Paris for 10 years with her British husband. As a new Mom with 3 young children she became curious about French parenting. Should her first-born enter a creche/French daycare at 9 months? Would this effect her child's development? Where were alphabets in the classrooms? What were tots 'learning'? 
Compassion and respect for others.
Read Judith Warner's reponse in Time.

 Fr parents create a secure 'cadre' or FRAME(not a box) for a child to grow and discover life within. "The French believe it's important to be very strict about a few key things, but then to give kids as much freedom as possible about the rest. You can really see this at bedtime. French parents tell me that at bedtime, their kids must stay in their rooms. But within their rooms, they can do what they want", from a Druckerman interview.
 Learning manners is foremost in French upbringing.
Have you walked into a Paris shop/cafe, asked directions of a French policeperson without saying 'Bonjour' first? Then you know the importance of Bonjour + au-revoir, merci, s'il vous plait.

 Parents assert authority when needed with 'non' and 'les gros yeux'/the big eyes to let a child know when they've stepped over the limits. Druckerman says," 'the big eyes' works best when there is mutual respect...strictness comes with flexibility...giving kids autonomy and choices"
 French children learn early to wait/attend. To deal with a bit of frustration.
 The way French parents and children deal with food is such an eye-opener. I'll post more tomorrow on that one. For sure most French children could pass 'The Marshmallow Test' with flying colors. Instant gratification is not encouraged. Learning to wait is.
 Many French toddlers bake every weekend. With parents nearby but not directing much. I was allowed to put a raisin button on the gingerbread man and lick the bowl (not allowed for Fr children). That was it. I never got to make anything from scratch by myself. No wonder I can't bake #$@ macarons.
 I'm always interested to see the plethora of children's cookbooks in France. Now it makes perfect sense to me.
 Photo by Ernst Vikne
'Alone time' is important for French children. Learning to play by themselves and become self-reliant is highly valued. I was scolded for spending happy hours drawing and cutting out paperdolls by myself. "Why don't you go outside and play like other kids", I was told relentlessly. I never paid attention and I still don't go outside enough probably.
 The one subject Druckerman doesn't go into in depth is the French doudou. Perhaps that's my turf to map out. Qui sait? If France interests you (would you be here if it didn't) then you'll learn much about French culture. Druckerman's book is hilarious, laugh-out loud funny to boot. I'll address French food issues tomorrow. Bear has a lot to contribute. Watch a WSJ video of Druckerman here. And here is Druckerman en famille in Paris & NYC.


  1. Just bought the book for my kindle. Alas my kindle book collection is gathering faster than my reading time. Must start reading!

    I noticed the delish cup of cocoa in your kindle post. Can you recommend a good hot chocolate for home preparation.

    Thnx much!

  2. This sounds like wonderful information! I think I should have been born French...except for the "dealing with frustration" part. Not so good at that.

  3. Fascinating post! Can't wait until tomorrow's.

  4. Bonjour Carol. Great story. Beret-wearing Druckerman was on the Today show this morning. Did you see the segment? Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  5. Very very very interesting and well done post today, Carol. There is a "French School" for lower grades around the corner from me. Every morning I seem to be ending my walk as slim women are pulling up and dropping their beautiful little charges off, to be escorted into the school by more slim, French speaking women.
    A delightful touch of foreign elegance to start my day.

  6. I watched her interview yesterday & found it interesting. I was much that way & tried to do same for my children. US parents tending to give Instant gratification,never letting a child fail,& retry, putting them in the spotlight when other adults are present, not giving them responsibility, fixing all their problems , giving false selfesteem by over praising every little thing,micromanaging them, not being consistant, letting the child be the boss are all things they do to cause the misbehaving children I see in public tormenting their parents,being loud, obnoxious, throwing tantrums, being rude etc. I am generalizing, certainly,but, unfortunately, seems to be the norm. My son-in-law has said his middle school classes are impossible! many years ago, he had a few trouble makers in class, now he said the good kids are the minority. and some of my friends with teens are having horrid times now because of the above parenting "style". sorry this so long. I love children & it concerns me that so many no matter their societal backgrounds are being reared to be As you said compassionate with respect for others.

  7. Meant are not being reared...
    I used to draw all the time too, when I wasn't out riding my horse or doing farm chores. as long as I got my chores & homework done too.

  8. I'd love to read this book, although I have no children of my own yet. I did read reviews via a few other sites- it seems that most American women feel offended by it.
    I find it intriguing and would love some new ideas for the future...why not?!

  9. Your post is exquisite, Carol!

    Not only French children are brought up differently. From what I have observed, each country in Europe seems to have its very own way of bringing up children.

    I think it is wonderful, though, that this book has so much good press, watching other cultures' approaches to childrearing is truly interesting.

  10. @ MandaJ:
    Why do you feel that some American women feel offended by the book? I'd love to hear about the reasons, please! :-)

  11. How timely...Druckerman was interviewed on the Today Show this morning. Unfortunately, I was only able to catch a small portion. Thanks for filling in the blanks!

