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Book review: Busy mom’s guide to ‘Bringing up Bebe’

We read the book so you don’t have to.

Book review: Busy mom’s guide to ‘Bringing up Bebe’

Ah, the French. From their capsule wardrobes to their take on everything from toast to kissing, it seems like they always know a little something before we do. Which is why I was excited to read Bringing Up Bebe, former Wall Street Journal writer Pamela Druckerman’s très popular guide to “the wisdom of French parenting.”


It actually ended up being one of my favorite parenting books I read while pregnant, and I went on to adopt many of the philosophies mentioned in the book. Plus, Druckerman has a conversational writing style that will make you think she’s a friend relating her years abroad over a cup of cappuccino.

But in case you don’t have time to deep-dive into the full book, here is a brief overview of the book’s main points.

The premise:

Druckerman is an American journalist living in Paris with her British husband. When she finds herself pregnant, she becomes increasingly aware of the behaviors of French children and parents around her—specifically the fact that the children seem to be extremely well behaved, rarely throw tantrums, sleep through the night from two months on, and eat just about everything on their extremely diverse plates.

While she initially has a hard time pinpointing what it is French parents seem to be getting right (even her local friends deny following any particular parenting philosophy), careful observation and a bit of research eventually lead Druckerman to compile an outline of the French cadre, or framework of parenting.

"The Pause"

From the moment babies are born, French parents don’t immediately spring up at their little ones’ first cries. After a brief (or sometimes longer as the child gets older) pause, they will then move in to tend to their babies’ needs.

By waiting a beat before responding to cries—a term Druckerman affectionately dubs “La Pause,” French parents come to learn their babies’ natural rhythms and encourage self-soothing, which aids in longer sleep cycles (AKA, full nights of rest from two to four months on).

“To believe in The Pause, or in letting an older baby cry it out, you have to believe that a baby is a person who’s capable of learning things (in this case, how to sleep) and coping with some frustration,” Druckerman explains.

Delay gratification

Similar to La Pause, the French believe that children need patience to fully appreciate good experiences in life. Druckerman cites Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiment from the ‘60s and ‘70s, in which children were presented with a marshmallow and told they could eat it now, or wait five minutes and then be given two marshmallows.

The children who were able to delay gratification were later found to be better at impulse control and more successful later in life.

Rather than giving in to every caprice, or whim their children present, French parents typically hold their ground—even during the rare tantrum. “French parents don’t worry that they’re going to damage their kids by frustrating them. To the contrary, they think their kids will be damaged if they can’t cope with frustration.”

French parents are often heard telling their children to “sois sage,” literally translated “be wise” or “be good.” “When I tell Bean to be sage...I’m asking her to use good judgment and to be aware and respectful of other people,” Druckerman writes. “I’m implying that she has a certain wisdom about the situation and that she’s in command of herself. And I’m suggesting that I trust her.”

The nature of the child

Many of the French parenting philosophies stem from the idea that children are constantly being trained to be adults. Rather than signing their kids up for lessons to push them to succeed or hiring tutors to try to quickly move children from one developmental stage to the next, the French luxuriate in the wonder of childhood.

They believe experiences should be used to awaken a child’s senses, particularly a thirst for discovery and exploration.

They believe in communicating with children like adults, explaining choices and expectations even to babies, but always having clearly established limits.

Children are likewise expected to learn to function within the framework their parents have laid out, and there’s a strong emphasis on manners and social codes (for example, children are regularly prodded to say “bonjour” to the adults they meet).

Autonomy of the mother

French mothers are seen as women first. They are expected to maintain a strong sense of self in all aspects of life, from the sexual (“perineal reeducation,” or expert-led sessions to strengthen the pelvic floor area, are not uncommon) to the intellectual.

Couples are encouraged to prioritize each other over the children, not out of selfishness, but rather because the French believe it is best for the whole family.

As part of their protected sense of self, many French mothers work, and few breastfeed past the first three months—all with none of the guilt that often plagues American mothers. (In fact, subsidized daycares or creches are extremely popular and encouraged as an excellent way to socialize and awaken the sense of children while mothers work—some mothers apply to a creche as early as from their sixth month of pregnancy!)

Rather than spend every moment solely focused on their children, French women are encouraged to celebrate themselves as well. “Guilt is a trap...the perfect mother does not exist,” Druckerman explains.

La cuisine

The French have many thoughts on food, and it’s considered a crucial part of their culture and society. “You just have to taste it” is a common rule in many homes. Druckerman praises the diverse palates of the children—they’re rarely picky because they are exposed to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables (never bland baby cereal) from the start.

“The point isn’t that every kid will like everything. It’s that he’ll give each food a chance.” The children rarely snack between meals and the whole family always eats the same meal. Another great tip? The French often serve their children’s meals in courses, beginning with a vegetable dish while little bellies are at their hungriest.

“It’s me who decides”

This is probably my favorite takeaway from the entire book: French parents always consider themselves the authority over their children.

The child isn’t treated like the king, determining what you eat, where you vacation, etc., and parents often boast about how strict they are.” They believe that children can achieve these goals only if they respect boundaries and have self-control,” Druckerman explains.

But don’t worry, the French definition of “strict” isn’t as rigid as you might think. French parents typically mean that they are strict about certain things and pretty relaxed about everything else. It all goes back to the cadre, a firm frame surrounding a lot of freedom.

Autonomy for children too

The French would never be described as helicopter parents. They don’t obsess over worst-case scenarios or attempt to control children in the hopes of keeping them safe. They’re okay with kids having their own lives (and even secrets) within the safety of their cadre because this ultimately teaches them how to be adults.

They also don’t make a habit of over-praising children, preferring to give praise when it is earned. As Druckerman writes, “What they conclude is that some praise is good for a child, but that if you praise her too much, you’re not letting her live her life.”

Certainly this won’t be the parfait approach for every parent, but the most important thing is to find a parenting style that works best for your family. C’est la vie!

You can check out Druckerman's Bringing up Bebe here!

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As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

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Life

It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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