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French children eat vegetables, and they sleep through the night by 2-3 months of age. French mothers are serene as pregnant women, they get skinny very shortly after childbirth, and they are granted free, government funded post-partum coochie therapy to ensure the timely return of a vigorous sex life. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You really need to read this book. The French, in many regards, have a cultural bias that lends itself to parenting methods that have enviable results. This is why I tried the SuperMaman approach.
At first I felt so Euro, so cosmopolitan, so… French. Then I started to feel like a posieur. SuperMaman lasted about two weeks. I quit the charade when my failings made me feel like a total losieur. According to the book, as a French wannabe, I’d been messing things up since day one.
The French are not scared of what they can and can’t eat or what they can and can’t do during pregnancy. They just stay chill. I was totally on board with this during my pregnancy. Until about 25 weeks, which was the week I taught a spin class, swam with Masters, mulched and watered the entire front yard, and ended up in the hospital, praying I would not have to spend the remainder of my pregnancy on bedrest (I did not have to, thankfully). My upcoming trip to Mexico was cancelled, (pre-term labor in a third world country, anyone?), and I was careful from that point on, to avoid overdoing it. And when I forgot to take it easy, my hemhorroids reminded me. No one could tell me what I had done wrong, but I suspect I was guilty of not being sufficiently anxious about the pregnancy. One thing the book didn’t mention was what the heck do French pregnant women do at night if they aren’t scouring Baby Center for medical information to ease their worries.
Fail #1: Pregnancy Problems
I had failed my child (and myself) during the newborn months because I didn’t straight up tell her I was putting her down for the night and she better not expect to see my face until the morning. The French tell their babies everything, assuming they can understand. I am on board with this, but when Sweet Pea was a newborn I would say things like “I love you” and “I’m changing your diaper now.” I never thought to say, “See you in eight hours.”
Also, I didn’t know about “The Pause” which is apparently de rigueur among the French. When bebe begins to cry, French parents wait about five minutes before going to check on him. Because the parents do not rush in, the baby learns to self-soothe very quickly. In no time, they learn to put themselves back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night. I could totally tune out the sound of a baby crying for five minutes. Someone else’s baby, that is. Listen to my own baby cry for five minutes? I’d rather peel my fingernails off.
Fail #2: Sleep problems
So I couldn’t undo the damage I had already done in the sleep department, but at least I could work on developing my toddler’s palette. The French expose their children to all kinds of vegetables multiple times. If the kid doesn’t like broccoli the first time, or the fifth time, or the fifteenth time, there’s always the thirtieth time. French restaurants don’t have kids menus because French kids eat everything. I am all for exposing Sweet Pea to different foods as many times as it takes for her to acquire the taste for them. But I also want her to eat a solid meal. Since I already messed up the sleep thing, if I give her a lot of vegetables for which her desire is questionable, I can be reasonably sure that she will wake up hungry in the middle of the night, which is fun for nobody. So if she wants two scrambled eggs, that’s what this American mom is cooking.
Fail #3: Food problems
I would have loved to be back at my pre-pregnancy weight within three months. I would also love a pet unicorn. Losing weight fast is hard. It takes work. You have to be committed. You know what else is hard, takes work, and requires an assload of commitment? Mothering a newborn. I didn’t have the energy to watch my diet in the first few months. Also, I was scared that if I dropped too much weight, my milk would dry up. Not that this was a huge risk, but I ate plenty of ice cream just to be on the safe side.
Fail #4:Baby Weight Problems
I think it’s awesome that the French culture values sex enough that they pay for postpartum pelvic floor therapy. I think sex is a vital part of a healthy marriage, and that sexuality is an important part of being human. I wish Americans, as a culture, were not so repressed. But all the therapy in the world would not be able to return the natural lube that breastfeeding hormones stole from me. According to the book, breastfeeding is not very popular in France. I wonder if that’s partly because of the collateral damage it can do in the boudoir.
Fail #5: Sex problems
This was by no means a comprehensive review of the book, and you should know that even though it made me feel kind of bad, I couldn’t put it down. I’m not sure what that says about me.
I definitely recommend it. It was well-written, from the perspective of a funny, intelligent American journalist living and raising small children in Paris. “Bringing Up Bebe” exposed a lot of the cultural biases I wasn’t totally aware of (think fish in water). It also made me think about how a culture’s values permeate all aspects of that culture, including attitudes and practices regarding parenting.
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