I Failed French Parenting 101: Parenting and Imperfection by Abigail Rine

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Welcome to our Monday guest post series on Parenting and Imperfection.

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to Abigail Rine, new mom, writer behind Mama Unabridged, and a woman I’m proud to call friend.

J’aime (I love) Abigail for her honesty, her authenticity, and her intellect, and j’aime her writing because it’s consistently excellent and engaging… qualities to which I aspire.

I hope you enjoy Abigail as much as I do, and I’d love to hear your responses to this! Is there a parenting method you failed? (Me = all of them.) Do tell!

Beth Woolsey  

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I FAILED FRENCH PARENTING 101
by Abigail Rine

“So, is he sleeping through the night yet?”

Hands down, that is the question I am asked most whenever I go anywhere with my six month old. Everyone from work colleagues to nosy Target cashiers loves to pry open this particular parental wound that has become the go-to topic for baby small talk.

In response, I give a smile that probably looks more like a wince and say, “No, not yet. Not quite.”

In my case, “not quite” involves breastfeeding every two to three hours around the clock. “Not quite” means that, last night, my baby ate at 7:00 PM when I put him to bed, then again at 10:00 PM, 12:00 AM, 2:30 AM, 5:00 AM, followed by a nice little wake-up nurse at 6:30.

Last summer, when I was about six months pregnant with Julian and had finally stopped throwing up thrice daily, I listened to an audio version of a book on French parenting, Bringing Up Bebe. Pamela Druckerman, the author, is an American expat living in Paris who notices that all the French children around her are bizarrely well-behaved with patient temperaments and sophisticated palettes – in contrast to her own untamed American menaces who seem ripe for Supernanny intervention.

The most miraculous feature of these Parisian cherubs is their ability to sleep through the night at only a few weeks old. Druckerman attributes this to an engrained French parenting technique she calls “the pause.”

Whereas the neurotic American mother rushes right over to the crib at the tiniest sound, the French mother – who I imagine reclining on a chaise reading Madame Bovary with a glass of Beaujolais in hand – simply tilts her head at the sound, pausing to assess whether the baby needs to eat or not. If not, he learns to soothe himself back to sleep.

Très simple, non?

That’s “the pause.” That’s the wizardry that French mothers use to get their babies to sleep through the night when they’re just wee little baguettes, fresh out of the womb.

“No problem,” mused my pregnant self. “That’s just common sense.” Armed with this gnosis, I was lulled into a smirking confidence. Surely, I thought, with my maternal intuition, my sensitivity, my cross-cultural parenting savvy, I wouldn’t be one of those harried mothers shambling into the baby’s room multiple times a night, like an extra from The Walking Dead. I would simply pause, my baby would lull himself back into sleep, and then I would go back to my high-brow reading and red wine drinking before getting a good night’s sleep.

HA HAAHA HA HAAAA. Ha. No. That has never happened.

cosleepingFirst of all, Julian never slept in the crib. Despite my best intentions, post-birth I magically transformed into one of those attachment parenting weirdos who sleeps with her baby. During those first few weeks, I wasn’t in the next room, having urbane alone time; I was in the bed, too, eating cookies and watching 30 Rock on the iPad with headphones.

I tried “the pause.” At least, I sort of did. I waited, when Julian would stir, to see if he was hungry or if he was just rolling over into the next sleep cycle.

As far as I can tell, he was always hungry.

Those first few weeks, I made the mistake of looking at the clock each time he woke up half-crying, rooting around in the air for a breast to magically appear, his eyes still closed. I would feel a surge of anger and despair – the kind you only feel after being wrenched from deep sleep – when I saw that it had only been two hours since his last feeding. Sometimes I felt frustrated at him, at his apparent inability to comply with my half-hearted attempt at continental parenting.

To make things worse, I downloaded an app called BabySense that generated sleep routines based on a baby’s age. “Put Julian to bed at 6:30,” it prophesied, “and he should stretch seven hours until his first night feeding.”

SEVEN HOURS. Do you have any idea what I could do with seven hours? How many loads of laundry I could wash? How many papers I could grade? How many episodes of 30 Rock I could cycle through on Netflix? Forget that – with seven hours free in the evening, I could actually socialize with people who used to be my friends, but now exist only as shades in the underworld of Facebook, because we all have needy, spoiled American babies who do not go seven hours between feedings.

Why wasn’t French parenting working for me, I wondered? What wasn’t I doing right?

Well, everything. And nothing. Because that’s the infuriating reality of being a new mother. At any given moment, I am doing something that violates one parenting dogma while simultaneously fulfilling the tenets of another.

