Monday, July 30, 2012

Politeness and the Parisians

During my month blogging about Bringing Up Bebe, I was inspired to reread several books by Peter Mayle. Mayle frequently comments on how well-behaved French children are in restaurants, and how polite the French are in general. Nevertheless, he quotes Provence natives who describe the Parisians as rude at least once per book.

It would be easy to dismiss these comments as sour grapes on the past of the rural French who secretly long to live in Paris. However, I just finished reading The Sweet Life in Paris: delicious adventures in the world's most glorious and perplexing city by David Lebovitz. Lebovitz, a pastry chef, cookbook author, and Paris resident, makes it clear that visitors to Paris must obey etiquette in greeting shop employees (say Bonjour to EVERYONE) and in dressing even in a casual fashion (it is not OK to put out the trash in sweats). Lebovitz describes a simple visit to his supermarket, which sounds dismal and which he likens to a "Romanian prison" (p. 176):

"At my Franprix, if there's a mess, all the employees gather in a semicircle around it to watch it spread. They just stand there, watching it, waiting for something to happen. You can see them backing away and thinking to themselves, "C'est pas ma faute...c'est pas ma faute..., hoping for someone else to take the initiative. They'll toss a plastic cone nearby, shrug, then head back outside to finish their cigarettes." (p. 176).

Lebovitz devotes an entire chapter "Lines are for other people" where he lambastes the Parisian refusal to stand on line, leadng them to cut other people or push them aside. He makes Paris sound like one overcrowded Times Square.

However, all of his accounts sound like these Parisians failed their state-run preschools. They obviously never learned to cope with the boredom of a minimum wage job. They've never learned to use initiative at work. They haven't even learned to get along with their fellow walkers. And then there are strikes. Constant strikes. Once again, the strikers are definitely not people who have learned to settle  with what they have been handed in life. I look forward to the changes to American society that will occur once a French upbringing for children has become popular in the US.

Monday, July 23, 2012

French mothers don't feel guilt

There has recently been much speculation in the press about the pregnancy of the new CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, with journalists debating over whether Mayer can have a family and still be CEO. According to Druckerman's book, this would not even be a question in France. One of the major differences between French mothers and American mothers is that French mothers don't feel guilty about returning to work. Most of them apparently stay home for three months, lose their baby weight, and then go back to work, secure in the knowledge that their child is being cared for by trained professionals at a creche.

Mothers, in fact, expect to work; stay-at-home mothers are viewed as dull and uninteresting, and get ignored at parties. Women admit that they get bored staying at home with their children and that working is more interesting. In addition, they feel that it is safer to stay employed because there is no guarantee that their husbands won't leave them. If they have a job, they are more financially secure. Even women in government are expected to return to work after the appropriate time; one female minister was criticized for returning too early, not for returning at all.

What probably helps French mothers is the existence of the cheap, well-run state creches and preschools. The French admit that two incomes are needed in most families, and are willing to pay the taxes needed to provide children with care and parents with a safety net. This care allows any mother, not just female CEO's, to go back to the jobs that they enjoy and need.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Multitasking and Manners

I have become more aware since I read Bringing Up Bebe of the breakdown of manners in NYC. I hate writing this next post because it makes me sound like the stereotype of the crotchety librarian. Nevertheless, it has bothered me enough to that point where I felt I had to do a post on it.

Some observations:
  • people talk at other people while the other people are on the phone. The talkers seem to forget that it is hard to carry on two conversations at once. It is actually more efficient for the person to finish the phone conversation, then deal with the person in front of them.
  • the human brain cannot actually multitask (see this NPR article). This is why it is more efficient to let the talker finish the conversation before s/he deals with the person before him/her.
  • personal computers did not become common until the 1980's. Gen X was the first generation to grow up with computers, followed by Gen Y and the Millennials. Human beings do not mutate as quickly as lab rats or fruit flies. Three generations of computer-using humans do not translate to brains born instantly capable of multitasking.
Nevertheless, everyone seems to think the brain (or at least the American brain) has evolved enough in thirty years so that it is possible to carry on an intelligent conversation while texting, driving, walking, and/or riding a bike. They therefore don't think it's rude to interrupt people since they don't view anything as an interruption - the person interrupted should just multitask more efficiently. As a result, children watch their parents interrupt people and think it's OK to interrupt adults.