  12. Bonjour! Such an eye-opener!! There is nothing like exposure to other cultures to teach you what your own culture is. How perceptive of Ms. Druckerman to glean all this and put it into book form. Au revior.

  13. This resonates with me--reminds me of how my parents were with us...sweet.

  14. You are ahead of the curve on this one, Carol :) The national media is catching up to you!
    I've never been to France to see the effect of child rearing there, but from what I've read here it seems to work extremely well. It seems like most French kids are well behaved, especially when it comes to patience.
    I'm curious if this stays with the French into adulthood?

  15. Saw this book talked about on GMA last week. Very interesting book. My mom didn't like me messing up the kitchen so no cooking allowed, but I did get to lick the bowls. :)

  16. Hey Nikon,

    where do you think all that poise/savoir faire & je n'ai sait quoi comes from?

  17. Cris, that's how come we got wrecked!!! :)
    Bowl-licking is a BIG non-non
    You have to wait until snack time/gouter at 4:30 PM

  18. I swear I was French in another life, or it's because my mother was trained by French nuns--but as a 17 year old California mother I knew instinctively to do these things--and my son became French!! For real...a citizen!

    In HS he studied in Aix-en-Provence, went to college in the US, and graduate school in Paris. He's now lived in Europe half his life and isn't returning to the US.

    I believed that a child should have certain known firm boundaries, freedom within those, and affirmation of his strong qualities...on the theory of shinning the light on the good to make that grow. And always stopped what I was doing to look at him in the eye at his level t0 listen to what he was saying w/o interruption so he would likewise learn respect and not feel anxious, unheard, unappreciated or rushed. We had a garden that he worked in and learned good nutrition and respect for food and the environment from an early age.

    When I was PG at 17--can remember when in grocery stores seeing 'adult' mothers who should know better, holding their babies/toddlers feet and arms dangling facing outward on their hips--and thinking to myself, 'What does that communicate to this child...'You are a sack of potatoes.'

    The French do so much that is wise...and hope it doesn't change.

    BTW the man who signed the peace treaty effectively ending the Mexican-American war in the Golden State in 1847 so that California became a US State--was French!!

  19. Ah. You are so on trend with this... it seems to be EVERYWHERE lately. Here is another thing for North American mothers to stress over. Hahah.

    I found the parallels with Walter Mischel's work very interesting.

    I must confess to implementing 'les gros yeux' to great effect for some time. But sometimes it is necessary to cross them first to get the attention of the naughty infant in question.

  20. This is a GREAT post. Can't wait to read more!

  21. Uyek,
    I first heard about the book on BBC Women's Own mid-January. It came out in the UK first with the title,
    It was instant love for me.
    Why ever did they change the title?I take a lot of pictures of French children in Paris when I can without being invasive.
    They ARE different than the home-grown variety in some ways...

  22. Great post! I really enjoy your blog.

  23. Boundaries, reinforcing manners and teaching kids to respect parents' space...sounds like how many of my Christian AMERICAN friends rear their children. Me included! But I'm glad you touched on the highlights of her book. Love your blog!

  24. You just reaffirmed my purchase of an Easy Bake oven..today..to start:) Although both my girls let les boys bake to their hearts content..I think it was for me:)

    I'll tell you a funny story about throwing food one day:)

  25. Oooooohhh. I can't wait to read this book! I was an au pair for a family in France and then sent my own children to a French pre-school here in California. I find this whole subject fascinating. Thank you so much for the info!!!!

  26. Caroline5:25 AM

    The French government allows French parents the physical punishment of their children.
    50 % of the French would like to keep this law.

    Because of the occupation of both parents French children have to adapt themselves into the society from early on. According to the French sociologist Isabelle Bourgois : "French children are no half-adults to whom everything has to be explained. With a slap on the back the children learn to accept the rules."

    Btw, clouts are widespread in regular French schools.

    Sorry, but for me this authoritharian system is not sympathetic at all. IMO slapping children is a sign of weakness and lacking empathy. But to each his own.

  27. Deborah11:58 AM

    I was interested to read how French children are raised. I just returned from a very short visit to Paris, during which I went to the Musee Guimet.
    On entering the first gallery, I saw a group of 3 years old – presumably from a day care center of some sort – sitting on the floor in front of a group of Khmer statues, while their teacher explained to them who the statues represented.
    (I can’t say I understand spoken French well enough to get it all, but the words “Vishnu” and “Siva” were clearly comprehensible.)
    One would never see a group of American toddlers being taken on a similar field trip here, which I find to be very sad.

  28. I saw your post a few days ago, but didn't have time to read it fully- and now the book is everywhere! I look forward to reading it sometime too.

  29. Susan S.9:30 PM

    I definitely think that you should move to Paris. It costs plenty to travel back and forth many times a year and to rent short term apartments. You speak enough french to get by and have friends there. What's holding you back?


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