My biggest sin was following my attachment instincts. The mythical, sophisticated mamons of Druckerman’s book don’t breastfeed for very long, and they certainly don’t share a bed with their babies. Quelle horreur! They spend their nights – so I imagine – doing interesting, cultured things with other adults, while I’m laid out in bed like a sow, letting my baby pull an all-night milk binge.

By now, six months in, I have faced reality: I’m not a French mother. Pas du tout. I’ve become one of those silly Americans Druckerman writes about, a new mom plagued by wakeful nights.

julian sleeping 2But the strange thing is – and I never imagined I’d say this – I’m starting to treasure them. I’ve given up “pausing” and waiting eagerly for his night feeds to stop. We’ve fallen into a smooth rhythm, the two of us, our bodies eerily synced. At certain points in the night we both wake up just enough to snuggle in close together and nurse; I rise to the surface of sleep, but never fully out of it, and most of the time I wake feeling rested. Okay, just kidding. Let’s say functional.

At some point, my baby will actually sleep through the night. And when that happens, I’ll miss the baby who didn’t, the baby who needed me at all hours, my closeness, my milk. I know I’ll feel an ache when our bodies fall out of sync and fully separate, when I’m replaced by Cheerios and applesauce.

It’s already beginning. He’s already shedding his babyhood. His first tooth is crowning, and I feel that sense of anticipation for him to crawl, to speak, to walk. It’s exciting to witness, the constant metamorphosis. But there’s an underside to that joy, a quiet grief. I’m losing the baby who is disappearing into the child – and, one day, I’ll lose the child who disappears into the man.

This, perhaps, is the hardest lesson of parenting so far, to learn that love and loss are always already intertwined.

I wish there was a magic pause. Not a pause that would let me sleep, but a pause that would let me slow this whole thing down. I want to linger in babyland for just a little longer, even if it means keeping the all-night snack bar open.

So where’s the parenting book that will help me do that?

……….

head shotAbigail Rine teaches English at George Fox University. She is a first-time mama to Julian and wife to her domestic god of a husband, Michael. Abigail is a regular contributor to The Atlantic – Sexes and writes about whatever she wants at Mama Unabridged.

 

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So, parents! Sound off. Which parenting methods have you failed?

My answer: Love and Logic.
I do fine with the love part; still working on finding some logic.

I suppose you can share your successes, as well.

……….

You can see all of the Parenting and Imperfection posts here.

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
25 comments
  1. So beautiful. So true.

  2. I rock my baby to sleep. I always have, at every nap and at bed-time. Only now she’s 15 months old and instead of taking 5 minutes (yes she has always been a good sleeper…sorry,) now it takes about 15-20 minutes. Yikes! That can sure cut into your day. But, truthfully, I LOVE it! Every now and then I panic and worry that she will never learn how to sleep without me but, mostly, I’m pretty sure it’ll all work out in the end… it will, right?!

  3. Oh this post is right up my alley! I wrote a whole 2-part post in my blog about how we ended up in the co-sleeping closet (part one is here: http://growingaperson.com/the-co-sleeping-closet-part-1/), and the methods I failed at include: No Cry Sleep Solution, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems and the Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems. Once I finally got over myself and started following my instincts, we were so much happier, and the sleep “problems” that plagued me while trying to get my first son to sleep in his crib were non-existent with my second son. I am SO not French.

  4. Somehow I think what it really all comes down to… is that we’re not the parents of other people’s children. IF we were we would probably see the occasional melt down and how they don’t listen to us, but listen to all the other adults around them. Or somehow magically behave better when others are around.
    It’s just like we save our “best” behavior for when we’re at home with our family, those we love best.
    We get to see the worst in our children and never in others and so we always think that ours are the worst.
    (although, sometimes I know they are, when they are having melt downs! 😉

  5. I am a young(ish) single mom who lives with my mom, so I went into motherhood feeling judged. I was determined to do everything “right” so that no one could say my son was missing out by not having a father figure. In my head that meant having him sleep in his own crib early on, even if it meant CIO, not starting him on solids until he was past 6 months, and other delusional things I had heard or seen in order to have a well adjusted baby.
    That all went out the window in the hospital. From his first night on, my son has slept on or next to me for every nap/ bedtime (minus the few times he fell asleep in the car, which he HATES); I wore him in a baby carrier pretty often over the first 6 months; and on the advice of his doctor we started cereal when he was about 4.5/5 months old (and then I stopped because he hated it and it gave him tummy trouble). We still co sleep and nurse on demand – he’ll be 11 months old on Sunday – and he doesn’t sleep well ever. Ever. But, he is a smart, happy boy who is a joy to be around (as long as you’re not trying to put him to sleep!) So I would say I probably failed at just about every parenting method out there, and I do get looks of horror and sympathy when I tell people what a terrible sleeper he is, but its ok. He loves his mama and I love being able to have this snuggly time with him – too soon he won’t want me to kiss him in public, so I cherish this time.
    Maybe not so much at 2, 3:30 and 4:15am, but the rest of the time, I do.

