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Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

8 mins
book summary parenting
Shawn L
Builds stuff minimally
Table of Contents

French kids can sit patiently and wait for the food.

When the kids play, moms can enjoy a cup of tea and chat with almost no interruptions.

And 2 months old babies start sleeping through the night.

This book revealed a lot of French culture and parenting.

I’d use three words to summarize this book: Patience. Cadre. Pleasure.


The Pregnancy

French mothers-to-be don’t treat pregnancy as a research project.

They stay calm as a signal of commitment, rather than worrying and showing how much they’re willing to sacrifice.

They take the weight-gain limit seriously - and it’s lower than America limits. Pregnancy isn’t a eat-all-you-can pass.

Stay sexual. Don’t wear your husband clothes.

Epidurals are common in France.

And dads-to-be don’t stand at the end of the business end.

Milk powder

Even though French children consume enormous amounts of formula, they beat American kids on nearly all measures of health.

France ranks about six points above the developed-country average in UNICEF’s overall health-and-safety ranking,

French children can sit quietly waiting for their food.

No shouting or running around the restaurant.

The secret?


You can observe patience in their society too. Doors of the metro open a few seconds before the train stops.

The pause: how babies start sleeping through the night at 2-3 months old

When you hear the baby cry in the middle of the night, don’t react.

Pause. Observe.

One reason for pausing is that young babies make a lot of movements and noise while they’re sleeping.

If a parent automatically interprets this cry as a demand for food or a sign of distress and rushes in to soothe the baby, the baby will have a hard time learning to connect the cycles on his own.

Connecting sleep cycles is like riding a bike.

Wait 5 to 10 minutes before picking the baby up. The Pause also teaches the baby patience.

The Pause works best in the first 4 months. If the baby missed this window, let the baby cry it out.

Having a pre-bedtime ritual helps too.

Baby understands

French parents have no problem telling their six months when a grandparent pass away.

Child should be included in conversations about his parents’ divorce from the age of six months.

They give the baby a tour of the house.

They often tell babies what they’re doing to them: “I’m picking you up; I’m changing your diaper; I’m getting ready to give you a bath.”

Gourmet Key #1: No kids menu

The first food: vegetables and fruits. Not bland cereals.

There are no kids menu. They eat what adult eat.

Everyone eats the same thing. There’s no customization or choices. But the kid gets to choose the quantity.

And there’s only one snack time in a day. Like adult, kids eat 4 times a day: 8 a.m., 12 p.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Don’t use cookies to stop a whine. That’s rewarding a bad behavior.

In France, kids have no right to open the refrigerator.

Baking is a regular weekend activity. Kids learn baking and at the same time, they practice patience.

Food is served in courses, vegetable first. Presentation matters too.

No sneaking vegetables into meatballs

French parents treat their légumes with a whole different level of intention and commitment. They describe the taste of each vegetable and talk about their child’s first encounter with celery or leeks as the start of a lifelong relationship.

In France, the same advice to keep reproposing foods to babies is elevated to a mission.

Ask your child to taste just one bite, then move on to the next course. Parents should never offer a different food to replace the rejected one.

React neutrally if the child won’t eat something.

Gourmet Key #2: Variety in Food

Try steaming, baking, in parchment, grilled, plain, with sauce or seasoned.

The conversation about food should go beyond “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” Show kids a vegetable and ask,

“Do you think this is crunchy, and that it’ll make a sound when you bite it"

“What does this flavor remind you of? What do you feel in your mouth?”

Play flavor games like offering different types of apples and having the child decide which is the sweetest and which is the most acidic.

For the French, “eating means sitting at the table with others, taking one’s time and not doing other things at the same time.” Whereas for Americans, “health is seen as the main reason for eating.”

Don’t pretend candy doesn’t exist

Keeping sweets away will only make kids go overboard when they encounter it.

They eat small helpings of chocolate and cookies during their snack time.

Preschool education

It’s more important to teach preschoolers skills like concentration, getting along with others and self-control.

French preschools teach kids how to have conversations, finish projects, and tackle problems.

Pleasure: the motivation for life

Swimming lesson is not to teach kids how to swim. It is for children to discover the water, and to awaken to the sensations of being in it.

A few music classes are fine. But try to give little kids lots of free time just to play. When the child plays, he constructs himself.

Awakening is about introducing a child to sensory experiences, including tastes.


Please. Thank you. Hello. Goodbye.

French parents are zealous on making a child say bonjour. It forces the child out of his selfish bubble and makes him realize that other people have needs and feelings.

Yay, I’ll ride the slide with you.

That doesn’t happen in France.

French parents believe that once a child can walk on his own and safely climb up the slide, their job is to watch from the sidelines as he plays.

You’ve no right

Rather than saying “Don’t hit Jules,” they typically say, “You don’t have the right to hit Jules.”

They say “I don’t agree” to make the child consider an adult viewpoint.

Explain the reason behind a rule.

Say “Yes” as often

This has a calming effect and the child feels respected.

But the French also say “No” with conviction. It’s convincing because parents don’t say it constantly. They don’t worry that blocking a child will limit will limit his creativity. They believe that kids blossom best inside limits.

The child is not your only goal

The reigning view in France is that if the child is a woman’s only goal, everyone suffers, including the child.

Mother should have leisure time without feeling guilty.

Show kids that you have a life apart from them. Dress nicely.

Don’t attend children’s birthdays - they are for kids.

No toys in master bedroom

French believe that all healthy people have sex drives.

The master bedroom should be treated as a sacred place.

Make evening adult time.

Don’t let baby-proofing be your dominant interior design motif.

50/50 isn’t the gold standard

There’s less conflict when everyone has his or her own tasks to perform at home - even if they aren’t equal.

Treat men as a different species. They are things that men can’t do well - like buying the correct cereal.

Men should praise mom for marveling at mundane tasks at home.

Lots of waiting in France

Instead of saying “quiet” or “stop” to rowdy kids, French parents often just issue a sharp “wait.”

Kids should learn to play by themselves and be happy by themselves.

Build a Cadre

Cadre means that kids have very firm limits. But within those limits, the kids have a lot of freedom.

Teaching your child frustration is a French parenting maxim.

One must of course respect his tastes, his rhythms and his individuality. 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.

Learning to cope with “no” is a crucial step in a child’s evolution. It forces them to understand that there are other people in the world, with needs as powerful as their own.

One of the main ways to gently induce frustration, on a daily basis, is to make children wait a bit.

The biggest parenting trap is to think that because a child can argue well, his argument deserves the same weight as your own.

Children books

The French books start out with a common structure: there’s a problem, and the characters struggle to overcome that problem. But they seldom succeed for very long. Often the book ends with the protagonist having the same problem again. There is rarely a moment of personal transformation, when everyone learns and grows.

Life is ambiguous and complicated. There aren’t bad guys and good guys. Each of us has a bit of both.

He loves me, he loves me not.” Whereas little French girls allow for more subtle varieties of affection, saying, “He loves me a little, a lot, passionately, madly, not at all.”

There is also a lot of nudity and love.

French treat the crushes and romances of preschoolers as genuine.


Excessive praise distorts children’s motivations. They begin doing things merely to hear the praise, losing sight of the intrinsic enjoyment.

After children have learned to talk, adults don’t praise them for saying just anything. They praise them for saying interesting things, and for speaking well.

Speak well

Aim to turn the child into a good conversationalist. Push the child into the habit of formulating her ideas better before speaking. They should learn to speak quickly and interesting.