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Bringing Up Bébé – A Review

2012 May 18


**WARNING – Super long post**

So you can now officially add me to the list of the thousands of “mommy bloggers” who have reviewed Bringing Up Bébé by former Wall Street Journal writer Pamela Druckerman. Hey, I am not one to skip a good trend…I am still listening to Gotye on repeat, for god’s sake.

First, you should know this about me going in: I adore the French. I have only been to Paris once but I wholeheartedly believe I am meant to go back, hopefully for a prolonged period of time. I grew up in Montreal, which also gave me a decidedly more European-inspired upbringing than what my kids are enjoying in Southern California, so I tend to relate to the French a little more than most.

I like their language, their culture, their fashion, their food, how they can be rude and elitist without understanding (or caring) why you are offended. I like how they drink wine with every meal. And smoke like it’s a vitamin. And now…apparently, I like how they parent, too.

I think most people assume this book is Druckerman’s assault on American parenting and go into it prepared to defend themselves. In fact, she approaches the study of French vs. American parenting with a fairly open mind, not convinced either side has the perfect solution — does anyone?? — but instead highlighting some of the methods and beliefs she has witnessed during her time spent in France, raising at first just a young girl and then a pair of twin boys as well.

And le proof is kind of in le pudding.

Here are just some of the highlights:

Le cadre (the frame). French parents believe you need to create a framework of boundaries for your children, but then give them freedom within that space. This was somewhat new to me, but resonated quickly. For instance, don’t bring them to the park and then stand over their every move. Let them be free, roam wildly, explore…as long as they stay within le cadre that you have determined. Keep a strict bedtime but hey, maybe let them go a little crazy in their room until they fall asleep. As long as they stay in their room, in le cadre…

Le goûter (the snack). This one really struck a chord with me as well, as I spent another post-meal time with Kai picking food off the floor in a huff. French children, from a very young age, eat three meals per day and one snack, usually served around 4:30pm. C’est tout. They do not snack all day and therefore tend to be hungrier come meal time which leads to a) less wasted food on the floor and b) a more curious palate that is open to different tastes, textures and sensations. Kai is now on the same routine…and seriously, we saved a lot of peas this week.

La pause (the pause). This is one we adopted early on with Little D, thanks to a very wise nanny and a video monitor. French babies sleep through the night practically right away, some as soon as a few weeks old. And it’s because their parents do not rush to them with every creak or cry. They pause. They give the babies a minute or two or five to sort themselves out. It’s important to note that they do not necessarily believe in letting them “cry it out” (though I do. To a certain degree. Sorry. There goes my 20 readers…), they just believe in giving them a chance to settle back down before they interject. And their kids sleep through the night very early on. Did I mention that? Sleep. Through. The. Night.

Bonjour (good day). This is another thing that has stuck with me. While we in America focus so much on teaching our children to say “please” and “thank you,” (which is a must, don’t get me wrong…Kai is saying “thank you” at 16 months. It sounds more like “da dooooo,” but it’s the thought that counts) in France they place just as much emphasis on “bonjour” or hello and goodbye. Druckerman remarked on how so many of her American friends’ kids barely utter a word to her when they see her, instead shying away behind their parents or simply ignoring her altogether. And let’s be honest, that’s the truth, I see it every single day of my life and I can practically assure you that Little D is the only one that has to go and say a formal goodbye to her teachers on the play yard every day when we leave school. By encouraging their children to acknowledge others, particularly adults and strangers, with a simple “bonjour” they are not only teaching them manners but confidence and self-assurance. I approve.

Solo play. I loved this one, too. It’s all about how we need to let our children learn to entertain themselves. Over the past few months with Kai, we have often looked across the room and found him completely immersed in a book or toy without any encouragement from us. And we leave him that way. The French don’t believe in constantly stimulating their children with “what’s that book you’re reading?” or “look at that blue bus in your hand” or “wow, you picked up a crayon, good boy!” Instead, they let them play. Without words of encouragement. Without a hovering eye. Without even putting down their glass of wine.

Le chocolat. And the last highlight I would like to share with you goes back to le goûter. Turns out a lot of French kids enjoy warm baguette and chocolate spread for theirs. Or a fresh pain au chocolat. Or a warm cup of hot cocoa. It teaches them…hmm, I am not sure what exactly. But I bet it makes for some damn happy kids. And which American parent can possibly argue with that?? 😉

So, have you read the book? Loved it? Hated it?



15 Responses
  1. May 18, 2012

    Haven’t read it, but apparently, I’m French. Or as French as a Germanic-WASPy-American-married-to-a-Latin-Mediterranean-Man can be. I do want to read this, have for a while, but am oh, so glad you posted this real-life summary of it. Pretty much all of it hits home RIGHT NOW.

