I read the book quickly. It was an easy-to-read book, but thought-provoking. It's researched and full of citations, but not wordy and full of flowery language. Just the kind of book for a scientist.
I think why I liked this book so much was that some of it describes what we do in our family. From experience, I know at least some of it works. And who doesn't feel good when their efforts are validated by research? If some of it works, maybe other ideas work, too. I should at least think about it.
The book opens up describing the author (an American), her husband (a Brit), and her eighteen-month-old going to eat out in Paris (where they live). The scene she describes of them eating is common in America - loud, picky eating, making a mess. She looks around and realizes that all the other families (French mind you) are the opposite. Quietly talking. No food-throwing. Everyone eating everything (no "kid foods"). It got the author to thinking about the differences between American and French parenting. The book is a collection of observations, some short history lessons, cited research, and core parenting practices in France.
Many of these practices resonated with me because on the whole, French women get their pre-baby identities back pretty quickly after they give birth. Many French women work outside the home. Even those who don't work outside the home, send their children to a daycare at least part-time. I feel like this is such a big debate here in America - should a mom work outside the home or stay home with her kids? It's become so heated; some people cite scripture and/or research. It's no wonder that working-oustide-the-home-moms and moms who send their kids to any type of childcare (e.g. from day care to Mother's Day Out) have some level of guilt. It was refreshing to read a "parenting book" that didn't criticize my decision to work outside the home. As one friend related to me after we both read the book, "I also like the no-guilt working mom attitude. Kind of liberating - it's who I am and I'm proud to do it all. And because guilt is not productive." There also was a respect and quiet awe for the women discussed in the book who do not work outside the home. Mutual respect on both sides - the way it should be. Each woman not being judged for her decision to work or not work outside the home.
Some other common "French" themes that I appreciated in the book:
- Kids have bedtimes so adults can have time by themselves: I love having adult time at night. As much as I've missed my kids, I'm ready for them to go to bed in time that gives me an hour or two with Josh.
- There's no big push for kids to learn skills early. It's okay to let them "explore" and play.
- There's a big thing about Waiting. Pausing before you pick your baby up. Is he crying because he's hungry? Is he just making noises and will go back to sleep? Teaching a child to wait 30 seconds if you can't pick them up right at that moment.
- You have the right to do some things. You don't have the right to do other things (e.g. hitting).
- Eating is handled with moderation. Sweets are okay, but you don't overdo it. No snacking between meals.
I don't do all these things, but I thought there was some wisdom behind these points. It's okay to at least think about some of them. There was also some "French" ideas that I don't subscribe to:
- Breastfeeding isn't encouraged for the most part. It's looked down upon if you breastfeed over a few months.
- It's probably related to the whole "getting your pre-baby identity back", but there's an understanding that women need to look a certain way. Pregnant women are discouraged from gaining too much weight and highly encouraged to get their bodies back quickly. That's a lot of pressure on a woman. There's already a lot of unrealistic standards out there for women.
- France is one of the least religious European countries. You can imagine the results.
- One of the concerns the author voices is the freedom teenagers have in France.
Despite some of the ideas in the book, it was an interesting read. There were other ideas that I didn't mention. I just mentioned the ones that grabbed my attention because I thought, Oh, that could be a good idea, or What? That's ridiculous.
If you're a parent or soon-to-be-parent, you'll probably like this book. You might not agree with anything in the book, but it's thought-provoking. And even if you don't have any kids or plan to have any children, you still might find this book engrossing. Cultural differences are always educational.
Thanks to Courtney for her blog post about how to write a book review.
*I had to add Pam's comment to the post (she commented on my FB page):
"This wasn't mentioned in the book, but I learned this from our French neighbor experience: kids all even out about 4 to 5 years old. The French potty train really early (at 18 months) but let their kids keep a bottle and pacifier until 4 or 5 years old. We do just the opposite here. I realized it that kids will figure it out along the way and I don't have to stress about it."
I loved her comment because sometimes as mothers (and fathers, too) we stress out about our parenting decisions. Relax. Love you kids. Try your best. Figure out what works for your family. Accept help. Things that I need to remember, too.