Thursday, June 14, 2012

Parisian Parenting

My husband and I have an ongoing, love-hate conversation when one of us is reading a book. It goes something like this:

Ian (while reading Game of Thrones): You should really read these books. They're just like Lord of the Rings but ten times better.
Me (heavy sigh while imagining several pages depicting gory battles, too many names due to long lineage, and confusing maps):  Booooring.


Me (while reading The Baby Book by Dr. Sears): Oh my gosh, you would get so much out of this. It's so good.
Ian (heavy sigh): Darling...I like stories...not those informational books.


Ian (while reading City of Glass): The story line is really cool...just ignore all the annoying girl stuff.
Me (two pages in): Booooring.


Me (while reading Still Alice): Seriously...this is a must read.
Ian (tired look): It's totally a female book.

So you can imagine my surprise when, after two days of flying through Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, and telling him the entire time just how much I was enjoying it, Ian picks up the book........and doesn't put it down. I told him it was one of the most interesting books known to mankind, and by golly, he believed me!

I would like to clarify right away that this is not a self-help, parenting, step-by-step book at all, and I think that's exactly why I enjoyed it so much. It was more of a collection of cultural, psychological, and sociological observations. Oftentimes, I was curious to know what the author's personal opinion was regarding the specific strategy being addressed. But she didn't seem too keen on saying whether or not she believed everything was right (or wrong). For the most part, she simply presented what she was witnessing and let the readers form their own opinions.

This is not to say she never steered our thought processes in one direction or another. She has a semi-humorous way of writing that sometimes teeters on the edge of sarcastic and mocking. But it's done in such a way that it (hopefully) reminds people to take a second glance at certain things. For example: in the first chapter, she dives into pregnancy and birth - and lays it right out on the table how many American women act like having a natural birth entitles us to be condescending snots to every one who doesn't.

I've written before and complained often about the annoying, competitive women who brag about their horrible labors and the length of their suffering as if that makes them better than everyone else. I realized she's partially right. But then she makes epidurals and c-sections out to be a gift from God to save us from the horrors of birth. I think we have way too much complacency about epidurals and c-sections in our country, but I (personally) still respect the ones who end up getting them.

This semi-humbling, passive-aggressive opening perked my attention for the rest of her book. I was careful to maintain a rational point of view as I read the way she described the middle-class, Parisian parenting style. Even she admits, everything is generalized and does not pertain to every single American or every single Frenchman. (So if I say "the French do this" or "Americans do that", please don't jump down my throat with eyes popping out of your sockets shrieking, "I never dooo thaaaaat!")

French parents consider their job to be education, not discipline or punishment. They do their best to teach their children how to do or not to do something. Their philosophy is built on the fact that they perceive children as little adults. They treat children with respect and speak to them with an expectancy that children will do what they are told. This confidence in French parents often results in well-behaved children who seem to understand what is being said to them or asked of them - even young infants.

One of the most jaw-dropping differences between American and French parents is the way we handle our infants sleep schedules. In France, they refer to "sleeping through the night" as "doing his/her nights." Infants seem to never have sleep issues or keep their parents up at crazy hours, and this is because parents look at infants as little people who need help connecting their sleep cycles. They don't let their babies "cry it out" - but instead they do the pause when the baby wakes at night. They see their role as helping the child return to sleep so that every one can have a peaceful night. Of course, if they baby is fully awake and cries for more than a few minutes, they pick her/him up.

My first thought was, "But what if they're hungry?" They say that, of course, the babies might be hungry, but that they don't always need to eat. It was this area that I felt a struggle in fully accepting. I still feel that respecting the baby means meeting his needs - such as feeding and cuddling him when he needs it.

On the other hand, I can understand their reasoning that running over and picking up the baby every time he makes a squeak actually can disrupt his sleep instead of meeting his needs. I can see that many sleep problems might actually be caused by over-anxious parents. This whole French mindset of teaching the baby to wait starts a deeply-rooted belief that children cannot get everything they want when they ask for it. I personally do not agree with this for young babies, but boy, does it make sense for kids.

