What I’m Reading: “Bringing Up Bebe,” The Cadre

One of the most important ideas in French parenting, according to Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman is the cadre.

“Cadre (kah-druh)—frame, or framework. A visual image that describes the French parenting ideal: setting firm limits for children, but giving them tremendous freedom within those limits,” (Bringing Up Bebe).

The cadre seems to be a combination of the Ezzos’ schedule and funnel. The schedule is the framework that defines the structure of the home. The funnel defines firm limits that equate to the child’s level of responsibility. And the child is afforded freedoms based on that same level of responsibility.

“To the French couple [referenced in the book], it seemed like the American kids were in charge. ‘What struck us, and bothered us was that the parents never said ‘no.’ … It suggests that the American kids don’t have firm boundaries, that their parents lack authority, and that anything goes. It’s the antithesis of the French ideal of the cadre, or frame, that French parents talk about. Cadre means that kids have very firm limits—that’s the frame—and that the parents strictly enforce those limits. But within those limits, the kids have a lot of freedom,” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 67-68).

The book goes on to suggest that kids are more content when they are kept in the cadre.

“He’s a little bit lost. … In families where there is more structure, not a rigid family but a bit more cadre, everything goes much more smoothly,” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 68).

This idea is further explained as a source of comfort:

“The point of the cadre isn’t to hem the child in; it’s to create a world that’s predictable and coherent to her. ‘You need that cadre or I think you get lost.’ … ‘It gives you confidence. You have confidence in your kid, and your kid feels it,’” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 84).

One of the parents interviewed in the book explains how the cadre plays out in daily life:

“’I tend to be severe all of the time, a little bit,’ Fanny says. ‘There are some rules I found that if you let go, you tend to take two steps backward. I rarely let these go.’ For Fanny, these areas are eating, sleeping and watching TV. ‘For all the rest she can do what she wants,’ she tells me about her daughter, Lucie. Even within these key areas, Fanny tries to give Lucie some freedom and choices…. ‘Dressing up in the morning, I tell her, ‘At home, you can dress however you want. If you want to wear a summer shirt in wintertime, okay. But when we go out, we decide,’” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 84).

This is similar to the structure that I have established in my home. I have very firm limits about eating, sleeping and media (all devices, not just TV). I have other limits related to our structure, but within that structure, my boys have freedom. For example, roomtime is a playtime defined by me, and it’s a time when they play alone in their rooms. But they can play with whatever toys or books they wish.

Or when we’re on walks, they know they are to stop at corners, not walk on neighbors’ lawns, stay on the sidewalk, and not cross the street alone. Aside from those rules, they are free to run ahead or stop to pick up sticks as they wish.

It all comes down to balance. We need to let our kids be kids, but we also need to give them limits to keep them healthy and safe. For both the parents’ sake and the child’s, it’s important to decide what those limits are ahead of time. And then when there’s opportunity for freedom, we can allow it.

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