“C’est pas possible.” When I lived in France, I heard this phrase countless times and in countless ways and it infuriated me. It was the rigidity of the answer that bristled. Of course it was possible. Creating gold from stone lead is impossible. Issuing a permit or opening a bank account is, in fact, very possible. You just didn’t want to do it! There’s always a workaround. There’s always an unexplored option or yet-to-be brainstormed compromise. Flexibility. There’s always a way.
Yet, after reading an excerptt (linked to on Facebook by a lovely writer friend) from Pamela Druckerman’s Bring up Bebe which appeared, Tiger Mother style, in The Wall Street Journal, the frustration with which I met this phrase has now been replaced by optimism. C’est pas possible might just become my new parenting mantra.
I’ve long been interested in the ways, varied and sundry, that parents of the world flout North American parenting advice, yet still, somehow, miraculously (if you’d believe the Searses and Weissbluths of the world) raise well adjusted, happy, functional adults. And, according to Druckerman, the French are doing just that, despite the manifest absence of whirring parental helicopter blades.
Druckerman describes the French notion of a cadre, or frame, which confines children within limits of acceptable behavior. What is outside that cadre is pas possible, and rigidly so. But inside, kids are free to do as they like. For French parents, a firm but polite Non! is what keeps their tots firmly within the cadre. A Non! delivered with authority keeps a child within the bounds of the sandbox while his mother chats, unperturbed, on a nearby bench.
French kids cry it out. They sleep all night, alone by age three moths. Their mothers don’t often breastfeed beyond six weeks. They are not pumped full of goldfish crackers and Cherrios. Yet, they are read to, doted on, and ferried to and from enriching lessons, but family life is not dictated by the needs and wants of the progeny.
Bottom line, it works. French parents love their kids, make them eat their vegetables and sit at the dinner table and their babies grow into adults and they turn out just fine.
Japanese kids, by contrast, seem to have no cadre at all. At least when they’re young. Recently I was with my daughter at a drop in play center, and she was on the receiving end of a pint-sized cuff. While my lizard brain responded defensively, my logical mind, for once, overrode the impulse to shoot dagger eyes at the kid and his mother. The mother of the offending tot did not make any showy displays of discipline; the wee boxer was not sidelined, or timed-out, or even scolded, really. Instead, she proffered an apologetic glance and bow, and then brought her kid to another part of the room. No biggie.
It was as if the mother felt that such behaviour was totally possible, in fact, it was inevitable. Kids will be kids, and part of that state of being means occasionally walloping other kids on the head.
In Japan, as I’ve written before, children are not expected to go to bed at a reasonable time. They sleep with their mothers beyond the age that would be acceptable to even the hippiest of North American hippies. Children run freely. Candy is administered liberally.
It’s not till much later that the cadre descends swiftly and suddenly, and, perhaps, claustrophobically on Japanese kids. A full, rigorous day in school is followed by an entire evening, and often weekend at juku, or cram school. Kids can’t be kids. They don’t get to play. And when they do get downtime, their faces are glued to all manner of electronic screens.
But. It works.
Bottom line, Japanese parents love their kids, let them eat candy, make them study hard, and their babies grow into adults and they turn out just fine.
So, it stands to reason, then, that a parent should not worry so much about what is right and instead do what’s right for them. Maybe for French parents, it’s more desirable to let a child cry it out so they might rest. Or maybe a sharp reproach that corrects a child who is impinging on carefully guarded adult time is what is right. For Japanese parents, perhaps it is right to bypass the hours-long struggle to cajole a sleepless babe to slumber and just keep the kid up till 11 pm. Maybe the value of avoiding whining pleas for candy is greater than the potential damage of tooth decay.
Which is where pas possible comes in. For the French, it’s pas possible to allow a child to run wild at dinner or be up multiple times during the night. For Japanese, it’s also pas possible to expect a one-year-old to sleep solo, let alone though the night.
It’s a mindset.
For me, it’s been exceedingly vexing that my kid climb my leg and whine and cry and scream and flail and throw her snot-encrusted body on the ground because I’m washing the dishes. But until now, it has still been possible. And it’s been equally possible (and equally infurating) that she be unable to entertain herself while I take five minutes to drink a coffee and write a grocery list. And you know what, I’m giving up my ambivalence about that. It’s now pas possible. And I don’t feel one wee bit badly.
Pas Possible. Polite but firm. Rigid. Still kind. But, pas possible.
Its my new parenting mantra.
Watch out, kid.