Monthly Archives: February 2012

Vive les French Parents!

For me, there are few things not to love about the French. And I’m not talking solely about food or wine. So, I was psyched to read an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about the joys of French parenting. The headline says it all: Why French Parents Are Superior.

If you’re not a francophile like myself, an article head like that seems so, well, French. After all, the French are known for their high estimation of their cultural worth and an annoyingly condescending nature. (Part of why I love them, I have to admit.) But having spent a significant amount of time in France, I can say this article is pretty much spot on.

My first real experience as an adult observer of French parenting came when I was living in Paris in my early 20s. I was invited for dinner at a 30-something couple’s apartment. They had a preschooler and an infant. Around 7pm, the mother announced that it was time for the children to eat. The preschooler quietly and politely ate her meal. However, the baby was completely uncooperative. Screaming, fussing, and totally refusing a bottle. After about 15 minutes of futile attempts to quiet and feed the infant, the mother said very matter of factly that she was going to put the baby to bed for the night. I remember thinking, “Without dinner?” And then the French logic kicked in. The mother said, “This is the time we eat. If the baby doesn’t want to eat, fine. She can go to bed. But this is the time we eat.” (Only it was in French.)

At the time, there were so many things that were foreign about that whole scene. At that stage in my life, I couldn’t imagine having kids. In fact, I was ridiculously weirded out by especially tiny babies. And then there was the whole French-ness about it. I mean, I had never heard of an American mother doing such a thing. In fact, all I ever heard about was how new moms were always up at all hours of the night, breastfeeding or fetching bottles.

But there is a simplicity in the French parenting ethic that somehow completely escapes us as American parents. Maybe we just try too hard. The French have that sort of breeziness about them that allows them to do things like wear totally mismatched clothing and still look chic. Maybe it’s the same with parenting.

Unlike the article’s author, I have not spent the last three years studying French parenting principles and techniques. But I do agree with a number of the points that the writer makes about what makes French parenting effective:

  1. Family is about the parents first then the children.
  2. Independence is a virtue in a child.
  3. Structure and routine are paramount.

But I’m not fully subscribed to a couple of the writer’s other theories. First, I whole heartedly believe that discipline is alive and well in French parenting–and I dare say it is dealt much more swiftly and severely than most American parents can imagine. I’m not talking corporal punishment; rather, I’m saying that it seems like most French parents have a much lower tolerance for misbehavior than American parents. Maybe the word I should use is strict. I use a wonderful woman from my French mommy class as an example. At around a year old, she was sending her son to stand in the corner every time he did something she didn’t like. (She was inspiration for starting timeouts at around 16 months with my son.) There’s something that sounds a little horrible to me when I write that, but her kid is a fantastic, super well behaved kid. Obviously no permanent damage done.

I think the writer was also onto something when she talked about the French concept of educating a child. However, I still think she missed the mark a bit. For as much as the French are about education, they are arguably even more obsessed about the idea of formation. Formation is really about a curriculum or training. It’s about mastering a certain topic area or skill. And that’s really the ethic that permeates French parenting. It’s not just about teaching their kid stuff; it’s about training them to behave appropriately in any given situation.

With all that said, I wonder what the real French moms in my French mommy group say about us wanna-be French mamans.

 

 

 

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Filed under daily life, discipline, family, parenting

School Dazed

I don’t know what happened to the month of January, but I blinked and find myself already one week into February–and struggling with yet another new routine. The big change is stemming from the fact that our wonderful nanny is getting to be very pregnant with her third child, due in early April.

I’ve more or less been in denial about the fact that she’s having a baby, although she and I have talked several times about what she wants and needs. Two weeks. That’s the amount of time off she wanted to “rest” after the birth. And then she asked if I wouldn’t mind dropping baby off and picking him up at her house for awhile until she got into a routine with the new baby. Ummm, that’s it? There’s a reason this woman is absolutely amazing.

But my brain can’t totally process this plan. If I remember correctly, it was like a full month before I stopped feeling some uncomfortable pulling and pinching every time I sat down. I started going into contingency planning. What if something happens and she ends up having a preemie? What if she has to have a cesarian? Or worse. What if the baby needs to stay in the hospital for awhile after birth? And then I started to just feel guilty. Do I look like an unreasonable employer for only giving her two weeks off before I dump my kid on her for 10 hours a day, five days a week–even if that’s what she asked for?

