As the daughter of a media specialist, I listen when the school librarian recommends a book. Once she learned that I was expecting, the librarian at our school recommended I read Bringing up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman. Intrigued by the name (I assume the title plays on the popular book Bringing up Boys by Dr. James Dobson), I promptly went to the public library’s online catalogue and put a reserve on the audio version of the apparently popular book. I love audio versions because one, I can knit while “reading,” secondly, my husband and I can read at the same time and then discuss what we’ve read, but most of all, I’m really not much of a reader. So it’s perfect.
From what I’ve read, it seems as though the French way of parenting is all about educating the child. I know nothing about parenting, at teaching, however, I am quite practiced. I have a bachelor’s in speech, theater, debate and French education, as well as a master’s degree in middle school education. Those hold little against seven years spent in the trenches teaching kids French; I’ve learned tricks like how to turn ‘spin the Perrier or Orangina bottle’ into a platonic vocabulary game and to get 13-year-olds to use the guttural ‘R’ or at minimum to try. The book hits the whole gamut from epidurals to breastfeeding, day care to developing little three-year-old gourmets. I don’t agree with every word. The French haven’t talked me out of trying natural childbirth or swayed me away from breastfeeding. I can, however, see myself wanting to try some of these French tactics, for example, teaching kids to sleep well.
First semantic lesson: in English we’re obsessed with the verb ‘to go’ but in French it’s ‘to do’ which is the verb ‘faire.’ You don’t go shopping, go biking, or go horseback riding; rather you do shopping, do biking and do horseback riding. Six of one half a dozen the other, perhaps; nevertheless might the French way maybe makes more sense because we are saying what we’re doing? Anyway, to a new French mother the question « Est-ce qu’il fait ses nuits ? » is highly important around three months. “Does your baby do his nights?” means to ask does your baby sleep through the night. Yes, at two or three months old, the status quo is that French babies sleep through the entire night.
How do they do this? I wish I understood, really, but I gather that what does it is sleep education. Let me remind you that I know nothing about parenting, but I know that I’ve heard the saying, “I’m a slave to my child for the first year, and he’s a slave to me every year after that.” Lovely. Well, the French try to strike more of a balance.
Sleep education begins for a French baby after two weeks old. The pedagogy sounds pretty simple. Parents simply pause. When a baby cries, French parents don’t just unemotionally let children “cry it out” but rather they pause for even a few minutes. They believe that with each pause they’re learning something about their child.
Just like adults, babies wake between sleep cycles. A baby may cry because he has a horribly wet diaper or maybe it’s that she cries just for a short while before falling back to sleep, connecting two sleep cycles. Babies need to learn to connect these cycles as we have and do subconsciously (hopefully, you insomniac). Can you imagine trying to get a good night’s sleep if someone picked you up or checked for a wet the bed each time you talked, walked or turned over in your sleep? We’ve learned to connect the dots of our ebb and flowing sleep pattern. That’s what French parents do, and they’re successful since most French babies sleep through the night as early as two months old.
Can you imagine? From the horror stories I’ve heard about the first few months or even year(s) of new parents not getting any sleep, I even find it hard to imagine. But it’s possible. I hope I’ll be able to educate my child into the ways of a rock-star sleeper.
Bonne nuit !