Parlez Vous Francais?

I don’t. Speak French that is, but I’m thinking I might be a closet Francophile.

I’ve spent a bit of time there and between the magic of Paris, amazing patisseries, the gorgeous wine and the history, its certainly not a hard sell to love France.

But that’s not the bit I’m currently obsessed with.

I just finished reading French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman.

I really didn’t need to read another parenting book. I get all excited, thinking it’s going to work, then end up reverting to my old habits when I disagree with something or it’s not working.

This was for book club though so it was a must-read. Plus I love books about France so I was excited.

I swear by French Woman Don’t Get Fat, if you can’t be bothered reading it (although I do recommend it) the general gist is that French woman:

  • Eat real, whole food (Surprise, surprise).
  • Talk about good things to eat (They don’t talk about “bad” food, as we tend to do in the western world).
  • Practise restraint (A French woman would never have two main meals a day, if they ate a lot for lunch they eat soup for dinner).
  • Don’t weigh themselves (They use the zipper trick. Pants too tight? Cut back on the food. Genius.)
  • They drink wine, eat chocolate, eat cheese and bread.

Also the book Almost French, by Sarah Turnbull is one of my favourite books, a beautiful, honest portrayal of an Australian trying to fit into French culture.

Almost French

So I got started reading the French way of raising children with an open mind.

I couldn’t put it down – I think I read it in less than a day.

Negatives about the book include too much research and less anecdotes from the author’s own experiences than I would have liked plus a really annoying habit of terming us (British, Americans, Australians) Anglophones.

The points that I will take from the book and try to implement are:

  • French Children don’t snack – they eat breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.

The thought of eliminating the constant whining (“I want foooooood!”) from my firstborn and his disturbing habit of getting to people’s houses (close friends and family only) and heading to their pantry is my motivation for this.

  • French Parents use something the author terms, “The Pause” to help babies sleep through the night by two months (this is the average age a baby sleeps through in France!).

Basically from birth French parents pause when their babies cry and observe them to figure out what they need. It’s minutes but research shows that leaving the babies for this period is helping them connect their sleep cycles and therefore teaching them to self-settle without leaving them to cry it out. Result – teeny tiny babies sleeping 12 hours and a whole country that does not associate having babies with ongoing sleep deprivation. This pause however is meant to be implemented prior to four months, after that they’ve learned bad habits. So Leo will have to be left longer than a pause if I want him to figure out how to drift off into dreamland without being rocked in Mummy’s arms. 

  • French Parents believe that making children wait (or giving them frustration) builds character, tolerance and helps them to cope with life better.

So Julian is getting a sharp, “Wait.” when he asks for something, I’m talking to someone or I’m busy. This is not a long wait but then I turn and give him my full attention. He wants an apple? Between meals? Yes darling, in ten minutes. When he reminds me in that time frame he gets his apple. No meltdowns from him and no frustration at stopping what I am doing from my end. A more pleasurable life. Best thing is, he goes off to play by himself and finds something to do. Half the time its more like half an hour by the time he remembers he wants something and then he is rewarded.

  • French Parents talk about giving children a constant education. They do not mean academically, but more an ongoing reminder that their children are a member of a society. In this society a child greets adults and has manners. They would never let their toddler into a house where they do not say hello and just excuse their behaviour because they are little or tired.

Julian is polite and does relate to adults really well but I do find myself making excuses for his behaviour. It will be interesting to see if the combination of being able to wait, deal with frustration and be spoken to like a real person and not a child will impact on his overall behaviour. This also means that he will go to a restaurant and be expected to behave. I do believe that he can do it and the French don’t expect their children to be polite and focused on a boring adult dinner party forever… so I wonder if they also use Ipads? 

  •  French Parents do not have guilt over taking time out for themselves.

I think it will be a hard habit to break. I would love to stop beginning sentences (and hearing sentences started by friends) with, “I’m such a bad mother…..Julian watched so much TV today cause i had to do this…. “I’m such a bad mother…I booked a no children holiday with the girls and will be gone for four days. ”  

My own wise mother also advocates prioritising couple time, as the French do, to make sure your marriage is still intact after all this child-rearing. Maybe that Scottish accent of hers has a French twang?

Overall it was a great read and sparked interesting debate at book club last night so I highly recommend it!

4 Comments

  1. One can pick up good tips from the French. As for the “French Women Don’t Get Fat” steps you listed, No. 3 has to be the most difficult. It’s easy to say that you’ll practice restraint, but temptation wins most of the time.

  2. Love the sound of ‘French Women Don’t Get Fat’, I’ll try to track it down….Have you seen ‘The Skinny French Kitchen’ by Harry Eastwood? It’s the second cookbook I’ve got by her, she says the same things of the French way of eating and also provides recipes which she has tweaked to make them healthier – everything I’ve tried has been good so far!

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