I have been dying to read this book since I saw a bit of a Twitter buzz about it awhile ago and I was thrilled to have been lucky enough to get an advanced copy.
I wanted to hate it. I wanted to read it and say “oh for God’s sake woman” (the “woman” being Pamela Druckerman, the author, an American, married to a Brit, living in Paris).
But I couldn’t hate it. Pamela (if I may be so bold as to call her by her first name) hits the nail on the head when she talks about the differences in how the French raise their children and how we, the Brits do it. And therefore the direct correlation between how French children behave right from birth and how we perceive the majority of British kids behave, sleep and eat.
I am not sure if I necessarily agree with it being a “French way” as such, I am sure other countries around the world are very similar in style to this, but it is certainly different from ours. But as somebody who has lived in Paris and now had three children there and spoken to many child experts it is the French way that Pamela discusses.
The book is littered with examples of parents having nightmares with sleep routines and eating patterns etc, seemingly all from parents that are ruled by their children being in charge, even from a young age.
Pamela talks about “a long ritual in which I nurse her back to sleep and cuddle her for 15 minutes”. Sod that, I say.
My eldest two were born in Saudi Arabia, and lived there until they were 4 and 3 and the single most important piece of advice I have ever been given (well apart from my mum saying to me “don’t watch the car in front, watch the car in front of that one” ) was: “if every time you woke up you were given a fiver would you sleep through the night?”.
This was from a fabulous Pakistani obstetrician when I left the hospital with C just after she was born. And so with that, in my house “bed has been bed”. There was no mobile, no toys, no books in the cot. No cuddles in the middle of the night and “fussing”. If my children woke up hungry they were fed and that was it. I didn’t talk to them, I didn’t hold them until they fell asleep again.
From about two months all three of mine have slept through the night. Not one of them has woken several times a night for food, cuddles, come into my room, refused to go to bed, got up at 5am and not gone back to sleep.
In Pakistan and also in Saudi they do bring up children very differently. The parents are in control, not the children. As is the case with the examples of Parisian families in Pamela’s book.
We believe we have to tend to our children, to fuss over them all the time. Helicopter parenting is now a real term and a real philosophy. But what does it result in? Knackered parents, that’s what.
The same with food. Why do we have to give our children pureed jars or re-constituted powder. We have become too busy to be able to puree our food and introduce children to the foods we eat. This results in cooking different meals everyday and children growing up not eating the same foods as their parents, and sometimes becoming fussy eaters. We all have nightmare stories of friends with children that won’t eat vegetables / anything but yogurt / only yellow food.
What about in restaurants? Why do we have children’s menus in a restaurant? Why should we only offer fish fingers / nuggets or a burger?
Why can’t our children have what we are eating just in a small portion. I am sure if we said “it is for my 18 month old so you could cut out all the salt” most chefs would accommodate that request.
Which is what happens in France.
At the age of 4 J was loving frog’s legs and E’s favourite meal was moule and chips (though she did insist on calling them “moles”).
Pamela goes on to describe the difference in child care, getting back to being husband and wife and not just mummy and daddy, and dispelling the myth of trying to be the perfect mother.
So far from hating it, I loved this book. I think we have much to learn from the French way of life. I think it should be handed out in Bounty packs in hospitals or failing that we should all move to France.
Babies don’t come with a manual but this is pretty damn close.
Out today, priced at £15, published by Doubleday and available in your local friendly high street independent book shop. Or that big on-line one, the name of which you must know by now.