They also learn not to respect adults. Druckerman gives several examples in her book of American children who do not respect adults, from rude teenagers to younger children who bite and hit their parents. Interestingly enough, Peter Mayle frequently describes rude adult  Parisians in his books, so the French child-rearing method is obviously not fool-proof.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

California has discovered parenting French-style

I was stunned to read this article in last week's New York magazine. The article is about a California-based program called Resources for Infant Educarers (REI). The author of the article attended a Manhattan class, and spent her time learning not to be a helicopter parent.

Intrigued, I checked out the REI website. The founder, Magda Gerber, received a degree in linguistics at the Sorbonne before studying with Hungarian pediatrition Emmi Pikler. Her philosophy of child-rearing, which includes free play, observing the child, treating the child like a rational being, and allowing the child freedom to play and learn sounds much like that of Francoise Dalto. She develped her ideas with the help of a neurologist partner, Tom Forrest, who presumably served as an advisor about the infant brain.

Gerber's take on discipline quoted in the New York article sounds very French:

"The RIE approach to discipline is simple: Set reasonable, consistent rules and stick to them even if they’re unpopular with those expected to abide by them. “It is not the best thing to try to keep your children happy all the time,” writes Gerber. “That is not the way life is.”

Presumably this means that you should also teach your children to cope with frustration, boredom, and waiting. It will be interesting to see if Druckerman's book on French child-rearing and classes on Gerber's child-rearing methods will have a noticeable impact on the children of NYC.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The French and the Joy of Food

Despite the steely resolutions of Druckerman's friends, who all lose their baby weight within three months of giving birth, the French enjoyment of food comes across in the book. French parents want their children to appreciate the different flavors of fruits and vegetables. They encourage the children to revel in the different tastes and textures of food. On weekends, they spend time teaching their children how to bake, and the process of making the cake is treated as equally enjoyable as eating it.

Druckerman's female friends keep their weight down by not eating bread during the week. Their snack is a cup of black coffee (I'm sure unsweetened). Yet they allow themselves to eat what they want, in moderate amounts, on the weekend. This prevents them from feeling overly constrained in their diet, and they don't have the urge to binge eat.

Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, first published in 1989, started a trend of travel writing/memoirs (especially about France). I personally like the first sequel, Toujours Provence, as much as the first book. What sets these two books apart from other travel memoirs is Mayle's vividly written, genuine enjoyment of long French lunches, house wines, fresh produce, olive oil, cheese, the melons from his own backyard trees, and bread that is matched to the meal. When I read his books, I don't get the urge to go to France - I get the urge to visit my local produce store and bakery.

There is a description in Toujours Provence when he visits the Les Halles market in Avignon, gets really hungry after looking at the produce and other foods on sale, and desperately wants to chow down on a sausage sandwich and a litre of wine. However, since it's early in the morning and he hasn't done any genuine physical work, he cannot justify this breakfast, and just gets coffee. Whenever I read that passage, I get hungry and make coffee. It also comes to mind whenever I visit an NYC farmer's market. Unlike some other travel writers, he seems to focus more on his personal experiences rather than on shopping or accumulating possessions.

Mayle mentions in one book that he and his wife have lost weight since they came to Provence. He credits their fresh, unprocessed food, use of olive oil instead of butter, and the fact that they walk constantly for helping them keep their weight down. They've learned to focus on the experience of eating, to really taste their food and savor the textures of what they eat. As a result, they do not overeat, and keep their weight down. He predates French Women Don't Get Fat by twenty years.

I've noticed over the past two weeks that this blog is getting an increased number of hits from viewers in France. I know that Peter Mayle was viewed as writing about France in a condescending manner when his books first came out. All I can say is that as a New Yorker, I've had to deal over the years with literally hundreds of  tourists while at work, commuting, or merely roaming the streets. Tourists can be annoying (I stay OUT of Times Square because it is impossible to walk). However, I've also been a tourist myself in other countries. I do my best to direct tourists, offer them safety tips, and cheerfully walk around them. Although they drive up real estate prices, they also fuel the NYC economy. I suspect that Peter Mayle gave a boost to that of France back in the 1990's because he made Provence so appealing.

