Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bringing Up Bebe and Real Simple–A Few Thoughts on American Mothering

While searching for a new read on my Kindle Fire, I stumbled upon “Bringing Up Bebe” in the top purchased section.  After reading the preview, I was sold and quickly read through the entire book.  The author does a fantastic job of utilizing the amazing amount of child development theories and research that has been conducted to explore and expand the differences between the way French parents generally raise their children, and the way Americans do.

What’s the difference to me? The French treat their children as if they are small adults.  They explain rules of life to them and expect them to understand.  If a child cries at night, they are more likely to say “Sweetheart, you must go back to sleep.  It is night and we must all rest so we can work and play tomorrow.”  They would expect the child to realize the sense in this and eventually go back to sleep.  They also emphasize the importance of frustration for their children.  Hunger is frustrating, but they must learn to cope with it until next mealtime. 

This is how I have intuitively parented.  I tried very hard to encourage Little Bird to understand and take care of herself in the ways she is capable of.  We made our house accessible to her almost completely.  We try to encourage her independence and explain her boundaries and constraints to her. 

Some of the things we struggled with were addressed in this book, and I loved it.

For example: Snacking ALL the time and then not eating at meals

The French follow a somewhat national schedule of eating.  4 meals a day – Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner.  I decided to try this with Little Bird while I was home.  When she asked for a snack I would tell her “It is not time to eat yet.  You have to wait.  When we have lunch you can eat.” Surprisingly, my two year old seemed to understand.  In the week I was home we had no issues and she ate all of her vegetables and “non kid food” items at each meal. This means we no longer need to serve a form of cheese at every single meal.

The other thing I noticed is that the French maintain a personal life while raising their children.  I think the true reason they can do this and enjoy their own pleasures so much is that they do not feel the guilt American mothers tend to feel at delegating.  They hire caregivers or send their children to a form of child care.  They believe it is good for children to socialize and develop their own lives away from their mothers.  In this month’s Real Simple, I was shocked to read some of the statistics for what American mothers feel they can and cannot delegate.  Despite the fact that most of us hate cleaning, 47% of American mothers say they wouldn’t hire a cleaning service, even if they could afford it.  An even greater percentage said they wouldn’t hire child care services even if they could afford it.

So we leave everything to ourselves.  We expect our homes to be spotless, our tables to be set with gourmet, organic, healthy balanced meals, our children to be raised by us and only us, our husbands to be satisfied, and many of us expect ourselves to work a full time job as well.  My question after reading this article was “WHY!?” How neurotic are we?

I love my job.  I’m good at it.  I’m a better mother to my daughter because I take pleasure in working.  I have a break from “mommy” and get to be a professional.  Little Bird loves day care and the time she spends with her grandma.  I enjoy cooking, especially when Little Bird helps me cook and clean.  My entire family enjoys dinners together and my husband and I love swapping stories from our work.  Now, I have a son who has special needs as well.  You BET I will hire someone to clean my home so I can take time to enjoy life and still take pleasure in a cup of tea or a good book or even (yep, I’m going to say it) a bubble bath. You BET I will continue to take my daughter to child care where she can grow and learn with other children. And in the time I get with her, we’ll both be happy to see one another and the time we spend will be richer. 

I think the difference is that American mom’s feel like they need to do everything for everyone and French women aren’t so hard on themselves.  Do the best you can.  Enjoy life – it’s the only one you get. I think American women need to ditch the guilt. After all, guilt is not sexy.  We also need to stop judging everyone so harshly.  We all do it. 

You know what – if you are happy and your children are happy – whatever works.

Am I a bad mom if someone else folds my laundry? Am I a bad wife if my floors were vacuumed by someone else? Am I a bad wife if my husband and I enjoy activities and intrigues while our children are attended to by someone else? I don’t think so.  I think I’m happier, more fulfilled, and generally a better person in all of my life’s capacities.  

I think the book is worth a read for most of us, to fill in holes and present a different style of parenting that affords a little more forgiveness and a better quality of life.  If there is one thing most of us know, it’s that when mom is angry or irritable, the entire family is in for it. Didn’t you have more enjoyment in life when your mom was happy?