Book Review: French Children Don’t Throw Food

This post has been a long time coming.
I think I ordered this book about a year ago.
It took me about six months to read…no fault of the book it is just that mothering and working and studying and blogging always seemed to get in the way.
And now it has taken me about another six months to write this post.

Although it has been a while, I remember really enjoying this book.
The author, Pamela Druckerman, is an American who is raising her children in Paris.
After observing that French children seem much better behaved than American children she decided to investigate French parenting and to put the French ideals into practice.
The results are enlightening.

According to the book, French children sleep through the night from about two months, they eat adult meals at adult meal times, they start going to child care at about nine months, they don’t throw tantrums and of course they don’t throw food.
Sleeping, eating, school going, well behaved children?  Tell me more!

Druckerman quotes one study that discovered that mothers in Ohio found parenting to be twice as unpleasant as mothers in Rennes.  And no wonder as French mothers are not always exhausted, wearing trackie dacks spotted with some sticky substance and having sort of half conversations with their friends because they are constantly being interrupted by their children.  Instead the book paints a picture of a mother who is well rested, well groomed and who enjoys an adult life that is defined more as being a woman than being a mother.

It seems the key to obtaining this nirvana is teaching your child how to wait.
This waiting starts more or less at birth.

When Toddler C cried in the night I immediately picked him up and fed him.
When French babies cry in the night, the parents will wait.  Termed “the pause,” they will observe the baby for a few minutes before doing anything.  French parents are apparently provided with quite a bit of prenatal education about infant sleeping patterns and so they realise that babies might cry in between their two hourly sleep cycles and if they are left alone during this semi conscious period, they might self soothe and go back to sleep.
Whereas my method taught Toddler C to wake up and expect food and comfort every two hours, a routine that got VERY old after twelve months, the French system, which involves the mother waiting for the baby to wake up and cry properly before picking them up and tending to them, results in babies that often sleep through the night from about two months on.

And French babies continue to wait.

My breast feeding very quickly took a “baby led” approach that kept me firmly rooted to the couch as Toddler C fed every two to three hours until I finally gave him formula at about six months.
French mothers make their babies wait for their food…within reason of course…but it seems a furious feeding schedule like Toddler C established wouldn’t be tolerated in France.
When they are toddlers they don’t graze all day, rather they eat only at adult mealtimes…with the exception of the 4:00 gouter or snack.
They children wait until their mother has finished a conversation before they speak to her.
French children don’t automatically get what they want when they want it.  And instead of becoming hysterical and throwing a tantrum, they calmly wait for their parents to help them or to give them permission to to proceed.
Apparently there is no such thing as instant gratification in France.

And how is this possible?
It is about self control and self reliance.
It is all about teaching your child to cope with frustration on their own and to enjoy their own company.

Just as our ideals about bringing up a baby stem from Dr. Spock, What to Expect and other baby tomes, the French ideals are rooted in their experts…Rousseau, Piaget and Dolto.  These philosophers and psychologists believed that children, even babies, are rational beings who are capable of learning.
French parents believe that their children understand what they say, can act on it and even have a moral sense.  So if they want their child not to barge into their room every morning, they simply explain their expectations and they assume their child will comply.
The magic lies in the parental expectation that children, who don’t even have teeth, are able to understand language and exhibit self control.  

And of course French mothers do “the big eyes” when they really want to get their point across.  I have tried “the big eyes” when I want to sternly warn Toddler C but I haven’t had any success!  If someone out there is French or knows what “the big eyes” should look like please email me a photo so I can practice!

Overall the book is witty and informative.  It isn’t exactly a bringing up baby book as it doesn’t really give advice rather it just sets out two alternative methods of raising a child describes the author’s experience navigating between them…the seemingly intense and mother sacrificing Anglo method and the seemingly calm and enjoyable French method.

I wish someone had told me about “the pause” and waiting before Toddler C was born…unfortunately that ship has sailed.
But I can still get him with my “big eyes.”  That is as soon as I figure out what “big eyes” are supposed to look like!