Happy belated Bastille Day!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Snacking and French Kids

Children eat three meals a day, and a goutier (or snack) at 4:30 PM each day to tide them over from lunch to dinner. The goutier often consists of bread and good-quality dark chocolate. They do not eat at other times, which is connected to teaching them delayed gratification. Druckerman comments

"when we rush to feed Bean whenever she whimpers, we're treating her like an addict. Whereas expecting her to have patience would be a way of respecting her." (p. 74).

By expecting their children only to eat at established meal times, French parents are teaching their children not only to wait, but how to establish healthy eating habits. Once French nanny that Druckerman interviewed will no longer work for American parents. The nanny tried to teach the children manners and healthy eating habits, only to have her attempts undermined by overly permissive parents. As a result, the kids were "stout" and spoiled because they were being fed cake and ice cream late each night.

Over the past few years, I've noticed that American parents and caregivers never seem to venture out without a container of Cheerios packed into their carriages. Kids appear to be fed Cheerios (and sometime Fruit Loops, raisins, or trail mix) periodically throughout the day. While the majority of the babies and toddler that I see are not obese, I have found myself wondering if it might be better if these children were fed fresh fruit or vegetables as snacks instead of breakfast cereals. According to the French way of child-rearing, these children would be better off not being fed any snacks at all.

Child-hood obesity rates in France are lower than in the United States and are expected to remain below 10% in the next ten years. As of now, 40% of American children are over-weight, and half of these children are obese.  However, in both countries, poorer children are more likely to be obese than wealthier children. I would be interested in knowing whether creches and preschools in poorer French neighborhoods have fewer resources available for educating children on food and diet, whether poorer French children snack more frequently, and whether their snacks are less healthy than those of wealthier children. In NYC at any rate, there is a push to make healthier food more easily procurable in poorer neighborhoods and to provide healthier school lunches in public schools.

Food and French Kids

I first read about the special diet of French school children when I read Peter Mayle's Toujours Provence (1991). Mayle spends a chapter describing how he experiences French dining options at various price points along with Regis, whom he refers to as the "Athlete Gourmet". Regis has a small daughter named Mathilde and

"at the village school attended by his five-year-old daughter, the menu for the week is posted on the notice board, so that the meals won't be duplicated at home,and each day is a three-course lunch. Yesterday, for instance, little Mathilde had eaten a celery salad with a slice of ham and cheese quiche, riz au saucisses, and baked bananas. Voila! The palate continues its education. As so it is inevitable that the French adult has a better appreciation of food, and higher expectations than the English adult." (pp. 165-6).

At the time that I read this, I assumed that Regis simply lived in an affluent village in Provence, possibly one that was reaping a lot of money from tourists. I myself grew up in a somewhat affluent village of 50,000 people on Long Island, which at that time spent a large amount of money on its very good school system. We had an excellent art and music program, although I do not have fond memories of the cafeteria food. I simply assumed that Regis' village opted to spend more money on food, and possibly less on cultural enrichment programs.

I was fascinated to read, twenty years later, that what Mayle is describing is standard in French creches and preschools. Druckerman 's daughter Bean is her first child to go to a creche. Druckerman writes:

"What really wins us over about the creche is the food, or, more specifically, the dining experience. Each Monday, the creche posts its menu for the week on a giant white board near the entrance.

I sometimes photograph these menus and e-mail them to my mother. They read like the chalkboard menus at Parisian brasseries. Lunch is served in four courses: a cold vegetable starter, a main dish with a side of grains or cooked vegetables, a different cheese each day, and a dessert of fresh fruit or fruit puree. There's a slightly modified version for each age group; the youngest kids mostly have the same foods, but pureed...

An in-house cook at each creche prepares lunch from scratch each day. A truck arrives several times a week with seasonal, fresh, sometimes even organic ingredients. Aside from the occasional can of tomato paste, nothing is processed or precooked. A few vegetables are frozen, but never precooked." (pp. 111-2).

