“Bringing Up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman: Part Three

It’s been a lengthy set of notes for this book. In case you missed them, here is Part One and here is Part Two.

  1. Sacrificing your sex life for your kids is considered wildly unhealthy and out of balance. The French know that having a baby changes things, especially at first. Couples typically assume that there’s a very intense stretch after the birth, when it’s all hands on deck for the baby. After that, gradually, the mother and father are supposed to find their equilibrium as a couple again.
  2. The couple is the most important thing. It’s the only thing that you choose in your life. Your children, you didn’t choose. You chose your husband. So you’re going to make your life with him so you have an interest in it going well.
  3. Today’s young parents tend to give up all their freedom and all their former pleasures, not as a matter of practicality, but as a matter of principle. Even when these parents sneak off occasionally by themselves, they feel too guilty to get full enjoyment.
  4. They treat “adult time” not as an occasional, hard-won privilege, but as a basic human need. French parents don’t just think these separations are good for parents. They also genuinely believe that they’re important for kids, who must understand that their parents have their own pleasures.
  5. The reigning view in America seems to be that kids have finicky, limited palates, and that parents that venture beyond grilled cheese do so at their peril. This belief, of course, is self-fulfilling. Many of the American kids I meet do have finicky and limited palates. Frequently they spend a few years on a kind of mono-diet.
  6. French kids typically only eat at mealtimes. But these children get to exclude whole categories of textures, colors, and nutrients just because they want to. The extreme pickiness that’s come to seem normal in America, looks to French parents like a dangerous eating disorder, or at best, a wildly bad habit.
  7. It turns out that French parents don’t start their babies off on bland, colorless grains. From the first bit, they serve babies flavor-packed vegetables. The first foods that French babies typically eat are steamed and pureed green beans, spinach, carrots, zucchini, and the white part of leeks.
  8. The same advice to keep re-proposing foods to babies is elevated to a mission. Parents take for granted that, while kids prefer certain tastes over others, the flavor of each vegetable is inherently rich and interesting. Parents see it as their job to bring the children around to appreciating this. They believe that just as they must teach the child to sleep, how to wait, and how to say bonjour, they must teach them how to eat.
  9. Ask your child to take just one bite, and then move on to the next course. Parents should never offer a different food to replace the rejected one. And they should react neutrally if the child won’t eat something. If you don’t react too much to his refusal, your child will truly abandon this behavior. Don’t panic, you can keep giving him milk to be sure he’s getting enough food.
  10. Offer the same ingredients prepared many different ways. Try steaming, baking in parchment, grilled, plain, with sauce or seasoned. Your child will discover different colors, textures, and aromas.
  11. Talk to him about this new food. The conversation about food should go beyond “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” They suggest showing kids a vegetable and asking “Do you think this is crunchy, and that it will make a sound when you bit it?” What does the flavor remind you of? What do you feel in your mouth? They suggest playing flavor games like offering different types of apples and having the child decide which is the sweetest and which is the most acidic.
  12. The point isn’t that every kid will like everything. It’s that he’ll give each food a chance. If you keep trying things, you eventually come around to liking most of them.
  13. One extension of the tasting principle is that everyone eats the same dinner. There are no choices or substitutions. If she doesn’t finish a dish, it’s okay. But we all eat the same thing.
  14. They fit sweets inside a cadre. Candy has its place. It’s a regular part of their lives that they don’t gorge on it like freed prisoners the moment they get their hands on it. Mostly, children seem to eat it at birthday parties, school events, and as the occasional treat. At these occasions, they’re usually free to eat all they want.
  15. The idea of serving kids their meals in courses: At breakfast, when the kids sit down, put plates of cut fruit on the table. They nibble on this while I’m getting their toast or cereal ready. They can have juice at breakfast, but they know for lunch and dinner, we drink water.
  16. My kids come to the table hungry because, except for the gouter, they don’t snack. It helps that other kids around them aren’t snacking either.
  17. But the kids don’t have a choice. I’ve accepted that it’s my duty to teach them to like a variety of tastes and to eat meals that are balanced. I try to keep the whole day’s meals balanced in my head.
  18. Sweets are no longer non grata in my house. Now that we offer them in moderation, the child won’t treat every piece of candy like it’s their last.
  19. “It’s parents, then children”: Sharing power with a child does not exist. If you give a child too many choices, he doesn’t feel re-assured. You have to show him that’s the way it is and it’s not a bad way or a good way, it’s just the way.
  20. Having a parent who is confident and decisive is reassuring to kids.
  21. They spend a lot of time telling their kids what’s permissible and what’s not. Sometimes children just do not have the right to do something.
  22. Another phrase often used is “I don’t agree.” It is more than just say no. It establishes the adult as another mind, which the child must consider. And it credits the child with having his own view about the situation, even if this view is being over-ruled.
  23. Instead of waiting for a big crisis, and resorting to dramatic punishments, parents and caregivers focus on giving small, polite preventative adjustments, based on the well-established rules.
  24. They’re very strict about a few things and pretty relaxed about everything else. That’s the cadre model: a firm frame, surrounding a lot of freedom. Being strict about a few key things makes parents seem more reasonable and thus makes it more likely that children will obey.
  25. A few parents tell me that at bedtime, their kids must stay in their rooms. But within their rooms, they can do whatever they want.
  26. The sign of a successful education is to teach a child to obey until he can freely authorize himself to disobey from time to time. Because can one learn to disobey certain rules if one has not learned to obey?
  27. He also says that children should watch a bit of television so they have a shared culture with other kids.
  28. The conventional American wisdom that when kids fail at something, parents should cushion the blow with positive feedback. (See “Nuture Shock“) A better tack is to gently delve into what went wrong, giving the kids confidence and tools to improve.
  29. What they conclude is that some praise is good for a child, but that if you praise her too much, you’re not letting her live her life.
  30. Dolto’s idea that I should trust my children, and that trusting and respecting them will make them trust and respect me, is very appealing. The clutch of mutual dependency and worry that often seems to bind American parents to their children feels inevitable at times, but it never feels good. It doesn’t seem like the basis for the best parenting. Letting children “live their lives” isn’t about releasing them into the wild and abandoning them. It’s about acknowledging that children aren’t repositories for their parent’s ambitions or projects for their parents to perfect. They are separate and capable with their own tastes, pleasures, and experiences of the world. They even have their own secrets.

Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (now with Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting)

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