As a new mom and a recent MSW graduate, I can’t help but analyze, question, and sometimes fear the ways in which my parenting choices will affect my son.
During the few months I was home with my baby, I joined a moms group. Now that the babies are three or four months old, the conversations sound like “my baby will not sleep in the crib,” “my baby wakes up every three hours,” “my baby needs to be held all day.”
From a recommendation, I read Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting when I was pregnant. The 2012 book is written by Pamela Druckerman, an American mom raising her baby in Paris.
At first glance, I thought the book was a witty tongue-in-cheek story about neurotic Americans and cool Parisians. On second glance (and a second reading after I birthed the child), I realized this book unlocked the secrets of raising a happy, resilient adult.
Ms. Druckerman charmingly explains the many ways in which French children differ from American children. On the surface, it appears that American children are less patient, less polite and throw more tantrums. American parents may think it’s cute and innocent; their kids will grow out of it. And it is true, the child may eventually stop the behavior, but the coping skills (or lack of) have been firmly set in stone.
I do not believe Druckerman was writing a book on human development, but to a social worker, it seems her observations directly relate to why so many American adults seek therapy. Therapists’ offices are filled with adults who suffer from anxiety, depression, anger management issues, eating disorders or marital problems. Any psychoanalyst would tell you that many of these issues are deeply rooted in childhood.
American parents seem overly worried that if their child hears “no” they will become angry and experience frustration and disappointment. On the contrary, the French believe that “no” saves children from the tyranny of their own desires. Caroline
Thompson, a family psychologist in Paris whom Druckerman interviewed, stated what seems to be the overall view in France: “making kids face up to limitations and deal with frustration turns them into happier, more resilient people.” Isn’t that what every parent wants for their child?
“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. They also treat coping with frustration as a core life skill. Their kids simply have to learn it. The parents would be remiss if they didn’t teach it.”
Druckerman interviewed pediatrician and founder of Tribeca Pediatrics, Michel Cohen, a French doctor practicing in New York City. “My first intervention is to say, when your baby is born, just don’t jump on your kid at night,” Cohen says.
“Give your baby a chance to self-soothe, don’t automatically respond, even from birth.” “Le pause,” as Druckerman coins it, is one of the main ways to gently induce frustration. The French believe “le pause” can start as early as two to three weeks old.
Although “le pause” may sound like tough love for a infant, most American parents end up surrendering to the “cry it out” method at three to four months because their baby never learned to self-soothe. “Le pause” worked for me, although I did not consciously subscribe to this method. I think it was a combination of sleep deprivation and C-section recovery that created “le pause,” but it worked! “Le pause” creates babies who are content to snuggle alone in their cribs, babies who at a very young age learn to soothe themselves.
And hopefully “le pause” creates adults who can cope with frustration, a skill that is extremely useful and necessary for success in work and relationships and dealing with the overall stressors of everyday life.