French parenting Cliff’s Notes: La Pause

The book, Bringing Up Bebe, by writer (and mother) Pamela Druckerman made a splash upon its release, most of which was related to the theme of social behavior.  Why do French children eat like adults? Everyone wants to know. How do I get my kids to exercise good manners and accept foods with a variety of  textures and sauces? When will I be able to have an adult conversation without interruption?

Well yes, I want answers to these questions as well, but what I thought might be most helpful to rookie moms in a summary of this book comparing French and American styles of parenting was the portion about sleep.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the book, so you know where the author is coming from. She is an American living in Paris, having married a British man and given birth to a daughter.

Why was it, for example, that in the hundreds of hours I’d clocked at French playgrounds, I’d never seen a child (except my own) throw a temper tantrum? Why didn’t my French friends ever need to rush off the phone because their kids were demanding something? Why hadn’t their living rooms been taken over by teepees and toy kitchens, the way ours had? Soon it became clear to me that quietly and en masse, French parents were achieving outcomes that created a whole different atmosphere for family life… I decided to figure out what French parents were doing differently. Why didn’t French children throw food? And why weren’t their parents shouting?

The answer to all these questions turns out to be wrapped up in one concept: Waiting. Patience. Timing.

The author observes that in every aspect of socializing their children, what the French seem to do differently than Americans is take a beat. Take. A. Beat.

Rather than engaging their children in a cycle of negotiation in which the child learns that crying or whining will grab their parent’s attention and open a dialogue through which the child has an opportunity to bend the parent to his or her will, the French teach their children patience.

They demonstrate that the adult conversation will be concluded before the child can have the floor. They do not give out bags of finger foods at all hours of the day: French children learn to wait for snack time. A little hunger is an acceptable human sensation. Instant gratification is not a priority.

Children learn patience by practicing it.

Ok, so this might all be obvious to you. If we allow our children to be self-centered and whiny, they will have little motivation to behave any other way. If we teach them that tantrums capture our attention, they will use that tool as necessary. Got it. We’ve all got it.

Waiting and Infant Sleep

But when my first little bundle of joy arrived, I wasn’t worried about behavior modification. Babies just need what they need, right? Milk, sleep, human contact, sleep, and dry clothing. And sleep.

Wait, what about that sleep thing? If they need so much damn sleep, why do they have such a hard time falling asleep? And why do they wake up so frequently?

This is the bit of the book I wanted to share. According to the author, it is American parents who expect sleep deprivation in early parenthood. French parents expect the baby to begin “doing his nights” as they say in French, very quickly.

How does this happen? What do they know that we don’t know?

French parents observe their babies, explains Druckerman. They wait a moment. They take a pause. Frazzled new mom Druckerman notes this habit in the park where she sees moms and nannies not responding quite so quickly to baby-fussing that would inspire her to take immediate action. And she’s annoyed by it.

But she learns through her research that there may be something to The Pause.

A baby who cries out in his sleep may settle himself, but we parents can only learn this if we pause to observe the baby, rather than running to scoop him up out of his crib, possibly jostling him all the way awake and then needing to soothe him back to sleep.

Dr. Michel Cohen, who is sort of a celebrity pediatrician in New York City and whose medical degree was obtained in France, tells Druckerman the same thing when she interviews him.

newborn sleep, infant sleep, sleep cycles

No one ever pointed it out to me, either, and I think it’s a valuable tip.

Does this perspective bring anything new to you?

Note: You can read most of the “Doing her nights” chapter by clicking the “Search inside this book” link on the Amazon page for Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. Also? Random House sent me this book in an Audio CD format. I listened to it in the car.

Related: French Kids Eat Everything, a book in a similar vein that focuses solely on eating.

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RookieMoms.com co-founder Whitney lives with her husband, son, and daughter in the San Francisco Bay Area where she writes about parenting, crafts, and activities that moms can do with babies in tow. She and Heather also publish 510Families.com, a site for East Bay parents and are the authors of The Rookie Mom's Handbook and Stuff Every Mom Should Know.

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