Our practice recently converted to electronic medical records. In this new electronic era, having the luxury of time to eat lunch and converse in our office is a thing of the past. It is for that reason that I decided to host this month’s Lunchroom Lowdown by proxy: put out the topic via email and summarize my partners’ responses even though we never were in the same room to actually discuss the issue of the day. How 21st century is that?!
I recently read the book “Bringing up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman, an American Wall Street Journal writer who not only lives in France but also had her first child there. This gave her an inside look at having and raising a baby the “French” way. It is her contention that parenting in France is very different than in America, and that French children therefore learn to do things that children on this side of the pond cannot do. She noticed that French babies usually learn to sleep through the night by 4 months of age because their parents don’t always respond as quickly to their crying, and they therefore learn to put themselves back to sleep quicker. Ms. Druckerman also contends that French children learn to be more patient than their American counterparts, because they are taught patience from a young age: meals are scheduled in infancy, snacks are generally not offered, meals are divided into courses which require patience, immediate gratification of wants is discouraged, and self-play (self-exploration) is encouraged. The author also notes that French children generally eat wholesome, sophisticated food, not nuggets and fries. French parents seem to be very persistent and patient in insisting that their children eat well. French parents see it as common sense for children to learn to sleep through the night, wait when adults are talking, eat a wide variety of foods, and play by themselves.
With that as a background, I opened up our proxy discussion to get my partners’ responses to parenting the “French” way. Dr. Plonk was a definite fan. Our farm boy, common sense doctor likes the French approach. “What can be wrong with asking children to be as self sufficient as possible as long as what you are expecting is age appropriate?” Most babies can sleep through the night by 4 months of age, children can learn to eat a wide variety of foods, and patience can be taught.” He felt we need more of the French approach in our hectic, hurried American lifestyle. Dr. Valder had a very different reaction to the book. He very much disagreed with the author’s characterization of American children as poor sleepers, picky eaters, and self-indulgent. “Obviously some are, but so must be some French children,” he notes. Dr. Valder is proud of the skills American parents demonstrate. Dr. Valder objects to the characterization that one type of parenting is the “correct” type. “Being married to someone from a different culture makes me suspicious of a one-size-fits-all mentality. While I strongly believe in parent-directed child rearing, I think having one method that must be used is not parent-directed, but method-directed. Some of us are built for schedules, and some are not,” he says.
As for my opinion, I have a mixed reaction to the French parenting methods; I think children love structure and predictability, and I think many parents in America could do a better job providing these qualities. However—and this is a big however—we must be doing something right with our children to raise generation after generation of adults who are, in my opinion, the most generous, open minded, trusting society the world has ever seen. I recently was lucky enough to care for a family whose mother is native French, so I took the opportunity to request her opinion on French childrearing. She agreed with the author that French children are less indulged than their American counterparts, but she then added that American children become very nice adults. Kudos to our hard-working parents!
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Bringing up BeBe
by Pamela Druckerman