Bringing up Bébé, written by an American journalist, aims to uncover “the secrets to raising a society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters, and reasonably relaxed parents”. The book has been around since 2012, but I have only discovered it this year, on a recommendation of another mom. I have to say that out of all the parenting books that I’ve read, this is the one that was most thought-provoking for me. It also stands out as being actually interesting to read!
The first thing to note is that this is not a parenting book per se. Part memoir, part investigative journalism, part mommy blog, it invites you to follow this Mom’s story of living and raising kids in a foreign country. If you are looking for step-by- step advice about sleep or potty training, or a detailed breakdown of what to say to your toddler when they don’t want to put on their sunscreen, you will not find it in this book. What this book does instead is offer you a different perspective.
There is a central message in the book that we should expect more from our kids, even babies. They are “tiny little humans”, not some cute wild animals, and we should treat them with respect and empathy. For example, the book suggests speaking to your babies and children politely, like you would to any other person, using “please” and “thank you” and explaining things clearly and truthfully. In turn, once the child is able to speak, French parents are very strict at insisting that the child be polite and use “hello” and “goodbye” and “please” and “thank you” in all their interactions with adults, especially their parents.
This balance between being strict and setting high expectations, and at the same time being respectful and trusting the children to make their own choices (within the “frame” of your limits) is what resonated with me about this book. This, and the fact that it reminds us that parents have rights too! We are entitled to finish our breakfast, and to have a conversation with our spouse without being interrupted to admire the latest Lego contraption the child has created. (There is a whole Chapter in the book called “Wait!”, and I suggest you reread it at least once a month.)
Another thing that I found very inspirational was the approach to eating. I have always considered my four-year old to be a good eater but reading this book made me realize that I still make a lot of accommodations for him when it comes to meals. In France, children eat at the family table and are served the same meals as the rest of the family (with multiple courses!). They don’t have to finish the food they don’t like, but they have to try everything on the table. French parents talk to kids about the food, describing how it looks and tastes, and why it is good for their bodies, which makes the children curious about trying the food, without the power struggles.
This book influenced me greatly when I first read it, and led me to introduce a number of changes in the way I parent. But I have to caution you, it is hard to be consistent and keep on with the ideas of this book, simply because here in Canada we are surrounded with very different principles, and many conflicting parenting philosophies. If, like me, you find that this book has shown you a different, and better way, then make a point of leafing through it again once it a while, for a fresh dose of sage (Fr: wise and calm).
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