The concept of Bringing Up Bébé is one American mother discovering the wisdom of French parenting. To be honest, I didn’t even know French parenting styles are an actual thing but I loved that this was a readable book rather than a pregnancy guide.
Here is the thing, French parenting is a thing, and a quite wonderful parenting style at that. It appears French children are very well-behaved from birth and I’ve taken some quite useful tips from this book.
The book itself is by American journalist Pamela Druckerman living as a Parisian expat who explores what French parenting actually entails, backed up with real life parenting stories and studies, while comparing to the American style of parenting throughout. Her attitude towards France and the emphasis on comparing to Mother’s in America isn’t something I was interested in, it is the techniques used by French parents that fascinates me.
French Sleep Training
There is something called ‘la Pause’ that the book picks up on which helps French children sleep through the night from around 2-3 months old or that they completely ‘do their nights’ by 6 months. Yes, really! Obviously not all children sleep through the night in France but they do follow a certain method to kind of allow the baby the chance to learn to sleep all night, la Pause.
“One reason for pausing is that young babies make a lot of movement and noise while they’re sleeping. This is normal and fine. If parents rush in and pick the baby up every time he makes a peep, they’ll sometimes wake him up.”
Basically, a lot of English and American parents rush to their baby as soon as they hear a cry – resulting in sleep-deprived parents – but French parents don’t immediately do this, instead they pause, watch and wait to see if the baby falls back to sleep on its own. They don’t ignore the baby if it cries for hours but they let the baby learn its sleep cycle and for a few moments pause before they make their presence known. So the baby essentially teaches itself to sleep.
A few other points I picked up on is the family ritual of eating together at the family table and the baby eating the same foods as the parents from 6 months. Baby-led weaning is popular all over the world but the idea here is on socialisation rather than nutrition, and children become more adventurous eaters (rather than fussy) being exposed to a variety of foods from an early age!
“Awakening is about introducing a child to sensory experiences, including tastes. It doesn’t always require the parent’s active involvement. It can come from staring at the sky, smelling dinner as it’s being prepared, or playing alone on a blanket. It’s a way of sharpening the child’s senses and preparing him to distinguish between different experiences. It’s the first step toward teaching him to be a cultivated adult who knows how to enjoy himself. Awakening is a kind of training for children in how to profiter – to soak up the pleasure and richness of the moment.”
Children also learn patience and control from a young age in typical French parenting as they are given the freedom to entertain themselves and gain more responsibility in learning solutions to problems rather than relying on the parent all the time. That’s not to say they aren’t as fun and creative, it’s just that they learn how to discover the world at their own pace. I love the fact that children grow up being able to play by themselves rather than sitting in front of a tv for hours.
You’ll find plenty of other interesting differences in French parenting but a lot of it is to do with the lifestyle offered to parents in France – toddlers attending a full-day creche from 9 months for example (there are far more working mums than those that stay at home), and how epidurals are the norm when giving birth. It’s quite a laissez-faire French style of parenting but French women don’t focus their life on one aspect, it’s all about balance.
“When I ask French parents what they most want for their children, they say things like “to feel comfortable in their own skin” and “to find their path in the world.” They want their kids to develop their own tastes and opinions.
I liked the idea of balancing parenting so that the child is not the focus and only purpose in a parent’s life – this can be unhealthy for the child. I also believe it’s good for a child to see a Mum with her own life, hobbies and work!
Another point highlighted in the book that I like is the importance of French children greeting people with the magic word: Bonjour. It’s a way of life that children grow up from an early age greeting others. I like this as I’ve often found that children in the UK have very little to say unless prompted. By saying Bonjour and Au Revoir to others, it puts a child and adult at equal footing, cementing the idea that kids are people in their own right and shows a grasp of politeness.
In conclusion, I don’t believe French Mums know how to parent ‘better’ than any other Mum in the world but I do really buy into some of the methods they use for a more balanced parenting experience, a calm family environment and cultivating a sense of patience for their children. It’s just a different way and I love some of the facets of French child-rearing.
I’ve been listening to Bringing Up Bébé on Audible and recommend it for a light, less formal read during pregnancy. If you have any book recommendations, please do share. I’m really interested in learning and exploring everything there is on different styles of parenting across the world.