The kids are deliberately exposed to as many different kinds of foods as possible so that they can become flexible eaters. If a child doesn't like a food, s/he is asked to at least try it, and then the food is re-introduced in different forms over the next few weeks. An added bonus is that during the week, the child's main meal is school lunch so that parents can serve a lighter, easier-to prepare meal, such as soup, for dinner. Parents don't have to cook large, involved meals until the weekend.

Druckerman never mentions what happens to children with allergies to peanuts, gluten, sugar, etc. Her own children are Jewish, and she spends two pages discussing how her daughter, who does not eat pork at home and is on a no-pork list at school, is sometimes served pork at lunch; she knows this because Bean will come home and tell her that she ate pork (pp. 164-5). Druckerman does not say why this happens - was it just a mistake, did Bean insist on trying pork, are the caregivers deliberately ignoring religious tabboos in order to make the kids as French as possible (most French are still officially Catholic so eat pork)?

What happens to the children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, for example, and whose parents are trying through diet to mitigate the condition? Are these children in special creches and preschools? Does France just have a statistically lower level of children who need special diets for health, religious, or ethical reasons?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What Druckerman Ignores About French Schools

Shortly after I first previewed Bringing Up Bebe in a Barnes & Noble, I was invited by a French-speaking friend whom I shall call S. to see the movie version of The Rabbi's Cat at the JCC. Since I had loved the first two books (which are owned by BPL), I eagerly accepted. When we arrived at the JCC, we found the auditorium completely full. Filled with expectation, everyone sat back to enjoy the movie, only to be told that the film was not working, and that we would instead be shown a French movie called "Fracture".

SPOILER ALERT! "Fracture" is about a young French teacher named Anna, who is unlucky enough to land her first teaching job as a social studies teacher in a high school in a poor section of Paris. Anna is Jewish, her parents are formerly radical university professors who marched in the French student riots of 1968, her uncle is very pro-Israel, and her non-Jewish boyfriend appears to be a naive, self-centered twit.

The kids in Anna's school are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. Anna is verbally harassed by her students for being Jewish and an an attractive woman. One student, an 18-year-old who is still in a class meant for 14-year-olds and spends his time beating up the younger kids, finally gets thrown out of school after burning down the library. Other students argue against Sarkozy's policy towards immigrants, the Israeli presence in Palestine, and what they perceive as Anna's lack of respect towards them (she would like them to sit down, stop throwing things and beating each other up, and learn).

The most sympathetic student is boy who had planned to become a professional cartoonist before he fell down and hurt his hand. He had gone to a public French hospital and was treated by a doctor who had been working for 36 straight hours, was completely dulled by fatigue, and caused irreparable nerve damage to the boy's hand. The school's way of handling this problem was to force the boy to spend hours in the library (before it was torched) practicing the alphabet with his good hand. The boy eventually commits suicide.

While all this happens the students riot in their housing projects, torch a couple of dozen cars, and shoot a few people. The brother of one student is arrested for being a member of a terrorist cell. One teacher takes early retirement at 55 and announces that he is moving out of France since any country with such youth is beyond repair.

The reaction of the JCC audience, once the lights came up, was very revealing. Based purely upon my observations, the audience was mostly older and middle- or upper-middle class. A number of them (from our eavesdropping) had actually been to France as tourists. The audience members were all shell-shocked, and a few accepted the JCC offer of a refund.

My reaction was somewhat different. I have a family member who was a social studies teacher for 25 years in a NYC high school that was recently closed as a failing school. Other than the fact that the French students were avidly following politics (something that NYC students apparently ignore) the classroom overcrowding and turmoil appeared to be quite similar to that of NYC. S.and I both agreed that the student with the injured hand would have been treated differently in NYC- perhaps the school would have allowed him to bring in his laptop or an iPad to take notes, or set him up with a social worker and counseling.

S. is a daily reader of BBC News online and I read The Guardian online. As a result, we were both aware of the high rate of unemployment among French youth, and the riots in the housing projects. Back when the French banned the wearing of the face veil to preserve French culture, we had agreed that it had been a short-sighted move by the French government.

