” “Enjoy” is an important word here. For the most part, French parents don’t expect their kids to be mute, joyless, and compliant. Parents just don’t see how their kids can enjoy themselves if they can’t control themselves.”
-Pamela Druckerman, Bringing Up Bebe, One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
I delve into all the parenting books I can find to gain wisdom on how to parent my own child. The latest of which has been Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe, a book that talks about how the French have a different goal in mind when raising their children than American parents seem to.
First of all, let me say that this book is all about generalities and one woman’s experience that was supported by parenting professional’s opinions that she found. Research can be found to support just about anything. She is coming from the perspective of a middle-class to upper middle-class white American who moved to France and noticed differences in her child’s behavior and the other American children’s behavior from the French children she met. Bringing Up Bebe is a record of that experience and what she found the differences between the French parenting and American parenting techniques to be. There are a lot of parenting philosophies out there and a quick counter-read to Bringing Up Bebe is this Forbes article: Bringing Up Bebe? No Thanks, I’d Rather Raise a Billionaire.
The “How-To” of Creating Happiness
So, now, as a parent, what is your goal while raising a child? Is your answer for your child to “be happy”? Ok. So how are you going to do that? It’s a tough question. Think about it and we’ll come back to it.
In Bringing Up Bebe, the French have some very specific goals: A) raise a “sage” or calmly present child that controls themselves so they can enjoy themselves, and B) awaken children to all that the world has to offer.
Now, back to the question above. The French parenting philosophy discussed in Bringing Up Bebe is about raising a controlled and awakened child so that they (and their parents) can be happy. So, how do they do this?
Control is taught through encouraging awakening. One example is with food. French children are little gourmets, says Druckerman, who eat all sorts of foods, and waits for them to be served in courses. You don’t find French moms grabbing for goldfish crackers and juice boxes at the playground like American mothers do, she says. Children eat at scheduled times: usually at 8am, 12pm, 4pm and 8pm without a myriad of random snacks in between. This seeming strict schedule is encouraged through an appreciation of food. Awaking children to color, taste and texture found in food, which should be enjoyed slowly and purposefully.
Sighted is the famous “marshmallow test” where children were put in a room with marshmallows on the table and told by a scientist that they could eat one now if they wanted or wait until the scientist came back and then they could have two marshmallows. It was found that those that had enough self-control to wait for the bigger reward as 4 year olds were better at concentrating, reasoning and handling stress as adults.
The French have this concept of raising calmly present “wait-ers” ingrained, it seems. They let kids practice waiting, and as they are doing this practicing, they are learning how to distract themselves so that waiting becomes less of a burden. This is why French children rarely whine or collapse into tantrums: because they have developed the internal resources to deal with frustration. American kids? More anxious, irritable and demanding which isn’t fun for anyone.
So, while I have several parenting goals: to raise a happy child through spiritual awareness, empathy, self-knowledge and being awake, there is definitely room to teach some self-control techniques so that he is able to more easily handle stress as well.
After reading Bringing Up Bebe, there has been one noticeable difference in my everyday life with my child. I’m asking him to wait more. Not to sit through a lecture, just to wait for a few minutes between him asking me to do something and me actually doing it. And, so far, the waiting seems to be getting easier and easier, so I’m hoping he’s feeling less and less stress while doing it. I have noticed him taking a longer pause before interrupting my conversations with other adults, so…..could be working already.