Positive Parenting – Part Four
Finding your Family’s Rhythms
I am reading a book at the moment, which is a number one Sunday Times bestseller, entitled,
‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ by Pamela Druckerman.
Pamela, an American, along with her British husband and children, live in a Paris apartment and have discovered over time, that in France mothers do things differently – and often better.
She asks these kind of questions:
Why is it that French children sit quietly in a restaurant and eat their meals respectfully, allowing the other patrons and indeed their own family to enjoy their minimum of three courses?
Why do French babies routinely sleep through the night by two to three months?
How do you find your own family’s rhythms?
I was quite fascinated to read this book currently trending everywhere. And after only a few chapters, I realised how similar our parenting style is to the French.
It was a comfort to read of a country that are supportive and encouraging of children being a welcome addition to a family, but not the ones who hold the reins, as is so often the case in western society.
Food is a hugely important aspect of French culture so it should come as no surprise that French children also love to eat.
But it’s more than just a love of food and stuffing one’s face. Quite the opposite in fact.
The French are experts in the art of ‘holding back and ‘waiting’.
For one, they have set mealtimes, which infants just naturally fall into.
They call this listening to ‘the rhythms of the family’ – and also the child.
The ideal is to find a balance between the two.
Baby has rights and family has rights.
Every decision is a compromise.
Family life is inherently important to the French with a whopping 90% of French fifteen-year-olds eating the main meal of the day together, several times a week.
As opposed to the US and UK, which sits at 67%
Their eating patterns are also generally the same – 8am, noon, 4pm snack, 8pm.
The adults prefer to skip the 4pm snack (opting for a coffee instead) and wait for dinner.
Everyone is hungry for their meal and all food is eaten politely, not devoured. No food fights and struggles at the dinner table.
Conversation can be enjoyed without a screaming, wiggling child to be dealt with and families all eat together.
Young children are very much part of the household, which means that they are not fed separately to adults (because they are unable to wait), or placed in front of a screen, the electronic glow being the only company for the child, whilst they eat alone.
The aim is to expose children at a very young age, to the tastes and textures of all kinds of foods, experienced together as a family unit.
Food isn’t just a nutritional requirement, it’s a connection of the heart and soul.
With our own children, we have often been asked how is it possible that we all eat together, every single night? How do our little ones wait for 6 to 7pm at night?
In simplistic terms, it’s because we have trained them to wait and eating together, as one, is vitally important to all of us.
We connect, communicate and end our day over a meal, without anxiety or feeling rushed.
We cook one main meal and serve that only. A small snack at 3pm (fruit or yoghurt) is offered and nothing else until dinner.
Hunger means they eat.
Simple but true.
Of course, when they were babies or toddlers, they went to bed at 7pm, so our eating schedule was tweaked, but we always ate together.
I was also interested to learn that baking is a weekly ritual in France, with a national bake-off in Paris every weekend.
Practically from the time kids can sit up, their mothers begin leading them in weekly or bi-weekly baking projects. And little ones make an entire cake on their own, with very little or no adult supervision.
And all of this baking doesn’t just make lots of cake, it also teaches kids – you guessed it – control.
With its orderly measuring and sequencing of ingredients, baking is a perfect lesson in patience.
So is the fact that French families don’t scoff the cake as soon as it is out of the oven (like we do!!). They typically bake in the morning or early afternoon and then wait and eat the cake or muffins as their afternoon 4pm snack.
To be honest, I have much to learn from the French on this score, as I am not one to wait for my cake to cool. Ever.
Additionally, French babies are not forced onto a schedule and instead their rhythms are observed.
In fact, the French believe the ideal is to breastfeed on demand for the first few months and then bring baby progressively and flexibly towards regular hours, which are more compatible with family life.
Here is where the natural ‘pause method’ is introduced.
We learnt, in our parenting course many years ago that, not every cry is a signal for food or even comfort.
Babies cry because that is the only way they can communicate when they are small.
Infants naturally awaken when sleeping, passing through one sleep cycle to the next. Their eyes open, they cry or make sounds and move about.
If parents rush in, they are highly likely to break that sleep cycle, transitioning, from one phase to the next.
So French parents are taught to pause for 5-10 minutes, whilst always observing to see if baby re-settles on their own.
It is respecting the baby’s need to learn to do things without a constant intrusion of a breast or bottle.
Baby might well be hungry – but many times, will not be at all.
Little ones are cognitively aware and very quick to work out that a cry or squeak means mum or dad will come running.
This doesn’t leave much room for either parents or baby to have any space.
Babies are rational human beings who are learning all the time.
Let them learn through pausing and waiting before rushing in.
We implemented the ‘pause method’ with all of our children and found it so empowering, as it helped us to understand the character of our children and their different needs.
And even though we didn’t feed on demand, we were very flexible with our daily routine, feeding anywhere from 2 1/2-3 hours, sometimes longer than 3 hours.
We made sure baby had a full feed, a little play and then a nap, putting our little one down in their crib, awake, if possible.
This set up a wonderful rhythm of baby acquiring enough food during the day to not need lots of feeds at night, as well as helping baby learn the skill of self-settling, instead of a parent.
Likewise, French babies sleep through the night so early because of their natural and everyday feeding routine.
In following this same pattern with our six children, they all slept through the night by three months, some much sooner.
I slept a good 8-10 hours every night and was a much happier and nicer mummy.
If baby woke early for a feed, I would nudge our little one towards a more respectable feeding time.
Before long, those times naturally lined up and we had a very well-settled baby in a good routine.
It’s not rocket-science at all but it does seem to be the one constant anguish of parents.
How do I get my baby to sleep?’
It really is that simple, but as anglophones, we can complicate it.
So, very, much.
When we had twins, who were breastfed, I couldn’t possibly be up all night giving them nips of milk whenever they pleased.
Their schedule during their first few months, was a late night feed at 10-11pm and another feed at around 3am. Starting my day at around 6-7am.
Both babies ate at the same time.
I only got up once in the night to feed- ever.
I would have been an absolute wreck if they weren’t nudged towards our family’s natural rhythms.
- As I have mentioned in previous blogs, your family has a unique footprint, which is completely different to your girlfriends or next door neighbour’s. Be mindful of this when it comes to any sort of comparing or competition, as this can lead to trying lots of different paths, that don’t work for your own tribe.
This is because it’s not your story, it belongs to someone else.
- Take the time and space to listen to your family’s natural rhythms and you will soon discover what works for you all as a whole.
- Pause, don’t rush. Give your baby the freedom to organically fall asleep without disturbing his or her’s sleep patterns.
- Feed baby when you know he or she is actually hungry, rather than being a human pacifier. It is so tempting to do this and at the time may even seem much easier than other options. However over-feeding a little one whose belly is already full, can cause terrible wind pain, colic, reflux and projectile vomiting.
- Eat together as a family unit and grow closer, through uniting in your shared stories as well as your struggles.
But most of all, enjoy being together, fully, without worrying or looking over your shoulder at what others are doing.
Because, I can guarantee, those people, those families, are doing exactly the same thing as you.
Copying someone else.
Trying to emanate and follow other families styles and ways.
What could be more exhausting?
Step off that fast moving train and change pace onto a gentle and slow-moving steam train
And enjoy the ride of finding your rhythms.