  6. I generally feel like I failed at most every parenting technique out there. Attachment parenting kind of worked, but my baby still screamed too much for me to be a “real” attachment parent and I hardly can sleep when I have a baby in my bed (which we did because it was the only way for ANYONE to get any sleep). Then when screaming baby got to be a screaming toddler, we couldn’t find any discipline systems that worked. Either the kid didn’t understand, had no self-control, or was the most stubborn kid on the planet.

    Now she’s a not-screaming-as-much-but-still-stubborn-and-unresponsive preschooler and I finally listened to the advice from several friends who have special needs kids and gave 1,2,3 Magic a try. Miraculously, it helps. It doesn’t fix everything, but it gave us enough of a breather to realize that our kid isn’t like other kids…so she has a developmental assessment in 2 weeks. I’m torn between the hope that there is actually something going on with my kid that is the answer to why all of her life has been so difficult and the dread that maybe she is completely normal and really is just that ridiculously stubborn.

    In other news, kiddo #2 (currently almost 2) makes me look like a good parent, though I fail at getting him to sleep through the night and nightweaning (I’m pretty sure those are related–lol). At least I’ve learned that how a kid sleeps is no indicator of how good a parent you are.

    1. May I suggest for your screamer that you consider that she is in pain somehow? My second had non-reguritive reflux (meaning he never threw up but his esophagus was full of stomach acid). He screamed literally 22 hours a day for the 1st 6 months of his life. When we switched pediatricians and I was finally taken seriously and he was medicated properly, our lives changed. We still have issues around pain and “stubbornness”. I have found that “I understand that you want x. When you y, then you can x”. Or even “I understand you want x, I have decided you cannot do x because y”. is received much better. They need to feel heard about what they want/need before they can hear you.

      1. Thank you for this suggestion. I hadn’t thought about that. She was in pain for a good bit of her first year since we didn’t figure out that she had a fairly severe food sensitivity for a long time. Once we got her (and me) off of dairy and onto probiotics, things improved, but the thing that has helped most is time. I will have to look up symptoms of non-regurgitive reflux to see if she has any. I can see her being in pain being at the root of many of the issues we see.

        She’s entered a time of relative balance (for her), so it’s been a blessing to have a break, but I’m just waiting for the shoe to drop and her to start tail-spinning again.

  7. J’aime this post! I was such an anxious mother with my first child, and of course me being me, I had planned to do it perfectly. Ha! I was completely convinced that I was doing something wrong because my baby wanted me to hold her and nurse her seemingly constantly. By the time the 6th baby made his surprise entrance, I figured out that my babies had all been healthy and relatively happy, and I was actually able to enjoy motherhood. I held them and slept with them if I felt I needed to, and I nursed them when they wanted. None of them were ever overweight, they were all sleeping through the night before toddler-hood. And like the author is anticipating, I so miss those cuddly days.

  8. With my oldest (who’s almost 4 !?!) I was so excited as she learned new things. I could not wait for her to roll over, talk, walk, eat solid food. I sleep trained her at 9 months (mostly for my own sanity), vehemently stuck to her routine and NEVER let her eat anything that I did not personally prepare for her.
    With my second daughter (15 months), I realized how quickly they grow and with each passing stage; crawling, walking, moving out of my bedroom(!), I found myself grieving just a little. It’s a lot of the same of what you other moms are saying – the more your baby grows and develops, the less they need you. I am more relaxed with the routine stuff now, but whenever I am offered a moment of extra snuggles (from both of them), or if I am lucky enough to have one of them sleep with me, I absorb them.

  9. Elizabeth nursed with both our girls in a very similar fashion, sometimes bringing them to bed with us and sometimes sleeping on the couch after getting up in the night. She loved it. Her favorite memories of their first year or so was of nursing with them at night when both she and they were 80% asleep. She, and they, seem to have survived just fine.

