Stumbling Gracefully is hosting a book club and the book we are currently reviewing is “Bringing Up Bebe,” by Pamela Druckerman.
In Part One, I revealed my own roots as a Francophile and my connections to France.
So, Part Deux: The Review
Pamela Druckerman is an ex-pat who lives in Paris and, like many writers before her, she finds fruitful writing ground in cross-cultural differences. Specifically, she finds her own child-rearing techniques lacking compared to the French parents she meets. She notices that French children behave well in restaurants, sleep through the nights early on and seem to have a politeness and belief in the authority of their parents that her own children and the American children she knows do not. So she sets out to find “the secret” to the way the French raise their children.
In light of the Time Magazine “Mom Enough” controversy and the very real “Mom Wars” currently raging in the US, I’m tempted to say that there IS a secret and that is: there doesn’t seem to be any debate in France at all about how to raise children.
But, let me move on to what Druckerman observes. She first notices that culturally, childbirth is different in France:
“French moms often ask me where I plan to deliver, but never how. They don’t seem to care. In France, the way you give birth doesn’t situate you within a value system or define the sort of parents you will be.”
The national health system there covers Druckerman’s hospital stay for six days. There is not the strong focus on breastfeeding in France either. Most women don’t breastfeed there.
This is explained partially by the state-covered childcare, which Druckerman extols in terms of its quality and availability. With such a system in place, the vast majority of French women return to the workplace: there isn’t the same agonizing of whether to stay home. Staying at home seems to not even interest the vast majority of French parents Druckerman knows.
Druckerman also notices that most French infants begin “doing their nights,” or sleeping through the night, very early: usually beginning at six weeks. Druckerman figures out, after interviewing French parenting authorities and parents alike, that French parents use a method she calls “the pause.” “The pause” essentially means that when a baby cries the parent will “pause” and wait to see if the child can self-soothe and fall asleep quickly on its own before picking the child up.
And with “the pause” begins perhaps the central tenet in French parenting, as Druckerman describes it. “The pause” is an introduction to the key French concept of delaying gratification. They teach children to wait before eating dessert, to wait before rejecting food they haven’t tried and to wait for their parents to finish talking before they chime in. That’s not to say they are not tuned in to their children: part of what Druckerman observes is that French parents are very attuned and listen to what their children say. They just don’t necessarily give in to what their children want.
Also key: the sense of “cadre,” or parental authority. The authority of the parents is pretty absolute. What seems different to Druckerman is that French parents seem quite confident in laying down the law. There seems to be no hesitation or guilt when parents tell their children “no.” And the word “no” is apparently not used sparingly.
The relationship between the parents is apparently treated as sacrosanct. Ayelet Waldman’s infamous New York Times article would probably have been totally ignored over there. Says Virginie, a French parent:
“The couple is the most important. It’s the only thing you chose in life. You didn’t choose your children. You chose your husband. So, you’re going to have to make your life with him. So you have an interest in whether in it going well. Especially when the children leave, you want to get along with him. For me, it’s the prioritaire.”
I could go on and on about the two major influences of French parenting authority (Rousseau, who my dad pointed out abandoned his own children at an orphanage, and a pioneering woman in the 60s named Francoise Dolto) and the advantages of the creche (daycare) where delicious three course meals are served to children.
But here’s where I note my impressions of Pamela Druckerman. She is a charming writer, and an insecure woman amongst a population of beautifully dressed women who seemly maintain it all: their looks, their weight, their jobs and their love lives with their husbands. I mean, I get it. Sub in Lulemon yoga outfits for skinny jeans and boots and impossibly fit physiques and Pamela is me: feeling like a fish out of water.
I tend to take a more skeptical look at things than Druckerman, however. I have to admit that I gave the book the side-eye a few times. Druckerman would repeatedly tell the same story: she would think she wouldn’t like a certain parenting technique then she tries it and BOOM! It works! Eyeroll.
Mainly though it raised the question: why? Why do we Americans constantly feel so insecure and unsure about how to raise our children? Why are we so defensive about what choices we make? Why ARE there so many choices on how to parent?
Here’s where I decide: I’m going with what my parents taught me. I’ll never be the amazingly nurturing personality my mom is, but I’ll do my best. I agree with my dad that education, politeness and teaching your children to question are the defining virtues of parenting.
And, I will do my best to not compare that and contrast it with what’s out there. Because I’m doing my best. That will be enough.
Final cultural note from my in-laws who just spent a month living in Paris: they went out to dinner with friends with children and the children did NOT sit during dinner, they were LOUD and they didn’t particularly listen to their parents EITHER.
So, there’s that.
And here’s a photo of my children and myself in the latest styles of Paris, as procured by MIL. Because I’m shallow and what I love most about France is the fashion and the food 😉
To read more reviews, click here.