Amsterdam Mamas: Bringing up Bébé
Amsterdam Mamas' Pamela Ueckerman reviews French Kids Don’t Throw Food. Hint: it's about much more than food.
A while ago, friend and Amsterdam Mama Director Emmy returned from holiday raving about the popular book French Kids Eat Everything. While my toddler is reasonably good with meals, he does tend to refuse most vegetables and my ability to serve varied and interesting meals is somewhat lacking.
However, I am always sceptical about these French-people-do-everything-better-than-the-rest-of-us books. What could they possibly do that I would be willing to do that actually works? Maybe it’s just something genetic that this hopeless Brit will never be able to learn or apply. Either way, I decided it might be worth a read, what’s to lose? And if Emmy raved about it, then it must be good.
So off I went to the Kindle Store, made my purchase and started reading. By the end of the first chapter, I was raving about the book to my husband, to Emmy, to anyone who would listen.
And then I realised my mistake: it was not the same book – I was reading French Kids Don’t Throw Food (in the US it is called “Bringing up Bébé”) by Pamela Druckerman. Different book, different author. Whoops. Call it Pregnancy Brain.
This book was written by an American, married to a Brit and living in Paris. The name is somewhat misleading, as it does not, as the other does, focus on food or mealtimes.
In the process of raising her first child, the author realised that French parents and parents-to-be don’t devour countless parenting books like their Anglophone counterparts but somehow their kids are generally well-behaved, sensible and tantrum-free while the parents are relaxed, and have time for themselves, despite going back to work four months post-partum. So she began a journey of comparing American and British parenting culture with the French (or at any rate, the Parisian) and French Kids Don’t Throw Food was born.
Druckerman takes you through each stage of parenthood from pregnancy to pre-school, through her own insights, interviews, and studies from both sides of the Atlantic. She discovers that the French hold dear just a few key concepts that they apply every day to their parenting without fuss or fancy and these concepts are simple, effective and quietly brilliant (yes, you CAN say “no” to your child, it won’t destroy them for life!). The book covers all aspects of child behaviour including sleep, manners, play, eating, and family life, and how the French “do it”, so to speak.
Druckerman is candid about her life as an expatriate in Paris, her struggles with raising her children in a culture different to her own and her attempts, and failures, to apply her lessons in French parenting to her own three children. She is droll but also very human and for that reason the book is easy to read and, especially for other expatriates, easy to identify with. She freely admits that she hasn’t been able to completely “go French” and similarly, readers may not agree with everything, but it’s the general intent, the point of view that matters.
As for me, this book blew me away. One of the first chapters, on baby sleep, was revelational. French children generally “do their nights” (sleep through the night) at around 3-4 months, without leaving them to “cry it out”. If a baby isn’t sleeping through by six months, a big fuss is made. My son did not achieve this until 20 months, despite me trying everything I could except for leaving him to cry. The French would be horrified! I will definitely try the French way next time.
I was recently in New York City with my husband, almost 2-year old and mother-in-law, and was very surprised to receive lots of compliments about my son’s good behaviour in the hotel, at restaurants and at the airport (despite jet lag, overtiredness and over-stimulation). But after reading this book and considering the average American toddler, I realised that perhaps the locals were genuinely impressed to see a toddler who could sit quietly. I realised our parenting lay somewhere between the stereotypical American/British and stereotypical French models and was somewhat relieved that perhaps we were doing something right…
With this relief also came a letting go – sure there are things we can, and will, improve – but the book gave me permission to relax, to let go of a metaphorical breath I seem to have been holding since my son was born. To realise that I don’t need to do everything perfectly in order to raise a sensible, well-mannered, unfussy child. And to realise I CAN devote myself to my children, I CAN be strict but also allow freedom without giving in to them, and yet I CAN still give myself (and my husband) adult time, time to do what WE want, without guilt.
Somehow this book wraps up all of the key values I have gathered from countless other books and articles but makes it all seem so easy. I’m no longer nervous about approaching the “Terrible Twos”, I’m actually a little excited.
If you only read one book about parenting, whether you are expecting or already have older children, I recommend it be this one. (And perhaps I will soon get to actually read French Kids Eat Everything!)
Pamela Ueckerman / Amsterdam Mamas / Expatica
Amsterdam Mamas is a not-for-profit organisation providing support and information in English for international families in the Amsterdam region and across the Netherlands. From small beginnings on Facebook the organisation has grown into a lively community of more than 9,000 members with its own website, podcast, events and regular newsletters circulating to thousands of families each week.
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