The French believe that when children are protected from frustration, they do not build character and cannot handle being told "no" or dealing with negative emotions or situations. How can they learn patience if they are never taught it? Children are not scarred from these small but frequent delays. Instant gratification never makes us truly happy, does it? The French believe that having a healthy amount of frustration and waiting makes children happy. Having limits seem to help these young children thrive. These limits and boundaries are very important to the French, who consistently stick to their cadre, or frame. This idea works by giving the children much freedom within these strict boundaries. They recognize that children need to have a certain amount of freedom just as adults do.

But Parisians are not permissive parents by any means. They command full authority, but not blindly. Even their word choice shows that they expect more of their children than to just "be good." They say sage (sah-je), which means "be wise and calm." Can you imagine talking to your American child using the words "Be calm and wise, Little Olive." While they will often listen to what their child is saying, in the end "it's me who decides." Their tone of voice and "big eyes" play a crucial role in making sure their children don't turn into "child kings." The author states that she rarely sees a French child collapse at being told no. Instead, they seem "oddly calm about not getting what they want right away" (60).

Of course, if this is sounding a little too Utopian for you, fear not that there were many a things about the French lifestyle that made me think, "No, thank you..."

The one I'll briefly mention but not dwell on here is the top-down system of the government involvement with education and the creche. I don't want to get on my libertarian soapbox here, but I also didn't want this to slip through the cracks. Maybe I'll dedicate another post to my thoughts on this. If not, oh well...you can be left to ponder it yourself.

Another is the Frenchwoman's obsession about her weight and her figure, to the point where she will maintain a thin figure throughout pregnancy, and then immediately work herself back into skinny jeans after the baby pops out. The French scoff at the Americans' excuses to gorge themselves while being pregnant and letting themselves reach large scale numbers. I personally think there is a healthy medium that can make every one happy.

The last is the severe lack of support regarding breastfeeding. The author received a subtle resistance when she insisted on nursing her baby even after she started to attend the creche (day-care). Regardless of the amount of science showing how important it is for mother and baby to have this, French women simply don't see it as pleasurable enough to pursue. This goes along with their belief that becoming a mother doesn't mean one should become enslaved to her children. She should still be able to maintain her social life, her career, and her jean size.

Now, to spin this into something positive, I admire the French's idealogy that their lives should have  equilibre - balance! One part of the life should not overwhelm the others...even the parenting part. This lifestyle extends onto the children who are not enrolled in 50 million extracurricular activities. Not only is it draining as a parent to be maman-taxi, it is also stifling for the child. In fact, the French think children should "awaken" and discover as much on their own as possible (which is one of the main purposes of the cadre). 

Some of the most humorous parts of the book were stories of her describing American parents and the way they behave around their children. I laughed out loud as she described the mother asking her child if she wanted a snack of parsley sprig. (Parsley!) Parents need to chill out sometimes. She points out that American parents also feel the need to announce to the world what is going on. I admit, I catch myself doing this sometimes with the kids and realize now how dumb it can sound. "You see the grass? Yes, it's GREEN. It's green, and it's prickly and tall. Let's touch it. Do you want to touch it? Do you? Yeah? Okay! Okay let's gooooo!" French parents are in no hurry to push their kids to do things earlier and better than other kids, and this hit home with me. I've always liked Piaget's theories (79) and was excited to see his work referenced in some of the chapters.

In fact, found myself realizing that so much of the book made sense to me. French children eat remarkably well and are not known to be picky eaters by any means. This is due to the fact that children eat one snack a day - at 4pm. (That's right, I said one snack a day.) This is called the gouter (goo-tay). By not munching on food all day, children are hungry and ready to eat whatever is served at mealtimes. They believe that repeated and calm exposure to foods that we might think are "too adult" for small children eventually are taken in stride. With Little Olive, I've started following their path and will occasionally say no to her frequent requests for food (that's her "I'm bored" announcement). Then when we eat meals, instead of fighting over her eating something new, I tell her, "You just have to taste it."