  10. My daughter and I co-slept with her in my bed for the first 6 weeks of her life. Then it just stopped working for me– I wasn’t getting any sleep and my hips constantly ached from the position that I was breast feeding her in. From then on, she’s slept in her crib in her own room (she’s 6 months old) and I’ve just started putting her to sleep when she’s groggy, but awake, instead of nursing her to sleep. It’s been amazing so far! I definitely love my daughter, but I felt like I was losing my sanity by having to constantly go up to nurse her back to sleep. She still breast feeds on demand during the day and I nurse her if she wakes up at night after being asleep for a few hours. I feel like I use my own combination of attachment parenting and Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE), so I don’t feel like I’ve failed at any parenting method. You just have to do what’s right (within reason) for you and your family.

  11. What a wonderful post! As a mom to a ravenous six month old myself, I found myself nodding and “Amen!”-ing as I read. It also made me reflect on all the “methods” I have tried now that I am on my third kid. They have spanned from “Babywise” (I was about as dedicated to it as to the Atkins diet. Lasted all of about two hours.) to Dr. Sears’ attachment parenting and I was frustrated when I couldn’t align myself totally in either camp. Now I turn around to see the patchwork parenting that I have adopted and realize that because it works for me and for this kid (mind you, my approach was different with each kid because *shocker* each kid was different) it WORKS! I am up every 90 minutes to 3 hours at night. I breastfeed on demand and exclusively. I vaccinate. I don’t co-sleep because I can’t sleep with baby feet on my face. I work full time. I don’t use cloth diapers because I can’t crawl out from underneath the laundry mountain I already have. I baby wear when he wants to be worn. I use pacifiers. Our methods are no worse than those French ladies, and they are no better than we are… just the same because their method works for them. Good for them. Good for us. And every time my little one surprises me with a longer-than-usual stretch of sleep I feel a little miffed that he didn’t miss me enough to wake up and want to be with me 🙂 And, like you, I am trying to keep my hands open enough to release him to grow into the little person he is becoming, and in the mean time, I am not going to stress those night wakings one little bit.

  12. I love this post – my darling boy is now 21 months old but just before he turned 6 months he moved into his own bedroom (at his own instigation, I also love attachment parenting principles but not all babies want to be permanently attached to you!) and I went through almost 2 weeks of the deepest depression. For the first time in over a year my most beloved boy would be separate from me, no longer just a finger’s stretch away or nestled in the crook of my arm, still sharing the same breath, just as we had for the 9 precious months I carried him. Suddenly I understood that a mother’s love walks hand in hand with her pain and sorrow. 5 feet down the hallway became 5 years in the blink of an eye and then 10 and 15, that umbilical cord that once nourished his body with mine now invisibly stretching thinner anud thinner through the years until one day – snap! And the day would come when a strange young man who has a birthmark on the back of his neck in the exact same place as a little baby I once snuggled on my breast will kiss me on the cheek and tell me goodbye and I will smile and wave and hold myself very still until I can find a bathroom where I can cry my heart out without him knowing (just as I am doing now) because that is my job and that is what a mother is meant to do. To nuture and cherish and raise up and give her all so that one day her precious child, flesh of her flesh and heart of her heart can leave her and continue on their own journey, wherever that may lead. And now I understand how bittersweet a mother’s pride truly is. For each tooth, each new word, every milestone is another step on their path, a road that leads inexorably away from you. So when people ask if he is doing something yet, I often find myself smiling a little sadly and that makes me fierce because above all else I want him to know how happy he has made me. And how I wish I had that pause button! Oh I could fill a palace with a thousand Kodak moments each preserved in its own little photo snowglobe for a day, many years away, when he has gone and finally I will have the time to fully marvel at the wonder of him! But what I did was buy a video monitor so I could still watch him sleeping and then like all the phases gone and still to come, it passed, until your wonderful post brought it all bubbling back up, for which I thank you, for every reminder to seize the day and live in the present is truly a gift. <3

    1. Oh, you made me cry! I’ve said these things a thousand times. My baby baby is nearly 16 now. Until last year, she was going to live with me forever, but recently, she’s decided that she will need to be on her own for awhile. This makes me so proud and yet so sad…

  13. oh, and for what it’s worth? Those french who wrote that book are nuts. Follow your heart. Co-sleeping was AWESOME for us and I do INDEED miss my little ones curled up with me!!!!! I may be a breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing non-vaxing mama… but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna look down on anyone who isn’t. Follow your heart mama’s….. listen to your heart.

