Sunday, February 12, 2012

My little Bebe

Last week an article was sweeping the internet titled, "Why French Parents are Superior," by Pamela Druckerman.  I read the article, and quickly shared it on Facebook and found that many others were as mezmerized by it as I was.  Pamela Druckerman is an American that has been living in Paris with her English husband and her three children.  She's a writer, and when she quickly started observing the vast differences in children's behavior in France versus how kids behaved in America, she was determined to discover the French secret.

I didn't waste any time ordering her book for my Kindle, and I read it this weekend like a famished schoolgirl sitting down to a fancy feast.  Overall, little r is a fairly well-behaved child. Mostly, that is.  Compared to some, he is an angel, compared to others, he is a beast.  Just like I imagine most American new mom's, I devoured as many parenting advice books as I could both during my pregnancy, and often since, for pointers on how to raise my child.  I should have acknowledged that an overabundance of information can be equally as harmful as being naive.

Big R and I accidently did some things right. Little r was thankfully sleeping well through the night at two months, he puts himself to bed without much of a fight each night, and generally behaves well enough that we can often enjoy a meal out with friends at a family-friendly restaurant.

That said, since we've been here in Europe, I haven't been blind to the observation that European children are generally more well-behaved in social situations.  As decent as little r might be, I can't help but wonder often what I'm doing wrong...  Isn't that what we are trained to believe?  If our children are misbehaved, it's clearly our faults.  So, I've been hungry to discover a good approach to child rearing to keep our lives calm.  We want nothing more than to travel this part of the world as much as possible while we are living in Germany, and doing all that traveling with a little less toddler angst would be great. No, it would be exceptional!

So, I devoured Pamela's book.  It was fascinating.  Honestly, much of what I was reading made absolute perfect sense.  I also realized that I use a similar approach with little r, except that I intermix my approach to discipline with things our American culture have taught us.  One key lesson I took in from her book is that it's not just doing things differently, it's looking at your child differently.  The French believe that you should feel the rhythm of your child to develop a solid cadre.  Count me in! I'm ready for a solid and relaxing cadre - you don't have to ask this girl twice!

I don't believe there is a right or wrong way to parent. Well, aside from neglect or abuse, that is.  But as far as raising your children, we all have approaches that we best relate to and are comfortable with.  How strict you decide to be, whether you allow your children to eat what they want, and things along those lines are every parents' prerogative.  For me, I notice that Big R and I really enjoy being parents, but we also really enjoy being adults as well.  What I'm seeing around me here in Europe is that parents tend to go along their lives without letting their children consume who they are.  I think this is important, at least to me.  It's important enough that I was excited to read Pamela Druckerman's book to see what kind of knowledge she portrays and if I can glean any pointers on how to enrich our lives.

The book is excellent. I really enjoyed reading about her experiences in Paris.  The French are not terribly similar to the Germans, but they aren't completely dissimilar either, so I was finding some points where I related to how she was feeling on several levels.  She also admits that although she's living in Paris, and had raised all her children there from birth, she's not French, and much of the parenting approach is something that seems to be learned over a lifetime of being a part of the system.

Here are a few of the points that I hope to incorporate in our approach to parenting to help enrich our lives:

1. Education, not discipline. The French view what we would call discipline as education.  Everything you do provides a basis for learning.  Simply saying, "no," for example, without an explanation is not good for anyone involved.  You need to talk to your child about why what they are doing is not allowed, instead of creating a confusing barrier.  They instead use phrases like, "you do not have the right to do that," which is oddly empowering and communicates to the child that there are some things they can do, this is just not one of them.  I had starting taking this approach to some degree when little r was really small. I've always talked to him like he was a little person, and try not to treat him like a "baby."  I notice, often, that he really does understand what I'm saying.

2. There is no need to yell.  Speak with conviction, but do not yell.  If you use the right tone, and you are confident in your authority and that your child will do what you say, apparently it is much more effective.  I've tried this, somewhat accidently, in the past.  It does give the intended result...sometimes, but it's a definite work in progress. It's something that I plan to continue working on.  No one likes to yell, and it does nothing to create calm.

3.  Give your child independence with limitations.  Your child needs limits, but they also need to understand and discover the world.  This approach that we have learned in America where we cower over our children constantly, can be exhausting for both the child and for you.  There is an idea that you can actually have an adult conversation while your child is playing in the same room or in the park while you watch.  Something that seems so foreign to me, but also so incredibly desirable.

4. Patience and frustration are things a child needs to learn and understand.  The French say that a spoiled child is an unhappy child.  It's ok to not give into everything your child thinks he wants or needs.  They implement this idea in many ways including mealtimes.  The French have three meals a day and one snack around 4pm.  This schedule is implemented as early as when a child is two months old.  Even when they are told they will get a treat for being good, they have to wait until mealtime to have it.  This idea that I am so horribly guilty of that we need to stuff our child's face with food at all times of the day to keep them happy teaches them no patience.  It's ok to let your children get frustrated.  It might not be a fun reaction initially, but they need to learn this to prepare themselves for the world.  Teaching themselves how to distract their attention away from what they want builds incredible self control.  Being that little r has inherited probably the worst set of "patience" genes from both my side and Big R's side of the family, any possible way we can promote this would be a very positive thing!

5. A child should say, "hello," when they arrive, and "good-bye" when they leave. This is a very French thing, but it resonates well with me.  Apparently it is impolite not to say, "bonjour" when you first greet someone.  Children are not excused from this expectation.  The idea is that children are to be acknowledge as well, and they are not to hide in their parents' shadow.  I think it's a great habit to get little r doing, and I think it will give him much respect in his years to come if he is used to always saying, "hello" and "good-bye." It's a little thing, but it seems like it could make a big difference.

Don't get me wrong, I don't expect that reading a book is going to suddenly turn little r into an angel child, but I like having an approach to things that make sense to me.  When my mom stayed with me when little r was just an infant, she would comment often on how mothers today are overwhelmed with information, it's no wonder we are scared we are going to do something wrong.  There are so many do's and don't's and proper and improper approaches.  We get scared into thinking that letting our child have some independence is somehow going to kill them, so we childproof our homes to the extreme and we make our parks so sterile they don't even encourage creative play.  Then again, saying "no" is not a bad thing either. I am confident that just because I don't let little r do certain things will not somehow inhibit his brain development.

I believe that in our hearts, all parents are equipped to know how to understand their child.  We just need to stay attuned to that and listen to our gut and not get distracted by what all the experts tell us to do.  Well, that's what I believe anyhow. We'll see if we start noticing a difference in little r.

If you haven't read the article, and you are interested, here's a link to it in the Wall Street Journal:

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