Speaking of food, French women don't consider themselves to be on diets (apparently). Instead, they say they "pay attention" to what they eat. One of the author's friends described her eating habits as being very strict during the week, and then picking one day where she could eat whatever she wanted. This helped her brain know that it wasn't a forbidden food, but that she had to wait to have it. (Patience is a big thing over there.)

As my husband arrives at the end of the book, he asks the same questions as I do, mainly, "What are the longterm effects of these methods?" While I know there's always another perspective and additional research, I also know that the idea of raising independent, content, happy, calm, thriving, healthy, and polite children sounds pretty intriguing. And doing it in a respectful, calm, patient manner sounds even better.

Now everyone, if you could just help me along and stop stuffing Goldfish into the mouths of your children every 15 minutes, we could all be looking toward a brighter future. :)

No, but seriously, read the book and leave a comment below! I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Financial Aid Tips

My mother says I'll go back to school someday to become an English teacher. She sees my eyes light up when I talk about a good book or how much I enjoy proofreading my younger siblings papers. The thought of attending classes right now is more terrifying than (I want to type "a positive pregnancy test" but I honestly would be excited if that happened, so...what should I write...? Ah, I've got it) a zombie apocalypse. (Don't judge me.) But maybe in ten years, I'll feel differently about being a student again. But if I ever do go down that road, I'm going to be a bit wiser about student loans and paying off the degree while I'm earning it. I'm all about visuals, so I wanted to share this with everyone.

Navigating the financial aid system infographic by Southern New Hampshire University, SNHU.EDU
Brought to You by SNHU.EDU Online College Programs

Friday, June 01, 2012

Why I bought an enormous sunhat

kmart.com
I had an eye-opening, jaw-dropping realization a couple weeks ago when I finally discovered why I can become a little irritable playing outside with the kids. While I can't believe I'm going to complain about the sun and the heat, I can believe it's the root of the problem. I always picture myself going in the backyard and chasing after my kids with a huge smile on my face, with their adorable giggling and laughing echoing off neighboring houses. What happens instead is my eyes squint, and I immediately become tired and uncomfortably warm. "Mommy, push me" becomes a dreaded phrase to hear while I try to stay awake in four inches of shade under our gutters.

In a desperate attempt one day to make it through the heat until naptime, I threw on my Hubby's baseball cap and marched outside. As we stood together, pushing our kids on the swings, Hubby remarked that the cap looked cute on me, and then admiringly stated, "I see you're Protecting Your Eyes Against The Sun. Good for you." I thanked him and curtsied.

Actually, I didn't. But I realized that the baseball cap kept me super cool, as in temperature. That afternoon, I went to the store and treated myself to one of those Kentucky Derby-ish hats with an enormous brim and a cute flower on the side. I wear it as often as I can when we're out in the sun, and it's amazing how comfortable it is. No wonder Mexicans wear sombreros! It's like wearing an umbrella on your head. Check it out, ladies. Let's bring hats back into fashion.

Why I'm not getting an iPhone this summer

I'm not going to lie - I'd love a smart phone. I have an iTouch (which is practically an iPhone without the phone) and really get a lot of use out of it. It's super convenient to check messages, e-mail, or any social media while I'm away from the computer. Although it has a pretty crappy camera, I can still take pictures with it. People who walk around with smart phones have every thing right at their fingertips. How cool would that be. It doesn't matter to me whether it's an Apple product or an android; both seem awesome. If you have an android phone, check out some free android apps at the website, Free New. There are plenty of awesome apps you can download for free. Pretty stellar.

The reason, however, why I'm not going to purchase an iPhone anytime soon is because the monthly data package is an unnecessary expense for us right now. I only pay $27 for my AT&T GoPhone every month, and it's great for what I need. Is it cumbersome to carry around my cell phone, a camera, and my iTouch sometimes? Yes, but we pay for convenience in our society. And I'm pretty frugal as it is.

We are blazing ahead with "gazelle-like intensity" at paying off Hubby's student loans. Any extra money spent on a cell phone could easily be put toward getting debt-free. So, as much as I'd love to be a cool hip mom snapping pictures and immediately posting them onto FB, I'm going to wait on that. Y'all will have to put up with my crappy iTouch pics till then.

Au revoir!