Monday, April 30, 2012

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

As soon as I heard about this book, I wanted to read it. Cross cultural parenting is extremely interesting (especially to me as an expat); also, from what I'd read about the book, it sounded like she endorsed many of the parenting practices I already use.

So I requested it from the library, it came, and I finished reading it yesterday.

Overall I liked it. Pamela Druckerman is a good writer, and the book is very easy to read; it flows well, has many vivid scenes and descriptions, and discusses serious topics in a lighthearted and accessible style. It does read like an extended newspaper article (not surprisingly, as she used to be a journalist), but literary quality is not, after all, that important for parenting books.

I was correct that the book favors some of my parenting beliefs. For example, she believes that well-sleeping children are essential for parental happiness, and recommends training them towards this end as early as possible. I think this too, so I did sleep training with R on the early side (4 months). Now R sleeps in a "French" style (12+ hours straight, leaving my nights free).

Apparently R also eats like a French child: that is, she eats regular human food (no purees, weird baby concoctions or exclusive chicken nugget diets), at mealtimes. She always eats at the table, in the company of others (eating is a social activity), and has frequent sweets in moderation (which she does not like that much, oddly: if ice cream is available, she prefers to alternate bites of it with bites of bread or beans, since her greatest food preference is for variety). We regularly eat out with her, and while messy due to her lack of coordination, she does not throw food, whine or shriek. She sits at the table and eats all the courses with us.

And R plays like a French child. She spends most of her time playing by herself (if we're at home) or with other children (in the parallel fashion, since she's too small for cooperative play). I do play with her sometimes, but not for more than 10 or 20 minutes a day (mostly I read to her instead). My ideal is for R to do her own thing, while I read or sip my coffee; most of the time she does. (Even her toys are stored in the "French" fashion: out of public view, at least at night.)

All these similarities highlight the real problem with the book, because I am extremely culturally American and know basically nothing about French culture (I've never even been to the country). There is something off about Druckerman's definitions if R (or I) can be described as culturally French.

Her descriptions of American parenting seem a little off. For example, she says that it's common for American mothers to quit work, while French mothers don't, showing their greater ability to keep their own lives. Actually the two countries have almost the same rate of mothers in the workforce; in fact, the US rate is a little higher. I think she is making the common mistake of assuming her anecdotal experience is a true reflection of reality, when actually it just reflects what her friends (=people very much like her) do.

I also wonder about how accurate her descriptions of France are, since they are limited to Paris (and one of the few things I know about France is that Paris is completely unlike the rest of the country). Especially because if the French are such fantastic parents, why aren't French people noticeably better disciplined/kinder/relaxed/more adventurous than Americans? Instead, the French often seem depressed, snobby, and unwilling to think creatively. (Of course Americans have their own issues...)

But it's an enjoyable read. It also does have some interesting ideas about discipline and encouraging independence in children, which I will keep in mind as little R grows older. Grade: B-

1 comment:

  1. I love that Little R eats so well! I hope to adopt a similar parenting style, at least when it comes to food. Oh my gosh, I would be heartbroken to have picky eaters!!