    Le cadre – I. Do. Not. Helicopter.
    Le gouter – Nothing infuriates me more than my well-meaning-but-misguided MIL (yes, the Romanian one) having fed my beans snacks they don’t tell me about all day long. When they’re with me all day? They get something that looks like the French schedule. And guess what? They eat.
    La pause – this seems like a good description of how we ended up nighttime parenting No. 2, especially, since we ueber-parented No. 1 because MIL (living w/ us at the time) doesn’t believe in children crying. Or fussing. Or anything.
    Bonjour – H and I are firm believers in “forcing” the salutations with just about everyone, even the sullen neighbors who don’t want to talk in our building elevator. And our children are better for it.
    Solo play – our beans relish this – and come to us when they want us to join. The best things (like castles and doors decorated with 10 beautiful drawings and all of the farm animals – all 73 of them – lined up along the living room floor) come out of them by themselves
    Le chocolat – if only I could indulge this more easily, for said MIL apparently believes that chocolate croissants are a food group. But we still do it. And it makes everyone happy.

    • WWGD permalink*
      May 21, 2012

      Wait…you mean you don’t believe chocolate croissants are a food group?!? Hmm. 😉

  2. May 18, 2012

    Thanks for the summary- I probably won’t read the book but it sounds like many things I believe in. And I think that part one is the most important thing- to give freedom within healthy boundaries. Great reminder 🙂

  3. Julie permalink
    May 18, 2012

    I read the book when I was about 16 weeks pregnant and decided it was the only parenting book I needed to read. Not that it’s a parenting book. It just touched on everything I was curious (/nervous) about and really struck a chord. I definitely have a tendency to overprepare, overanalyze, over, well, everything, so I’m really glad I picked this up early and I didn’t have to read all those other crazy theories. I’m probably delusional but for now my plan is to follow the Druckerman Method. (I love the French).

  4. May 18, 2012

    I read the book and posted about it as well. I thought it was very interesting and a lot of Druckerman’s points resonated with us. Our baby is famous in our lobby for her hellos and goodbyes. I’ve also learned the value of a well timed bit of chocolate.

  5. Steph permalink
    May 19, 2012

    Great post, as always my friend.
    As a Frenchie I can totally relate. These are all good practices that I think anyone can apply.
    But I have one question for you, are you really able to get away with no snacks for Kai? I can’t see that part working for us.

    • WWGD permalink*
      May 21, 2012

      YES! It has only been a week or so, but I consciously try to cut out random snacking in the morning. He sips a lot of water (which he needs, anyhow) but we have been skipping a real snack and it’s going ok. I truly think with snacking that sometimes we are more reliant on it than they are, because we think it will solve any meltdown…which it usually does.

  6. taj permalink
    May 19, 2012

    Just one question, how to do La Pause when you have twins sharing a room? One cries for too long and she wakes her sister. Then is “hi, hi, hey, hi” at 3am. that’s the one thing we still haven’t seemed to master. Oh sleep how i miss you!

    • WWGD permalink*
      May 21, 2012

      Ok, you got me there. No idea. BUT…the author does have twin boys so I am sure she has maneuvered somehow. In our personal experience (i.e. not with twins and not in the same room) we spent so much time worrying that Kai would wake D with his crying even from across the hall, but he really never did. She slept right through. I guess that’s not the case with your little lovelies 🙁

  7. May 20, 2012

    I pretty much had the same reaction reaction to the book. Love the one snack a day, which I fully intend to implement as much as is possible (obviously can’t control what’s happening at daycare/school). HUGE fan of “Bonjour.” Hooray for solo play! Hope to successfully use a cadre system. Wish we had something similar to the creche – not just to have free/subsidized daycare but for the meals and teaching good citizenry.

    You can count me as a +1 for your feelings on “cry it out.” So now you’re only down 19 readers.

    • WWGD permalink*
      May 21, 2012

      Ha! We actually just saw the cadre concept come into play again this weekend with Kai…and it was true. We gave him just enough freedom to enjoy himself, but within our parameters. And yes to subsidized daycare and a million other things we need here in America, though I know from seeing my friends in Canada who have it that nothing is perfect.

  8. May 26, 2012

    great review! i’ve had this book on request from the library forever and now i feel like i don’t have to read it 🙂 for the record, i’m all for crying it out too.

  9. liz duncan permalink
    January 4, 2013

    Just read this review and this books sounds very interesting! I used to work with kids of all ages and I have five sisters, four of them have kids so I assume that I know a lot about parenting. With that said, I don’t have my own children yet and I’d love to have a different/fresh approach to parenting for when it does happen. And I hate to admit it, but I’m a huge fan of all things French. Thank you for the book suggestion.

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