At any rate, although "Fracture" is a fictional movie and not a docmentary, it does present another side of French youth. These teens are presumably mostly graduates of the universal free French preschool for ages 3-5. They definitely don't say bonjour to adults, and appear to lack any form of framework. They use their copious unscheduled time to smoke pot and watch TV. In fact, they appear to be much like American teens, except they speak better French and buy their French fries in small independent restaurants instead of McDonalds.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Joys of Unstructured Play

There are many example of the French preference for unstructed play time thoughout Bringing Up Bebe. Druckerman tells a story of how when she takes her kids to the park with a French neighbor, the neighbor is appalled that Druckerman has to spend her time supervising the kids. The neighbor instructs Druckerman on how to make it clear to  the kids that they can both play AND behave, thus allowing Druckerman and the neighbor to relaxand have a friendly chat (p219-221).

On Bastille Day, Druckerman takes her daughter to the park. She sees a French parent who has provided her child with a ball. While the child amuses herself with the ball, the parent talks with an adult friend. Druckerman, in contrast, has packed for her daughter "a giant sack of books and toys for her. I spend a lot of the day helping her play with the toys and reading with her." (p. 144). The French girl is evidently able to cope with boredom and is able to amuse herself, while the American child requires constant stimulation from her parent.

Druckerman also tells a story about how on visits to the US, she sees helicopter parents "narrating" every move their child makes as the child moves around the playground. When she talks to Michel Cohen about this, she finds out that he has actually written about this in a negative fashion in his guide to child care as he thinks this overstimulates the child (p. 139). He thinks the parent is filled with guilt,and is trying to prove what a good parent s/he is to the child.

The French mothers interviewed by Druckerman are not big fans of extracurricular acitivites. Most limit their children to one activity per school term. One mother  commented that "You have to leave kids alone, they need to be a bit bored at home, they must have time to play, " she says (p.143). The boredom from the unstructured time forces the child to use his/her inner resources  to entertain him/herself rather than to always depend on an outside source to amuse her/him.

Another mother

 "says that she stopped sending her kids to tennis lessons or anything else, because she found the lessons "constraining".

"Constraining for whom?" I ask.

"Constraining for me," she says." (p. 143)

As a child, my time was relatively unstructured. Provided that I did my homework, my free time was my own. I learned how to amuse myself and how to cope with boredom, as did my siblings; we developed inner resources. These inner resources have come in particularly useful when stuck in subway tunnels for long periods of time, in dull classes, and even sometimes at meetings. They help us to survive adult life, which is not always that obviously stimulating or exciting.

Encadre: A strong framework allowing for creativity

Druckerman find that the French emphasize the concept of "encadre", a set of behavioral expectations that children must follow. Within this framework, as she repeatedly mentions thoughout the book, children are allowed tremendous freedom. Encadre behavior includes regular meals, politely greeting adults, and going to bed at an early time. Children are also given enormous amounts of unstructured time to learn how to amuse themselves by experiencing boredom.

Children learn encadre behavior not only at home but at school. Druckerman visits her daughter's French preschool only to see a line of two dozen identical paintings lined up on the wall, produced by the kids in art class. They are allowed to do free-form painting in the second year, presumably after developing their painting framework in their first year.

Interestingly enough, many online columnists and commenters are critical of the French education system. One French Guardian columnist admits that

"This is what I could tell you about France's state education with my British glasses on: French schools are medieval dungeons where children from the age of three are subjected to terribly long hours under the unforgiving gaze of instituteurs who make them learn the Marseillaise off by heart. If they fail, they'll be told so in the most undiplomatic terms. Grammar and algebra are all that matters. Creativity and playfulness? Children can learn that at their grandparents', if they are still alive."

The same columnist also states that the strictness of French education provides French children with the groundwork that they need to move on to more creative work.

In March, 2011, the NY Times published an article stating that more than three-fourths of incoming CUNY freshmen needed remedial assistance with basic classes such as reading, writing, and math. In response,

"To bring thousands of students up to speed, those colleges [CUNY colleges]  spent about $33 million last year on remediation — twice as much as they did 10 years ago. They are expanding an immersion program that funnels hundreds of students exclusively into remedial classes."

