Sometimes I wonder if it’s bad that my whole world is shifting towards parenting books/magazines because of this baby in my belly. As the pregnancy progressed, I was getting more obsessed with all kinds of information on the Internet. I thought I would never fall into Dr Google’s trap ever. The temptation to seek out what other mothers have been doing, or what they have been experiencing with their pregnancy was so strong that I did not realize I was absorbing the information too seriously. Soon, I was creating mental joggers and visions of what I was going to do with this kid, and how I am going to raise her the “proper” way. Then, one day, my husband pointed out that I was stressing out too much about things that have not happened.
He was right. I was getting ahead of myself. I felt ashamed. Perhaps, not being employed has allowed my mind to wander aimlessly into places which it has not gone before. Fearlessly, I allowed these collected ideas influence my future plans. While it may seem bold, it is nevertheless a dangerous path to walk on because the hard truth is, I have not experienced being a mother myself. I was getting all obsessed with what’s right and wrong just by reading guidelines and best practices on the Internet. At one point, I stopped reading on the Internet. Even the “What to Expect” application on my Iphone was ignored. My mother and mother-in-law continue to talk about their experiences and what they read on the Internet, but I refrained myself from letting it overpower my thoughts.
Although, I came across a really good read the other day. Reading Pamela Druckerman’s “Bringing Up Bebe”, I’ve come to realize that in the chase for providing a better life for our future offspring, we forget that our babies are learning how to survive in this world from day one, and they will eventually grow into adults. We assume that because they are young and can’t communicate like adults do, they shouldn’t need to be bothered yet with learning basic life skills such as independence, confidence, respect, compassion, gratitude, etc. We forget that everyday is not just a play day for babies and children. It is a constant learning environment. From the moment they wake up, they are observing every single life event, at home and outside the home, with or without the presence of their parents. Additionally, we spend the most time with them when they are young infants and toddlers. If this isn’t the time to influence and instil good habits, then when is it? When they start school? When they are teenagers? I believe that would be too late. Now the time they spend at home with family becomes less and less … how much easier is it going to be to influence them at this stage?
Children grow so fast. What I like about this book is that French parenting seems to be very practical. Unlike the traditional Asian parenting, which tends to advocate only negative punishment methods such as spanking and yelling to show authority, I found that the French parenting culture allowed a healthy environment for children to grow with defined boundaries of authority and freedom. It was interesting to read how French mothers are still strict in establishing what a child can and cannot in a calm and controlled manner. The secret? Start them young, and keep at it (that’s a lot of patience trying). Well, who said motherhood was an overnight event?
It’s simply that the child must learn from a very young age, that he’s not alone in the world, and that there’s a time for everything …
I’m surprised that even French babies, as young as 6 weeks old, are trained to self-soothe at night. When a baby cries, the first instinct would be to rush over and pick the baby up. This apparently, is a no-no in French parenting. Quite surprisingly, my mother is on the same page as well. She told me that she had never immediately responded to our cries as a baby. She would talk to us from afar, letting us know she was nearby but she won’t pick us up unless it is necessary. Bedtime is bedtime, so we had to go back to sleep. If we continued crying, she would check to see if anything else was wrong, but if there was nothing alarming all she did was put her hand on our chest, and calm us down to go back to sleep. The key here, as Druckerman observed, is to pause and wait. As the French parenting advocates, the baby has to learn he or she is not the only one deserving attention in the whole world. We think that babies don’t understand much because they are young. We are wrong. Babies will associate the response with their demands, and if they are not taught early on that that’s not how it works in this world … then they will keep having this mindset as they grow up.
If kids have the experience that when they’re told to wait, that if they scream, mommy will come and the wait will be over, they will very quickly learn not to wait. Non-waiting and screaming and carrying on and whining are being rewarded …
I am also intrigued by Druckerman’s observation of providing excessive praise to children. The fact that over-praising a child will distort the child’s perspective of his/her achievements is new to me. The French parenting culture deems that for the child, it will become more of a desire for the praise, and not really a true desire to perform the activity in question. I’ve always thought that the positive feedback is an excellent way to encourage and build confidence in a child. It never crossed my mind that excessive praise can bring about negative implications to a child. When I was in North America, I see a lot of parents and adults praising children in everything they do, sometimes it gets really cool … the whole party stops what they are doing and turn their attention to this one child.
… the old conventional wisdom that “praise, self-esteem and performance rise and fall together” has been toppled by new research showing that excessive praise distorts children’s motivations; they begin doing things merely to hear the praise, losing sight of the intrinsic enjoyment.”
I really enjoyed reading this book. It gave me a real break from all those factual information on the Internet. Moreover, it was an eye-opener to a different parenting culture and how it did fit with my initial opinions about parenting, and with my own culture and my mother’s parenting ways. Of course, at the end of the day we will all resort to our own beliefs of what’s right and wrong. Although, it doesn’t hurt to explore what other cultures are doing and most importantly, treat it all as a learning experience and not some rigid examination that we have to pass. Parenting was never meant to be taught from a book or a manual. Learning it comes with observing, experiencing, and putting it into practice. I’m glad I came across this book!