  14. Honestly … I never had a parenting method. I was winging it and didn’t care in the least what others thought. From homeschooling before it was acceptable (or at least more so) to some rather non-traditional methods of discipline we have been a family that “marched to their own drum”. Perhaps not having family close by to ‘advise’ has been helpful…. 🙂

  15. […] Read the rest of my guest post over at my friend Beth Woolsey’s parenting blog “Five Kids is A Lot of Kids.” While you’re there, be sure to check out some of her hilarious writing. […]

  16. Great post – had me crying! My Mom bought me this book when I was pregnant with my first son, and she called upon its lessons each time I metioned any gripe I had as my baby went through phases of under-sleeping, over-sleeping, under-nursing and over-nursing. I just recently donated it to a library, nearly hoping no one will check it out and be made to feel as sub-par as it made me feel. The new parenting message I now follow is this – every kid is different, every moment is different, every family is different and with each passing week I am different… so do whatever works to survive and thrive as a family, and forget the ‘experts’ because they don’t exist. 🙂

  17. I managed to fail and succeed at two parenting methods simultaneously! Impressive, I know. I was raised believing that if you give children consistent limits and consistent consequences, they will for the most part fall in line. I mean, at least that’s how it worked for my parents. So we took a Love and Logic class when our two year old son was still hitting and screaming about EVERY DANG THING despite regular time outs (a phase that started at one and despite assurance it would pass showed no signs of abating.) I mean he would scream, “I want water!!!!” Not sure, how many times he thought he had asked or why he was always so angry about it, but he was.

    We consistently gave natural consequences for his hitting and screaming for over a year. His twin sister thrived on it. She loved knowing she wouldn’t get away with misbehaving, and knowing when that if she behaved nicely she got to do what she wanted. He on the other hand became a raving, door slamming, wall kicking world class hysterical nut case. As we escalated the consequences for hitting and screaming, he escalate just now determined he was to show he didn’t care what we did. So we went back to see the therapist who taught the Love and Logic class (and had kindly mentioned that it no parenting method worked for every kid and to make an appointment if it didn’t.) Thank heavens!

    After meeting with us she recommended the Kazdin method which is exactly opposite of Love and Logic and involves a lot of enthusiastic cheering and rewards whenever they do the “positive opposite” of the behavior you are trying to stop. Such as “great job calming yourself down and What a nice voice to ask for water.” And then walking away with no response (except for hitting another child) when you witness the behavior you don’t want. Of course, we didn’t want his sister to feel left out of all the cheering and so we included her on our new adventure. He turned sweet and helpful and found a whole new voice to actually request things and talk. She fell apart and starting having temper tantrums. A couple days in she looked at me and said “Mom, why are you talking like that?” when I was praising her tone of voice.

    So, now we have a bipolar household. When one child whines we leave the room. When another does we say go to your room please. And neither of them have ever wondered why we don’t do it the same with them. Go figure! I feel like I’m in some bizarre social experiment, but hey whatever works.

    1. That is like my two older children. One pulls the martyr, and the other bursts into tears at a wrong glance. Two total opposites as far as discipline goes.

      1. yes… I had one who responded to a “look” and one who needed firm discipline. They are both amazing adults now… 🙂

  18. Extremely disappointed that I failed Potty Training in a Day. Would have loved for it to have worked but am far enough into motherhood to not beat myself up over it too much (most of the time).

    1. We did potty training in a day! Megan passed with flying colors! I failed, but only cuz she didn’t let me in on her plans. We had this conversation at least weekly the year between 2 and nearly 3:

      Mom: Don’t you want to be a big girl? Do you want to go potty and wear big girl panties?
      Megan: No! I baby! I wear diapers!

      Then, magically, 2 weeks before she turned 3, and exactly the day after I had bought 2 mega-packs of diapers at Walmart – and OF COURSE opened one of them, she woke up one day and said, “Today I’m a big girl! I don’t wear diapers anymore!” Yes, she really spoke like that at almost 3. I wish I could go back and take back all the stressing I did that year, because guess what? She was a big girl and never wore diapers again – not even at night. And no accidents, until a year later when she discovered Blue’s Clues on the computer and couldn’t bear to tear herself away, not even for a minute, to use the potty…

      1. That’s exactly what happened with us. One day my older son looked at my younger and said “Why don’t you pee in pots??” And my younger one said, “Ok, I pee in pots now” and did from then on. And I also had just bought two megapacks of diapers at Walmart…I never even GO to Walmart!!

        Parenting method that failed – anything involving “building your baby’s brain.” Made my two oldest children hate learning. 🙁

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