Pamela Druckerman was living in Paris when she had her three children, and she wrote a book about the differences in French and American expectations of children. I read it in early September and I'm still thinking about it.
I've been thinking about the sleep section, and mostly disagreeing with it. Early on French babies sleep through the night, or font les nuits, according to Druckerman, and she credits the willingness of French parents to give their babies some space when they stir in their sleep. They don't, she insists, leave babies to wail -- that idea strikes them as barbaric.
When I read that section I thought a lot about the Kippleys' influence on my parenting: as a rule of thumb, if your baby sleeps through the night, fertility returns shortly thereafter. And your baby neeeeeeeds you. Be one with your baby, Sheila Kippley exhorts her readers. I was, frankly, a bit of a nut about being neeeeeeeded by my babies. Some of them genuinely did neeeeeeed me a lot. A couple of those same babies were outrageously bad sleepers. I spent YEARS in a state of low-level (or sometimes high-level) sleep deprivation, most of the time thinking I was doing something noble by responding to my babies' neeeeeeeds. And as you might be able to tell from all of the extra Es in this paragraph, when I read this book part of me wondered if I had actually been doing something self-sabotaging.
It can't be a universal truth that babies ought to sleep through the night by 4 months old, because that would have real repercussions for baby-spacing and child nutrition in areas of the developing world where food insecurity and contamination are continuing problems. It can't be the case that there's One Right Way. We will gloss over my tendency to use any convenient stick to beat myself up, but I'm still wondering: what approach to infant sleep is closest to optimal?
So that was the part that I disagreed with while wondering if my disagreement was delusional. Much of the rest I found thought-provoking in a good way, except for the part about sending 5-year-olds to camp which is très-très cray-cray, to make a little multilingual poem about it. I think one of the major shortcomings of the books currently available on attachment parenting is that they don't provide a lot of guidance about making the transition from saying yes to saying no. French parents tell their children to be sage. They expect their children to be able to wait, without anything blinking entertainingly to assist them. Those are fantastic expectations. (Kid interruptions of adult conversations continue to vex my husband and me. A French visitor would apparently be appalled that we haven't put the kibosh on it yet.)
I once heard an accurate if unkind phrase from a breastfeeding counselor pal that has stuck with me: she described a mother-child pair as illustrating "the worst of La Leche League parenting." You have to make that transition from saying "I am here to help you learn that you are safe and loved..." to saying "...and also that you are not in charge and you need to listen and do what's right." Some parents, and some kids, navigate that change more easily than others. Druckerman points out that it's not about exerting authority for its own sake, to indulge some kind of tyrannical fantasy. One of the authorities she quotes says that "the main point of parental authority is to authorize kids to do things, not to block them." She describes a mother who "managed to be both affectionate and to have authority without raising her voice."
That's the way to be, I think. I'm still mulling over the best way to pull it off. I would love to hear your thoughts on the book too. I have more to say but it's 10:00 (the NaBloPoMo lament this year). See you in the comments!