Friday, March 29, 2013

Parenting Book Review: Bringing Up Bebe

Some parenting books I seek out, this one I saw on the shelf at the library and grabbed it on a whim. Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman is about an American journalist's experience as she raises her children in Paris. She notices some big differences between her children and the French children and seeks out why, often implementing what she learns. Though as her husband points out, she sometimes has to be careful to not be more French than the French.

Druckerman has a unique, if limited, point of view on parenting in the two countries. She often has a hard time pinpointing what makes French parenting different, and even the French parents she is close to often can't express what they do because it is so instinctual in their culture. Druckerman's own instincts have her parenting much like Americans do, but she is not in America and so her idea of what is going on here is also limited.

When she talked about American parenting, I could relate to much of it. However, she used the most extreme examples of what she read in magazines and what she saw on playgrounds in high end New York neighborhoods where the parenting she saw bordered on (and often crossed into) crazy. These extremes were illustrative, but sometimes I was annoyed that she felt she knew what was going on in American parenting when, 1) very few people are so extreme, and 2) there are obviously many different styles of parenting here even among the people I know personally, that I felt that the generalizations misrepresented us. There was one topic, and one line in particular in the book that actually offended me. But that requires a whole new posting.

There were some French ideas that I liked. French kids don't eat kid food--they eat food. They are expected to try everything (much like a "no thank you" bite that my in-laws and others I know have done here) and thus eventually acquire a taste for everything. French parents talk to their children like they are people (oh, wait--they are!) and can understand them from the very beginning, which I've always tried to do. Some ideas are too late for me (how they get their children to sleep through the night very young) and some are too far outside my culture (children as young four go away to camps for up to ten days).

The best idea I got from this book is the French idea that they are educating their children--teaching them rather than disciplining them:

“American parents like me often view imposing authority in terms of discipline and punishment. French parents don’t talk much about these things. Instead, they talk about the √©ducation of kids. As the word suggests, this is about gradually teaching children what’s acceptable and what’s not.

“This idea that you’re teaching, not policing, makes the tone a lot gentler in France. When Leo refuses to use his silverware at dinner, I try to imagine that I’m teaching him to use a fork, much like I’d teach him a letter of the alphabet. This makes it easier for me to be patient and calm. I no longer feel disrespected and angry when he doesn’t immediately comply. And with some of the stress off the situation, he’s more amiable about trying. I don’t yell, and dinner is more pleasant for everyone.”

The book was well written and engaging. It also gave me some things to think about. I'm going to try to think of parenting as teaching rather than disciplining. If nothing else, it might help me be more patient as Druckerman found.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Breastfeeding Beyond

My little shadow imitating me by breastfeeding her baby.

At my daughter's 15 month well-child check up, the nurse went through her list of questions.

Does she drink whole milk?
I offer her milk every day, but she refuses it.
Do you give her vitamins?
She shoots me a slightly panicked sideways look.
But she is still breastfeeding.
A sigh of relief.

The interesting thing to me was that whether or not I still breastfed was not on her list of questions. At 12 months it was--and I was supposed to know how many times a day and for how long. Um, however much she needs to. Up to 12 months, we're supposed to give babies either breastmilk or formula. And then the cow's milk can replace those two things after that.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that they didn't ask. Here's a look at the breastfeeding numbers in America according to the CDC:

76.9% of mothers try to breastfeed
47.2% are still breastfeeding when the baby is six months
25.5% are still breastfeeding at one year

They don't even have a number for those who breastfeed beyond 12 months. Though the WHO recommends breastfeeding until age two, the American Academy of Pediatrics only recommends it till 12 months. And after that American moms are on their own to decide. No one asks if you do because they assume you don't. Until you breastfeed your toddler in a public place.

I did not plan on breastfeeding my daughter for so long. I weaned my first at just over one year old. And I've considered weaning my second. The real difference may have something to do with personality and definitely has something to do with the seasons. Number one turned one at the beginning of summer and was healthy for the couple of weeks I worked on weaning her. Number two turned one at the beginning of winter and has come down with an ear infection or cold or something every time I start to wean.

