Before you’ve read on in this book review of Pamala Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé, before you’ve made a judgement on how well I know my parental stuff – let me stop you. My babe is only coming up on a year, I’m addicted to parenting books in general, AND I am also, now admittedly…a Francophile.
Though I completely lost it, at 6 years old, at my first group French lesson (or perhaps because of it) I have always been attracted to the culture. I relish the fact that my grandma Esther, though I never knew her, gave me a respectable 25% of French-heritage blood running through these little Midwestern veins. When choosing between Spanish or French in middle and high school, the choice was clear. My first *ahem* true love was also a French person during a three week high school cultural exchange and, well, the list goes on.
I admire the French style of cooking, French beauty (Chloé! Dior!), and even, it appears, the French way of parenting outlined in Bringing Up Bébé. With it’s emphasis on encouraging development that ultimately (hopefully) gives us thoughtful, logical, well-mannered little people…it was hard to not be attracted to the idea.
It was one of those books that disappoints you as soon as you start it because you know you’re going to finish it off so soon…
Druckerman’s writing style feels earnest and slightly nerdy. She is self-deprecatory; for instance (and I’m liberally paraphrasing here) “My children are wild animals that scream if their food touches, while the French kids are sitting there quietly having a spot of chocolat for their one afternoon snack.”
I appreciated the way that she spelled out the basic mechanics of raising a French child (state-funded crèche at 3 months, same for the école maternelle starting at age 3) but also recognized and attempted to unpack the underlying philosophy. French parenting, according to Druckerman, is very, very different than American parenting. Reading it made me feel a little embarrassed for her and in my own everyday way, to take a step back and ask myself:
“Is how I’m taking care of my little one best for her or best for me? And is there a difference?”
The point that stuck with me the most was that what is good for the mother and father is assumed to also be good for the child. Druckerman gives an example of having to corral her little boy back from the gates of the small park where she was having a lovely conversation with another French mother. The French maman watches in bemusement for a while and then basically tells her to stop messing around and say no like she means it. She goes through a mild internal dillema but it finally “works” after two or three determined “NONS” – les mères continue their conversation, les enfants play happily within their pre-determined boundaries…
I feel as if there are a lot of pressures here in the US to be hyper-vigilant about what-if scenarios that are very, very unlikely to occur. It’s as if moms being in crisis mode all the time is normal and even a mark of a truly great mother. I dislike this because it puts too much pressure on moms and, IMHO, isn’t realistic. Yes we should keep our children very, very safe; no, they shouldn’t be kept in a bubble that excludes them from the real world of cause and effect as it could limit their own personal development (and also make us moms go totally nuts-o crazy with unrealistic expectations). I have more faith in our littles than that!
Overall the book read a little Carrie Bradshaw for my taste but like I said: accessible and interesting. I tend to shy away from any writing that makes blanket statements about “us vs. them” but it was a fun read, and I don’t think too many punches were pulled at the expense of the French women’s movement (hopefully). Druckerman has a few other books, including one about international rites of infidelity – and for a quick, accesible, fun-and-a-little-sexy read, I’d pick it up 🙂 Honestly, I’d pick up her other parenting books too.
You? Have any experience parenting away from your native homeland? Think French parenting is spot-on or too harsh? Have you read Bringing up Bébé and have…thoughts? I’d love to hear from ya in the comments!
<3, Alex (Chief MomScout)