Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

Druckerman, P.  (2012). Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. New York: Penguin Press.

In her book, Druckerman (2012), shares her experience of being an American mother raising her daughter (and later, sons) in Paris. Upon her arrival to France, the author can't help but to compare what  she observes and  experiences in France compared to what she has observed and experienced back home in New York. In a quest to figure out how parents in France can get a toddler to eat vegetables, get a child to sleep through the night, and set boundaries, Druckerman (2012) shares her discovery by telling quick stories and sharing experiences of those around her.

In the first section of the book, Druckerman (2012), shares a glossary of french parenting terms. Here are are some of the words that struck me, mostly because we do not have a direct English translation for these ideas:

"attend- wait, stop. A command that a French parent says to a child. "Wait" implies that the child doesn't  require immediate gratification, and that he can entertain himself."

"autonmie- autonomy. The blend of independence and self-reliance that French parents encourage in their children from an early age."

"cadre- frame or framework. A visual image that describes the French parenting ideal: setting firm limits  for children, but giving them tremendous freedom within those limits."

"complicite- complicity. The mutual understanding that French parents and caregivers try to develop with children, beginning from birth. Complicite implies that even small babies are rational beings, with whom adults can have reciprocal, respectful relationships."

"doucement- gently. One of the words that parents and caregivers say frequently to small children. It implies that the children are capable of controlled, mindful behavior."

"sage- wise and calm. This describes a child who is in control of himself or absorbed in an activity. Instead of saying "be good," French parents say "be sage"."

Even though this book discussing parenting ideas, it is evident throughout the entire book that these ideas are consistent and reinforced by the educational system in France.  To me, these words help to describe what I believe would be the ideal principles for myself, as an educator, and my students to understand and learn from.

Each of the definitions and ideas mentioned above, seem to long term learning and growth in mind for the child or student. The idea of a child having a framework or "cadre", but freedom within those boundaries, resonates with me. It allows creativity and choice while emphasizing the importance of respecting boundaries and having self control.

I think that if some, or all, of these ideas are emphasized within a classroom setting as a classroom management strategy, students and teachers could better focus on learning. Most importantly, these ideas focus on long term growth and can be applied in many situations.  Towards the end of her book, Druckerman (2012) states the following:
"When I ask French Parents what they want most for their children, they say things like "to feel comfortable in their own skin" and to "find their path in the world". They want their kids to develop their own tastes and opinions."
I agree with these parents. Yes, for the purpose of my own children, but also for all of the students that I encounter.


Stacey Caillier said...


This is a fascinating post! I'm also struck by the words you define above and how they have no direct English translation! I've been wanting to read this book and have heard great things. It strikes me as well that there are great parallels here between what parents hope for children and what we, as educators, hope for our students.

I'm curious what you think a school - or a library program - would look like that is founded on these ideas and lives them out? What would be different than what you currently experience it? What would be similar? And what does this make you wonder about the type of environment you want to create for kids?

I'll be ordering this one soon!!

Miss Della Rocca said...

Interesting post! I've only heard about this book, but not in detail. It's intriguing!

In some ways, at High Tech, I think we do align with this philosophy of parenting - by providing a frame for students with a lot of freedom. We set norms for certain experiences, but then students have choice within these settings to do a lot.

As for the whole "wait" idea - MAN, that's a lost understanding among parents in America. It seems unexpected now that children can entertain themselves. My sister, who parents somewhat differently than the norm, insists on fostering this 'skill' in her children and it's obvious she has to work hard at it, because in 2012 - there are so many easy fixes to child boredom and then they never develop the ability to simply occupy themselves. My sister purposely withholds so many of those 'toys/electronics' or even immediate attention that help entertain children - so that my nephews learn to 'wait'. ;) As a parent yourself, do you find that children (whether your own or friends of your children) struggle with entertaining themselves because we always provide entertainment and attention the minute it's requested?

I was really struck by the final part of your write-up in which you mention what French parents want for their children. I'd be interested in hearing what French educators want for their students. And I also wonder if schools in France embody these ideas.

One more note, I'm thinking about incorporating "Be sage" into my classroom. I hate the term, "Be good," and I like the idea behind this substitute.
Thanks for sharing!

cbystrak said...

I loved the "be sage" idea too. It reminded me of a training I attended when I first started working with kids. The trainer said she only had one expectation for her students and she posted it in the front of the classroom. All she expected is that her students "be appropriate". She could always relate any negative type behavior back to that basic idea.

It reminds me of the idea of "zen". You can't really define what it is, but you can try to grasp what it is, and it is always a work in progress.

I wonder too if the French Education agrees with what parents want for their children. Druckerman touches on preschool and early schooling, but I have no knowledge about schools in France. Good question.

When I read the chapter of "the wait", I passed the book to my husband. Lately our 3 year old has been bullying my husband with an obnoxious cry to get what she wants. It's funny to see a grown man get so threatened by a toddler and scramble to give in to her every desire, just so she doesn't get upset. Since then, he has started to watch other children manipulate their parents and is realizing that our daughter needs understand that at times, she is going to have to wait and be comfortable with that.

cbystrak said...

Don't order it, check it out at your local library :). It is definitely and quick fun read. It has ideas that sound so simple, yet can be tough to practice consistently (especially ideas about getting kids to eat green veggies :)).

Great questions...I really like the focus that babies and children are rational beings with "whom adults can have reciprocal, respectful relationships." I think just this idea can change a lot in the classroom. I think it changes the way the conversations sound and can engage many more students and teachers that should be learning and sharing ideas together.

I think that I would like to see/ sense/ feel more of the idea of "cadre",freedom within boundaries. I would like to set up team challenges where I can set the framework, but students are able to create and express themselves in many ways.

As we begin to brainstorm at work about our Families for Literacy Programs, I will definitely, be discussing these ideas.

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