It is difficult for college students to do really creative work, or for college professors to inspire the creative spark needed to bring their students to something higher than rote learning, when much time and energy must be spent teaching basics that students should already have known. A firmer grounding in the basics of math and writing in middle and high school, subjects learned only through constant repetition, would have prepared those students for college, and allowed CUNY to spend the $33 million on other classes, funding special projects, technology enhancement, or even infrastructure repair.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Wait! - Part Three Dealing with frustration and delayed gratification

French parents not only wait to pick up their wakeful babies, but they also integrate the concept of waiting into every aspect of their children's lives. Children get three regularly scheduled meals and a scheduled afternoon snack (the goutier);if they want to eat between meals, they have to wait. Druckerman describes how French mothers bake cakes on weekends with their children, and the kids have to wait until their 4:30 PM goutier to eat them, unlike American kids who presumably scarf the cakes while they are still hot. Not only do the French kids learn to bake, but they also learn self-control.

Self-control is important to for children to learn early as much of life is spent coping with frustration. Druckerman comments that

"what seems to be the consensus in France: making kids face up to limitations and deal with frustration turns them into happier, more resilient people. And one of the main ways is gently to induce frustration, on a daily basis, is to make children wait a bit." (p. 75).

You don't always get what you want in life, sometimes you have to wait, and it is better to learn this when young. Elsewhere in the chapter, telling a child "no" is another method of producing a happy child.

All of this makes enormous sense to me. As a child, my mother constantly quoted "Patience is a virtue" to my siblings and me. As an adult, I regularly think this to myself as I cope with being stuck in a late night train for half-an-hour, or long line at the supermarket.

During the course of a day, I find myself saying "Wait" repeatedly not only to small children but to adults. I am constantly interrupted while speaking to or helping people by other people who just don't want to wait. Very rarely do people have to communicate something that must be dealt with immediately- a fire, a sudden attack of illness, an visit by the police. Perhaps if everyone took a pause and taught their kids to talk a pause, we would all have some time to reconsider the immediacy of our demands and just relax.

Wait! - Part 2 The Natural Rhythm of the Child

The French parents that Druckerman consults during her sleep-training all claim that they are flexible yet are able to train their children to sleep on a regulated schedule that fits into their household schedule. They do so by observing the natural rhythm of the child.  In fact, much of French parenting seems to consist of watching the child, observing its natural rhythms, and shifting them to fit into a society where children eat three meals a day, one snack, and go to bed at 8 PM without a fight.

Druckerman naturally does more research into parenting techniques, and discovers Dr. Francoise Dolto (who has never been translated into English). Dolto was the French Dr. Spock of the 1960's through the 1980's and even had a radio show. Dolto believed that babies could understand their parents, beginning in the womb (p.91), and were rational thinkers. Unfortunately for the babies, they lacked language skills and were not able to freely communicated with their parents and caregivers. Dolto felt that adults needed to observe babies in order to discover what the babies wanted to communicate. According to a former Dolto student:

"All of her senses on alert, totally receptive to the emotions that the baby aroused in her.It was not to console [the baby], but to understand what the baby was telling her. Or more precisely, what the baby saw" (p.90).

Once Dolto realized what the baby wanted, she would talk to the baby and explain to it in a rational manner what was going on or the desired behavior. The baby, also a rational being, would understand and calm down or do what was requested of it.

Since babies cannot verbally communicate in a clearly understandable fashion, it is responsibility of the parents to observe these little rational beings, all different from one another, and understand their desires. Once the parent understands what the baby is saying, the parent can speak his/her commands to the baby, who will understand them. At the same time, the parent can understand why the child refuses to do something; the child has a rational reason for this refusal and it is up to the parent to discover it and to respect or alter its natural rhythm as needed. Although babies have rhythms, so do their households, and life flows better if the two are in sinc.

