I’ve had the great pleasure of receiving letters from moms and dads from around the world, reflecting on Bringing Up Bébé/French Children Don’t Throw Food, sharing their own experiences, and even asking me for parenting tips (weird, given how parentally challenged I am in the book). I’ve posted some of these letters and other comments here: http://www.pameladruckerman.com/readercomments/. Below is a letter from a mother in Atlanta whose ideas I found thought provoking – and not just because she invites me to dinner. I don’t agree with everything she writes (serrated knife!) but I was intrigued by the parallels she draws with Montessori and what she says about spats between siblings. She’s given me permission to post it:
“I have just devoured your book and I don’t feel guilty about all my time reading and not attending to my children…. I think I’m “modeling” the pleasure of reading! Every page I turned I wanted to shout “That’s me! I do that!” I am born an raised in Atlanta, Georgia and have no French heritage or influences, but I swear I fit your perception of French parenting philosophy to a T! I would love to invite your family to come visit us the next time you are in Atlanta…. your kids can eat off of real plates in my dining room just like my kids do. I only pull out those ridiculous sippy cups when my friends INSIST that their child will spill with a regular glass. We aren’t “fancy” at all, we just use common sense that we will all enjoy a meal better off of china and sitting down talking rather than off of plastic with the tv on in the background. In 5 years, there have only been 2 broken dishes.
I constantly have had to defend my parenting style to my friends who are ALL overprotective. My neighbors scoff at me and literally follow my children around the playground to hold their hands or catch them if they fall since I am always on the sidelines watching… it baffles me… why on earth would I mind if my child falls from a slide? They have a lot of bruises but have never broken a bone yet. Consequently my children have always had much better gross motor skills and balance than all of their friends simply because I have allowed them practice in developing their own body awareness.
Most of my parenting skills have come from a Montessori style philosophy. Do you realize how much of your book mirrors Montessori? I was really surprised you didn’t mention it, they are so very similar. Montessori preaches to respect the child by giving very clear and definitive boundaries and letting them have freedom within those boundaries. “Betises” are not morally wrong, but there is simply appropriate behavior that is expected in exchange for freedoms. The verbage typically goes like this “Oh, by banging on the counter you are showing me that you are not yet ready to use that hammer appropriately. When you are ready to use it to hammer a nail, then let me know and you may have it back.” From the age of 2, my children would say “that is not ap-pwo-pweate” when their friends would act up. I never intervene when the kids are having a spat: “Mommy, she took that toy from me.” “Oh what a bummer, I know you love that toy, you should definitely go talk to her about that problem.” Why on earth do all my friends have to talk on behalf of their children to solve their problems? My girlfriends roll their eyes at me when I intentionally “ignore” regular childhood disagreements, then they get up (interrupting our adult/mommy play-date time) and walk over to get the toy back on their child’s behalf. That’s so crazy! How will their children ever learn to problem solve if not given the opportunity to even have a problem?
Montessori also includes an emphasis on “meaningful work.” My 4 and 5 year old daughters can load and unload the dishwasher all by themselves, as well as start their own laundry. It is such a simple thing to teach and they take such pride in meaningful work. And of course they have been cooking with me since before they could walk. I simply can’t imagine having to do all the household chores myself, that is neither fair nor possible. Your description of the doctor’s office when you apologized to your child for having to get a shot cracked me up. I never apologize for vaccines either, to the contrary my 3 year old actually says “thank you” to the nurse giving the shot because we know the vaccines are to keep us healthy. My children hate shots, however, we aren’t going to make a fuss or apologize for them either. The nurses are in awe when my little tiny child sits up and watches the shot giving without having to be physically held down as is the normal practice for a toddler. Also, I remember having to defend myself when I took my 2 year old into the doctor’s office for a cut on her hand. They interrogated me about why her Montessori preschool would allow a 2 year old a serrated knife. I was shocked at their disapproval… of course she needed the serrated knife, how else would she cut an orange for snack? The butter knife is for the banana, but orange rinds require something much sharper. Of course, she hasn’t cut herself again, she learned her lesson and all it required was some Neosporin and bandaid.
I also practiced the “pause” when they were newborns, and I never ever rocked them to sleep. I will not rob them of the chance to be confident and self assured, and they just can’t gain that without having me back off. Starting at age 3, my children have been flown out to Seattle (which feels like across an ocean from Atlanta) each summer to spend 7-10 days with their grandparents. They cherish that time and they are so proud of having their own adventures independent from mommy and daddy.
I really think most of my parenting philosophy comes from Montessori, but my husband unknowingly planted the seed for this long before we got pregnant. Right after we got engaged I made a comment about how now he and I were each other’s priority until we had kids. He was taken aback and made it very clear that our marriage would always take priority over our (then future) children. With that in mind, we were happy to get babysitters while they were very young so that we could have adult time away. We simply must have a strong marriage in order to give our best to our children.
I am now expecting a third little girl due in October, and your book has joyfully and humorously reinforced my parenting intuitions. Thank you so much for your research and humility in your storytelling. Seriously, I’d love to invite you into our home and into our Montessori preschool.”