I decided I needed to figure something else out. I toyed briefly with the idea of looking for a short-term nanny, but the more I thought about it, the more complicated it seemed. Going through the nanny solicitation/screening process seemed like a nightmare. And I was pretty sure that I’d end up paying even more than the ridiculous sum I spend now every week for full-time child care. But more than anything, it sort of felt like we would be cheating on our nanny in some way, shape, or form. I mean, what if we liked the new person as much as our awesome nanny? I wasn’t ready for this kind of love triangle. So, I decided I’d seek out some day care facilities.

The last time I looked at day care facilities I was eight months pregnant and freaking out over the fact that most places wanted $100 to just turn in an application to maybe get on an 18-month-long wait list. And then if we were lucky enough to get in, we could pretty much kiss $18,000 or more away a year for the privilege.

But I was desperate in a different way now, so I started calling around. I soon found out that my child is at an awkward age–on the older side for toddler care but still too young for pre-school. So, as I was searching for some place to start bringing my kid in March, I was finding that (1) options were limited for the timeframe and (2) I was already running into the application deadlines for the fall preschool season. I found myself rushing to fill out preschool applications before Feb. 1 deadlines and I hadn’t found any place for my child in the much nearer term. Crazy.

Experts suggest that parents look at at least three different facilities before making a decision. Despite all the phone calls and appointments I made, my kid ended up at the one and only place I actually physically looked at. I consider the Petite Academy–which despite its lovely sounding name has no French affiliation, sadly–a hidden gem in this city. I think most parents would hesitate to look at it because they think it’s in a bad neighborhood because it’s on the wrong side of Georgia Avenue. But there’s really no neighborhood to speak of around it. The ¬†facility sits behind the city reservoir on a main corner of a hospital megaplex that includes Children’s National Medical Center and the VA Hospital. For us, the bonus is it’s less than a mile from the house, so traffic isn’t a bear and I can total see myself taking the dog for a walk to pick up baby once the weather gets a little nicer.

To me, the building seems pretty nice; the classrooms are large, and there’s a good amount of fenced-in outdoor space. It also appears very neat and organized, even if some of the furniture is a little worn from enough kids toddler-handling it. Everything is expertly labeled, as well, down to a little red bag with my kid’s name on it that they hand me at the end of the week with all the stuff I need to take home and wash. And I get a progress report every day the details everything from what he enjoyed doing that day down to the number of diaper changes. Plus there are security check in/out codes for parents dropping off/picking up, so it feels like no one is just going to walk out with my kid. Because, let’s be honest, that’s the last thing I need to be worried about while I’m at work.

It would seem that everything should be great. I not only found a place that I find acceptable, affordable, and convenient, but they also had no wait list, so I was able to enroll my kid a month earlier than hoped. While that kind of stinks for my nanny, who just got her hours cut (I’m still feeling guilty about that), I have something lined up for my child whenever her baby decides to make his entrance. But mornings like this morning make me wonder if I’m even doing the right thing.

I can’t explain the mini heartbreak I had when my kid started crying as we turned into the day care parking lot. And then he clung to my leg, crying harder, as I tried to walk inside. There were full on tears as we hung up his jacket. And I could hear his shrieks and screams all the way down the other end of the hallway as I left. I know better than to hang around and try to make him feel better about me leaving, but, if I’m honest, I feel like absolute shit when I finally got back in the car.

I don’t know how long my kid cries for after I leave. His teachers keep telling me he’s doing well. Today’s big accomplishment was that he released his death grip on his sippy cup for half the day, which was a marked improvement. And when I pick him up, he’s usually fine right up until the point where he realizes I’ve come to pick him up. And he starts crying all over again. He’s not even two and he’s clearly making me pay for dumping him off at this place all day.

But what really makes me sad is that this is all because he misses me. Really misses me. I guess I didn’t realize how much time we spent together before. I mean, I still worked and he still spent significant time with his nanny. But with my new job being a more traditional work environment, we have gotten pretty far away from our old routine, which I will admit I totally loved as well. Now, if I take him to the gym daycare for an hour on the weekends, he screams. Six months ago, he was there four or five times a week and loved it every time.

He misses me. And knowing that makes me miss him more than I already do.

I realize that he’ll get used to the new routine and there will be less crying and more fun for him. And I realize that he’s going to be pre-school aged before I know it, so this is good practice. Really he’s only six or eight months away from that, so this is just temporary.

But I still really miss him.

 

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Filed under childcare, daily life, day care, schools, toddlers, working mom