Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Francophile Parenting Books Review

I just recently finished two parenting books --  Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman and French Kids Eat Eveything by Karen Le Billon.  Both books are written by North American women, Druckerman from the US and Le Billon from Canada.  Druckerman lives in Paris with her British husband while Le Billon (who is married to a French) and her family divide time between Vancouver and Brittany.

Bringing Up Bebe by Druckerman discusses the parenting differences between French and American parents while French Kids Eat Everything tackles more on French eating vs. North American eating habits. 

I would admit I am a Francophile myself.  My wildest dream would be to move to France and learn how to speak French.  Of course, this would never happen.  My husband is not a Francophile and he is happy to be here in Iowa.  And, I am too old to learn a new language.  As my mother told me when I was younger and insisting to buy a tape to learn French, I should just focus on my English.  Spanish is more practical to learn in America.

Anyway,  the one thing that I took away from these books is the importance of food education for kids (and adults too).  The contrast between North American and French in regards to food habit is very much highlighted.  Even the French school system and daycares (creche)  are very much involve in this aspect.  These are just the things I remember most.

1. There is no "kid food" in France.  The kids eat what adults eat.
2.  The focus of eating in France is pleasure versus North American focus on nutrition.  However, balance diet is very much emphasized in France. 
3.  Lunch is the most important meal of the day.  They eat most of their protein at lunch, carbohydrate or vegetables  at supper.   French kids get most of their calories at school lunch.  Ms. LeBillon has a blog and she posts menus of different French school district.  Many, if not all, agrees that the French menu is a lot better and healthier than American cafeteria menu.
4.  They only eat their food in the dining table.  No eating while standing or walking.  No eating in the car, etc.
5.  They eat 3 square meals a day plus a snack at 4PM (gouter).  Present day North American kids are heavy on snacking -- grazing as they call it.  They start training their kids to eat on this schedule from birth.  Most French women don't breastfeed for more than 3 months.

Aside from giving importance on Food Education, these are some French parenting facts that stood out for me from Bringing Up Bebe. 
1.  French parents are more relaxed than Americans.  Aside from generous government subsidies for childcare, free healthcare  and high quality creches, French babies tend to sleep through the night  by the age 2 to 4 mos.  Most mothers accept that the perfect mother does not exist.   They let their children "discover"things for themselves, instead of pushing them to acquire skills. 
2.  Pregnancy is not a free ticket to get fat or eat everything you want.  Okay, in my personal experience, I followed a strict diet during my pregnancy due to my gestational diabetes.  However, I know a lot of people who used their pregnancy as an excuse to eat what they want.
3.  The French encourages autonomy (as much as they can handle, Mr. Druckerman points out) .  They don't believe on attached parenting.   A week long field trip for 5 year olds is a reality in France. 
4.  French parents  also don't lose themselves into parenting.  It is important for them to keep their identities and lives of their own separate from their children.

Overall, I realized that French parenting is not at all that unique.  I remember some of these when I was growing up in the Philippines.  We just had 3 meals a day.  Occasional snack or merienda in the afternoon.  Also, my parents are not really too attached to us.  My father worked overseas and my mother is a working mother.  We had a series of maids and relatives who helped with childcare.  Most Filipino parents are authoritative.  Negotiating is discouraged.  Talking back is a sin. 

So, when I moved here in the US, I was impressed  on how Americans are so expressive with their children.   Children are put on a pedestal, the center of attention.   I was impressed on how confident children are on talking with adults and expressing themselves.  I was not nearly that confident in my 20s even.  I am also impressed that many young Americans are assertive.  Many Americans of different ages and backgrounds could talk to anyone.  They could talk and socialize with their boss confidently.  They could question doctors, politicians, teachers,  pretty much any authority figures.  And I, surely,  love that. 

I don't believe that French parenting is superior than Americans. They are different for sure.   One article stated that such difference is because their goals and values are different.  The French values tradition and solidarity while Americans values innovation and free-thinking (not sure of the exact wordings here).  One thing for sure, though, the French has an edge on their Eating Habits.  So that, I will surely try to emulate.   Ms Le Billon of  French Kids Eat Everything has listed French Food Rules and practical tips for North American parents. 

After reading these books,  I am more aware on  how uncivilized my family during meals.  When  things get messy,  I now say, "that's so un-French!"   My husband does not look amused.


Ed said...

I've always felt that having married someone from a different culture was one of the best things I have done. It allowed us to pick and choose the best things from each of our cultures to pass onto our children and skip over those things not so good.

The one thing that struck me the most with your post was the tidbit about there being no kid food in France. I so wish that were the case here. Our daughter ate what we ate from when she first ate solid food until about three or four years old. After that she succumbed to all the massive marketing in that area and now only wants to eat chicken nuggets and such food if she had her way. It would be much easier if there was no 'kid' food.

geri said...

I enjoyed reading your post Malor. I wanted to read that book, still waiting from the library. Tom also gave me a link to this article which is also very interesting which mostly talks about a parent's live revolving around the kids after school activities: While I like the idea of training kids being autonomous to the parents at a young age I do disagree about the 4 months only breastfeeding and the week long field trip for a 5 year old. The latter would be so non-filipino style which is interesting because a lot of the french parenting is strikingly familiar to filipino style. I do agree with you about how I am impressed with how the kids here can talk to adults comfortably and I hope Evan gets that too because that would be an advantage in the workplace.

Ed said...

Excellent article Geri. As I have blogged about in the past, my neighbors were exactly like described in that article. So far I have been pushing back against the American system to have everything so over scheduled that we parents never have time for anything. So far it is working, at least compared to my daughter's friend's parents who I occasionally talk to at the playground in between sessions of one thing or another.

malor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
malor said...

@Geri, I agree with Ed. It is an excellent article. I am glad I am not there yet. I hope I will not get there. However I can see myself to be like that if I did not read on these article and books because my intention is to open up every opportunity to Benji. I would like to be an American. I appreciate parents who are honest enough to share their experiences.

@ Ed, I think that's the purpose of these books -- to choose the best ways from every culture.

I think the school system also needs to add food education on their curriculum esp. now that many kids are obese and developing type 2 diabetes. I think it is a public health issue. I know that Americans do not want to be told what to do, or eat for that matter but I think serving unhealthy foods in daycares and schools is also not right. Just my opinion.

May 4, 2012 2:51 PM

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