But since she refuses to drink cow's milk, my continued breastfeeding reassured her nurse and doctor. And her petite size might make it so fewer people look twice at a child that age breastfeeding (just at the fact that you're breastfeeding in public). Until she sits up and signs and says, "all done."

"We all know that our breastfeeding 'number' is a concrete way to compete with one another. A mother's score is reduced if she mixes in formula, relies too heavily on a breast-milk pump, or actually breast-feeds for too long (at which point she starts to seem like a crazed hippie)." - Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Sandwich

Today because I was exceptionally tired, I had a revelation. It's rare that good parenting ideas come out of exhaustion, but today one did.

My three-year-old wanted a sandwich for lunch. I told her, "I'm tired--why don't you make me a sandwich?"

She giggled, "No, Mom. You make me a sandwich."

"But I always make you a sandwich, it's your turn to make me one."

Okay, so I didn't make her start making my lunch. But I realized that she is fully capable of helping to make her own sandwich. She helps us bake and cook all the time. She can crack eggs on her own and only rarely gets any shell in the mix. She likes to help me pull off cilantro leaves when we're making salsa and helps with all sorts of dumping and stirring. Why not a simple sandwich?

I got out the ingredients, we pulled a stool up to the counter and she counted out two slices of bread. Then I opened the Vegannaise and let her dip in the knife and spread it on the bread. When she was done, I spread it a little more so she wouldn't have a glob in the middle (eww!). Then she put on the meat and cheese, put the two slices together, and (with help) cut it with her butterfly sandwich cutter.

Seriously, why haven't I had her help with such a simple task sooner? I know why. It's because the difference between her need for me to do everything for her and her ability to do it herself (or at least help) doesn't change overnight. My realization of her abilities comes slower than her abilities do.

I think that I help her be reasonably independent. She's been getting her own dishes out, clearing her own place, and putting her clean dishes away for a long time. She almost always dresses herself--with help when things are "outside in." She likes to brush her own teeth, though I insist on helping once a day so that I know they are actually getting reasonably clean. She's in charge of putting her folded clothes away (maybe she can start folding too, if I ever get around to folding clothes at a reasonable hour and not late at night when she's in bed). She also helps clean up toys all the time--sometimes happily and sometimes with many tears. 

What else can she do herself that I'm doing for her? Some of my discoveries are fun for her, like making her own sandwich. Others have started with a battle of wills over whether she can do it herself or not. But if she can truly do it herself and I don't give in, we only have to fight over it once and then she simply starts doing it on her own.

When my big girl was done eating her first self-made sandwich she wanted a cutie. I opened my mouth to say she'd have to wait because I was still eating. Instead I got a cutie out, started the peeling process and handed it over. At first she struggled--a little bit because she'd never done it before, but mostly to see if I'd just do it for her. I prompted her with a better method of peeling than she was trying and then went back to eating. Pretty soon, she was happily eating the little orange that she had peeled by herself.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

ABC, Sing with Me!

My three-year-old daughter loves the alphabet. She can sing the ABC song easily, and after going through some flashcards yesterday, I learned that she knows over half of the letters by sight. All without going to preschool or me focusing on teaching her. We talk about letters when we see them. And she occasionally watches Super Why! (Did any parents catch the reference in the title?)

Watching her learn the alphabet and their corresponding sounds is an interesting endeavor. The ABCs can be tricky. Y is just a V with a tail, so they're easy to get mixed up. X and K have similar issues--I never would have thought of getting those two mixed up, but she does all the time. And they do indeed look similar.

But the trickiest part of the learning the alphabet is the sounds and all the helpful kids' alphabet books with illustrations. Sometimes going through an ABC book sounds something like this:

A is for: Plane! (airplane)
D is for: Puppy! (dog)
N is for: Read! (newspaper)
R is for: Bunny! (rabbit)
U is for: Map! (a U.S. map)
V is for: Yacuum! (okay, that one's a pronunciation problem)

If we can't put her in preschool next year, I definitely need to buckle down and learn how to teach her the alphabet. And all those other things they're supposed to know before Kindergarten these days. But since she has picked up so much without ever focusing on it, I'm certain she'll have no problem with it once we do. I'm looking forward to my daughter being able to read to me someday.