Much of French parenting can therefore be seen as a mixture of observation, intuition about the child's feelings and behavior, and rational discourse. While it may seem irrational to American parents, it actually makes sense to me. As a multiple pet owner, I cannot talk to  my pet to find out why it is upset. I've got to use observation and intuition to figure out if this is a temporary upset or something requiring a vet. I also explain to an animal why I am doing something; the animal may not understand but it calms me down, and the animal picks up on the calm. Since babies pick up on their parent's emotions, parents who calmly explain a situation to a baby may transfer that same calm to the infant so that the parent gets the desired result.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Wait! - Part 1

I first read Bringing Up Bebe about two months ago; I reserved it from BPL after seeing it on the Barnes & Nobles best-seller table. Over the past few months I've read a parody on the Guardian, several posts in different sections of the Guardian site (the British seemed very perturbed by the book), and the infuriated response from the Forbes reviewer that I linked to on the previous post. Only one Guardian reviewer seemed to find the book to be reasonable, while the other reviewers and commenters generally seemed to criticize the French character and/or child-rearing methods. While I've never been to France, have no close French friends, and don't speak or read French, I thought much of the child-rearing advice to be quite sane. What seems to really drive internet posters into a frenzy is the idea of "The Pause".

Druckerman first notices "The Pause" concept when she is trying to teach her oldest child to sleep through the night. She polls French friends and aquaintances only to find that all of their children slept through the night before the children were six-months-old. Druckerman is initially dubious about these claims until she meets with a French pediatrician, Michel Cohen, who had started a practice in Tribeca (NYC). Dr. Cohen explains to Druckerman that babies have two-hour sleep cycles, and that they wake up between the cycles. When a baby wakes up, the parent should pause before picking up the baby; this pause allows the baby to reset itself and go into its next sleep cycle. Babies who are constantly interrupted between cycles by their parents or caregivers take longer to connect the cycles, and therefore take longer to sleep through the night.

This explanation is actually supported by research by American sleep scientists (p.49-51). At least one study has been done where parents were taught to pause before picking up the infant. These babies not only learned to sleep through the night, but thrived since they and their caretakers were no longer sleep-deprived. Sleep-deprivation, in fact, has been linked to difficulty in learning, immune system problems, and hyperactivity.

Unfortunately for Druckerman, she had not learned about "The Pause" and had to train her daughter to sleep when the girl was nine-months-old. Druckerman did this by following a modified version of "cold turkey" (or "graduated extinction"). She put her child to bed and let her cry for twelve minutes on the first night, then nine minutes on the second night. On the third night, the child was able to sleep through the night without waking up.

This advocacy of not picking up a crying child seems to really upset commenters and columnists. Parents are apparently envisioning millions of French children fruitlessly wailing for attention on their little cots while their cold-hearted parents are sipping wine, smoking cigarettes, and making love. Other parents may fear that the wailing of their children may prompt the neighbors to call child-protective services. However, these millions of French children apparently survive "The Pause" and the "gradual extinction" and learn to sleep through the night, as did the babies in the US sleep experiment. It's possible that a little patience on the part of the parents might be beneficial for the baby.

Bringing Up Bebe:One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman : Introduction

I would like to disclose before I lead this two-month discussion of Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, that I do not have children. However, I do have nephews. I have friends with children. I have worked with children for almost 14 years, and have friends and relatives who are in professions that require them to spend much time with children. I have considerable respect for people who do have children since bringing them up is an important and time-consuming job.

I also have never been to France, although I did once pass through by train from Madrid to Venice. I've read the standard books written by American and British ex-pats living in France, including Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence and its sequels, which inspired me to read Jean Giorno. I recently bought a copy of Vivian Swift's Le Road Trip which is inspiring me to visit France some day, although after only visiting England and  revisting Italy.

Over the years,I have noticed a shift in child-rearing practices in NYC, and in America in general. Every year new books are published on raising children. I've seen an increased demand for the 1,2,3 Magic Books ( ) and in books on potty-training in one day. Homeschooling is on the rise as parents decide that they are unhappy with the education provided by their local schools; unable to change the system, they op-out entirely and homeschool alone and/or in collectives.

Pamela Druckerman decided to raise her three children (for now) in France. Her children are enrolled in the state-run day-care and preschool programs in France. By observing her neighbors, her friends, and the caregivers at her children's schools, Druckerman is able to see the differences in how French middle class parents raise their children and in how they are raised in American homes. "Bringing Up Bebe" is Druckerman's way of sharing with Americans some French child-rearing practices that work in France and with her French-born children.

For those of you who have not read the book since there is a large holds list for it, here are some useful links: