Lessons from France on how to raise ‘bébé’

2012-02-10 00:00

AT 10 weeks, babies in France sleep through the night. By nursery school, they’ve mastered the art of saying “please” and “thank you”. And at

supper, they always clean their plates.

This, at least, is the vision depicted by American writer Pamela Druckerman, whose decade-long sojourn­ in France has led her to conclude that when it comes to Bringing Up Bébé, as her new book is titled, the French simply do it better.

Druckerman’s book — subtitled One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting — was published on Tuesday, but the journalist had already become a star of the United States chat-show circuit, as harried American mothers lap up her insights and also offer a few criticisms.

“What I try to do is take the best of each

country,” Druckerman said. “I don’t think that French parents are perfect. They have some wisdom that we can learn from.”

Druckerman offers what she sees as a “fully functioning society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters and reasonably relaxed parents”.

The author — who lives in Paris with her

British husband and whose three children were born in France — says the French seem to have no problem when confronting the bete noire (bugbear) of American parents — bedtime.

“Sleeping through the night early in a child’s life seems to be the norm in France,” she writes, noting that for most American moms, by contrast, “babies are automatically associated with sleep deprivation”.

Another parenting bugbear in the U.S. — getting children on an orderly meal schedule — is another apparent no-brainer in France. Simply don’t allow your kids to munch on treats all day, Druckerman says.

“I’ve never seen a French child eating a pretzel or anything else in the park at 10 am.

“French parents think they have to teach their children to delay gratification. French kids don’t snack. One effect of not eating between meals is that when it’s mealtime, they’re actually hungry,” she says.

Proper eating habits are learnt not only at home, but also at nursery schools, where

Druckerman praised “the food or, more specifically, the dining experience” with lunch served in four courses.

“In the U.S. we want children to acquire skills as early as possible,” she said.

“In France, there’s much more emphasis on developing emotional intelligence, learning some self-control, to speak well, and how to be happy by themselves.”

The book seems to resonate with some Americans, who never seem to tire of discussions about parenting and how they might do it better.

Just a year ago, the no-nonsense child-rearing of Chinese-American Amy Chua, as explained in her Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, sparked a global debate over whether being strict breeds success.

Opinions were inevitably mixed about Druckerman’s book, an excerpt of which appeared this week in her former newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, under the title “Why French Parents Are Superior”.

“We could learn a great deal from the French,” Dolores DiBiase wrote on the Huffington Post’s website.

“I believe we can learn something about parenting from every culture. But I don’t believe there is a recipe for raising the perfect child,” countered Sarah Maizes in a post on the

mommyLITEonline website.

Others were more sarcastic.

“Our kids will probably grow up to bail their kids out of another war,” John Rice commented on the Wall Street Journal’s website, while Avner Mandelman wrote: “So why don’t they win more Nobel prizes?”

American parents might enjoy one lesson Druckerman has to offer — about keeping children out of the bedroom.

“Sacrificing your sex life for your kids is considered wildly unhealthy and out of balance.”

— Sapa-AFP.

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