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Your lifestyle, your quirk
When my husband came home one day and said he had a book for me to read, it caught my attention. “It’s a book about French parenting,” he explained.
I stopped what I was doing to stare at him curiously. French parenting? I wondered. Where did that come from?
Aloud, I simply said, “Oh yeah? Um…where did you hear about it?”
“NPR. It’s called Bringing up Bebe. It’s about an American lady who raises her kids in Paris and writes about the differences she notices between the way parents in Paris raise their kids versus the way Americans do. It sounds cool.”
Not only had I never in my wildest dream imagined my husband describing a book about parenting as “cool,” I didn’t even know he had any interest in reading about parenting.
“I think we should read it,” he went on.
We? I quickly stuffed my excitement back down, reminding myself that “we” likely meant “me.” I responded with a noncommittally, “Sure, I’ll look it up on Amazon and see how much it is,” and then turned back to the laundry I had been folding. But he wasn’t done. What he said next absolutely floored me.
“I already rented it from the library. I got us each a copy.”
Each of us? We’re both going to read it?! I tried to cover up my eye bulge and jaw drop before turning all the way back to him again and saying, as nonchalantly as I could muster, “Oh! Well then…great!” I quickly added, “Thank you!”
We spent the next two weeks diligently reading in the few spare moments we could find throughout the day, despite work and parenting. I have to admit, I’m so glad he asked me to read it!
The book is written more like a novel or journal than a parenting guidebook. It never tells reads what they should or should not be doing with their children; it is simply one woman’s observations of a culture that approaches child rearing very differently than the average American – but also tends to get very different results.
The author, Pamela Druckerman, notes that upon having her first child while living in Paris, she noticed that the French children were far more respectful to adults, listened better, were more independent in their play, slept through the night younger, and ate healthier, more varied meals and far fewer snacks. All in all, the French seemed to have figured a few things out that Americans had not.
The observations, of course, are generalities, as there are certainly poorly behaved French children who don’t sleep through the night; on the flip side, respectful, healthy, and independent American children do exist. However, some of the generalities hit home enough that I was interested in reading the book and hearing what she had to say. I was particularly interested in the chapter about sleep.
Upon learning that French children generally sleep through the night beginning at 2-3 months old, my curiosity was piqued. Our 11-month-old daughter was still not even close to sleeping through the night. My husband and I, however, were not willing to entertain the Cry-It-Out method, so we had accepted that waking up with her several times a night may just be the price we had to pay for that parenting choice we’ve made.
After reading Druckerman’s chapter on her observations of how French parents practice a move she dubbed ‘The Pause,” I was inspired to make some small changes. Druckerman explained that once the baby is in their second month of life, French parents begin waiting a few moments after their baby begin crying before they move toward the baby. Those moments, what Druckerman is called “The Pause,” are used to listen to and learn to interpret their baby’s cry. Unless it is an urgent cry, they allow the baby to fuss for just a few minutes (usually five minutes or fewer).
The book explains that babies go through sleep cycles of 2 to 3 hours. Between cycles, they wake up and at first they don’t know what else to do, so they cry. If given the opportunity, the baby will learn that it’s okay to go back to sleep between cycles. They will generally do not cry more than 2 to 3 minutes at the most, but it is often much less. If a parent rushes to the baby’s side and picks them up as soon as they cry between sleep cycles, it actually wakes the baby up more and eventually teaches them that that is what is suppose to happen between sleep cycles. They won’t learn to put themselves back to sleep, and may even begin thinking their parents need them to wake up.
I had heard some talk about sleep cycles before, but for some reason it never get through to me until I read it in Bringing Up Bebe. I had always rushed right to my daughter’s side when she cried, convinced letting her cry was mean or cruel. I didn’t want her to be scared when she woke up in a dark room alone.
My husband and I talked about the chapter after having read it, and we were both interested in the concept of The Pause. We agreed to try practicing it for a few days and see if it made a difference. We agreed that if our daughter woke up and cried, we would wait five minutes before going into the room, unless the cry was one of obvious distress. By 11 months old, we can distinguish her cries very well.
The first time we tried this, she woke up a few hours after I’d put her to sleep for the night. I immediately wanted to abandon the new plan and go to her, as it tears at my heart to hear her cry. My husband tried soothing me and encouraged me to stick with it for just five minutes to see what happened. After 30 seconds, I was crying, too. After a minute, our daughter’s cry changed from a loud whine to a significantly softer whine. We could hear her moving around in her crib, adjusting to a more comfortable position. At the two-minute mark, she was quiet. We waited a few extra seconds for good measure, and then cracked the door to peek in on her.
She was asleep.
She woke up about five hours later, and we repeated the process. She made noises (not even a full whine) for less than a minute, and then sat back down and went to sleep. The next night, she only woke up once and cried for less than 30 seconds. It’s been about almost two weeks now, and she is sleeping through the night. Completely through the night!
After seeing those results the first few days, I devoured the rest of the book. I started seeing it as an anthropological study, and it was fascinating. My husband described similar feelings. We haven’t converted fully to a French parenting style, as we don’t agree with all of the ideas and techniques in the book, but we’ve certainly pulled additional ideas to implement and adapt in our daily life.
I recommend Bringing Up Bebe to any new parent of young children, whether you’re a new parent or an old pro. Cultures handle child rearing differently, making the world a place filled with wonderfully varied individuals, but that’s not to say we can’t learn a few things from one another.