I'm just in the middle of Pamela Druckerman's Bringing up Bebe and I have to admit I really like it. It seems to be part of a whole slew of books trashing American parenting (like the Tiger Mom) and lavishing praise on the French (French Women don't get fat). Normally I would say that she is exaggerating for dramatic effect, but the way she describes American parents sounds an awful lot like some people I know. For instance, I know someone who insists to everyone when they visit that they spend time playing with her children. It's not that I don't enjoy playing with children, I do, but when I was growing up, when we had adult visitors, my sister and I would sit at the table and politely answer their questions. Now her kids either leave the table and adults get on the floor and play, or if they are at the table, they need to be entertained by the surrounding adults. In France, according to the book, all children say "Bonjour" when they are visited by adult friends or relatives. Sometimes the best I can get from some of my relatives children is a quick acknowledging smirk! Its not that I think that kids should be "seen and not heard" as the old expression goes, but it seems sometimes (again, this is among the children I know, not a great sample), that the children get to decide which social rules they follow and which they reject.
The thing the book talked about the most which impressed me what the idea of the "pause." Whether with sleeping, playing, or getting something, French parents seem to encourage their children to wait a bit in order to help them tolerate the frustration of not getting what they want right away. So, for instance, after about 2 months or so, they might wait a couple of minutes before tending to a crying baby in the middle of the night to see if they can self-soothe or if they are genuinely hungry. I have friends that are parents the believe waiting even a few seconds to respond to an upset child, even if they are a bit older, is an act of extreme cruelty. My sister, who is an example and defender of American style parenting par excellance, admits that she regrets not putting her children down for naps when they were awake as they never learned to fall asleep without her help. From my vantage point, I see that my nieces and nephews--who are wonderful--have a hard time tolerating frustration, which can sometimes lead to tantrums and meltdowns.
My sister tells me she feels French parenting is too distant and harsh. She says she likes the, what she calls, the warmer loving American approach (I'm not sure the French see it that way). My Mr. M. is from Britain where they seem to sit halfway between the American and French versions but he seems to lean toward the French one temperamentally. He seems to be okay with the idea that once in a while his children won't like him, if it helps them in the big picture. We will see whether he can actually live up to this. I'm a bit more in the middle myself. I can be strict with the dog, stricter than M, but with a baby it will be hard to gradually allow them to self-soothe as part of the joy of being a parent is the wonder at being able to soothe your children. Anyway, this is all so abstract. I'll come back to this in a year with real babies. If we get too "American" in our parenting, we can always move to Quebec. They are kind of French.