I just finished reading Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing up Bebe. I found myself relating strongly to her qualms about typical North American parenting, and I read in awe of some of the things French children were able to do. There’s much that I appreciate about the way the French raise their kids (or at least, as it is portrayed in this book), including:
- being calm
- giving their children space for exploration
- the idea of “cadre” or framework – clear boundaries, but almost limitless freedom within those boundaries
- observing more before responding
- treating their children as capable individuals that don’t need to be coddled
One thing that I found particularly interesting was the view that mothers have about themselves, their identity, and their relationships with others after their children are born. Typically in North America, lives stop and worlds begin revolving around our little bundles of joy. This is not the case in France. Mothers recognize that they have a new role, but that role does not supersede everything else in life. They still need to spend time with their partners. They still need to relax with their friends. And they’re allowed to have other interests.
When Kelvin and I found out we were expecting (and come to think of it, even before that), we made a concerted effort and commitment to raising our little guy as part of our life, not as the only part of our life. We continued going to small group. We took our little guy with us when we travelled. We ate in restaurants. Did it always go smoothly? Absolutely not. There were many moments of frustration. Like the time Andy screamed his head off while we were deep inside a Macy’s in New York. Flustered, I virtually ran to the closest entrance, not entirely sure of where said entrance was, a look on my face that said “Get out of my way, or else…”. I was bickering with Kelvin, and muttering under my breath, “We are going back to the hotel NOW. This was a terrible idea.” The minute we were outside, I scanned frantically for a place to nurse him. Our best option was a folding chair on the sidewalk facing 34th Street. No matter – it worked, and he calmed down. Despite these little blips, I like to think that our choices will make it easier for us to continue to do things that matter to us and that bring us joy with him around.
Now that we’re almost 6 months into Andy’s earthly life, I can honestly say that it has been so wonderful to have had this perspective. I had set out a few goals for myself for this year off, and save for my “learn to sew” goal, I am doing pretty well. I am still the person I was before I had Andy, but with more efficiency, a better perspective and empathy for other new moms, and of course, an absolutely amazing little guy with whom I can share my life and my passions. And as he gets older, he will undoubtedly develop his own passions and perspectives, which I hope he will share with me.
I won’t go into detail about what the book says about a woman’s body and what it’s expected to be able to do shortly after birth. In this respect, I am far, far, far off the map. Like way on the North American side of the spectrum. I ate copious amounts of chocolate after giving birth. I regretted it after, but alas, the damage had already been done.