Monday, February 13, 2012

Bringing Up Bébé

You have probably heard about the book written by American in Paris, Pamela Druckerman. It was released last week. I have not read it, but I read the Wall Street Journal review and the live interview with the author.

Remember, I haven't read the book. I am solely privy to what she said in the interview and what the WSJ offered in its story. I'm being cautious because there are perhaps opinions and behavior included within the pages with which I might not agree. Now that I have dispensed with my qualifiers, let me say: I agree totally with what she says.

For the most part and obviously I'm coming at the subject as an adult and we can be biased in these situations, I find French children to be an absolute delight. For French parents childhood is not a necessary nuisance on the road to adulthood, it is practice for a life well lived brimming with fun and adventure under parental guidance and with abundant affection mapping the journey.

Hugs and kisses are showered on little ones while at the same time "no" means "no" not "maybe" or "we'll see." Equivocation, French parents understand, undermines every attempt to "educate" their off-spring.  Discipline is love in the French parental system of child rearing and patience teaches independence.

French children do not interrupt adults when they are in conversation, of course they try early on, but are quickly advised that unless the house is on fire they can patiently -- operative word and we all know extremely difficult for children -- until maman momentarily transfers her attention to her enfant to see what  she needs. Children learn to construct urgent expressions to hasten a refocus of a parent's attention.

Do not think for a moment that children are "seen and not heard," on the contrary they learn to speak to adults from the day they learn to say "bonjour." In fact, they never simply say bonjour, they are required to say "bonjour madame" or "bonjour monsieur."  Andrea's best French friend, Pamela, has three little boys -- two, four and six-years-old. Pam recently visited us with her children and before she knocked on the front door I heard her practicing with the boys, "Repeat after me, when you enter you say "bonjour madame et bonjour monsieur" OK? A chorus of OKs followed and they followed through.

Meal time is not a war zone with pouting, food throwing (absolutely unheard of!), whining and stubborn refusals to try new foods. How do you know you don't like turnips unless you try them? How do you know that you will love Brussel sprouts unless you try them? Cheese? Why not? Just a sample.

Among my friends food is not placed on plates in the kitchen, but rather in serving pieces on the table which means everyone can control his or her portions beginning at the very youngest of age. Mothers can serve their children with the accord of the little one -- "yes, please lots of potatoes, a little serving of fish, I'll try the broccoli, merci." I'm convinced this method helps adults keep their weight under control. Small portions to begin, followed perhaps by a second helping. It's all about timing. Time to experiment with new flavors and textures, time to enjoy what we know we like and finally time to register when appetites have been sated.

Politesse is the coin of the realm in France and I don't care what anyone says, it makes life exceedingly civilized. Good manners get one through almost any situation and children are taught the value of treating others with this basic human kindness.

Do children rebel? Of course they do and French parents expect rebellion. They simply hope that what their children have learned from infancy will create some protective boundaries, and from what I've observed they usually do.

Remember, Andrea and I arrived in France when she was eight which means she and I were privy to the French system of child rearing which we both admire -- family dinners around the dining table every night, real conversations, instant help offered by children when they are old enough to set and clear the table (they do not have to be cajoled) and perfect table manners are non-negotiable.

Now, I can hear some of you saying, "that's precisely the way I raised my children," while others may be thinking, "what no freedom, all these rules. . .?" Yes, rules. Life in the real world is constructed upon rules and it seems to me that parents who allow their children to run wildly around a restaurant with no consideration for other diners are breaking some basic rules about respect for others.

This is where I stand on the subject: What French parents and most certainly parents throughout the world give their children by establishing rules, demanding impeccable manners, teaching patience is a precious, priceless advantage in the rough and tumble life that awaits them outside their safe, warm loving home.

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