Author: Pamela Druckerman
Genre: Non-fiction, parenting
Star Rating (out of 5): ****
Reading Around the World: France
American mother Pamela Druckerman opens her book by describing a “vacation” she, her British husband, and their 18 month old daughter took to a seaside town a few hours outside Paris. “We quickly discover that two restaurant meals a day, with a toddler, deserve to be their own circle of hell.” This is a sentiment that I suspect most American parents have experienced at least once. However, Druckerman notes that, “After a few more restaurant meals, I notice that the French families all around us don’t look like they’re in hell. Weirdly, they look like they’re on vacation.”
This shocking observation sets Druckerman on a mission to discover why French children do such mind-boggling things as sleep through the night at three months old, eat gourmet meals with nary a chicken nugget in sight, and spend play dates independently playing while their mothers sip café crème and have uninterrupted conversations.
Druckerman finds that the gulf between American and French attitudes about parenting begins as early as pregnancy. She comments insightfully: “American women typically demonstrate our commitment [to our unborn children] by worrying and showing how much we’re willing to sacrifice, even while pregnant; whereas Frenchwomen signal their commitment by projecting calm and flaunting the fact that they haven’t renounced pleasure.”
Easy-to-read and entertaining, Bringing Up Bebe is part biography, part travelogue, and part journalistic inquiry as Druckerman writes about her own observations, interviews French parents and teachers, and includes bits of psychological and sociological research findings. Druckerman excels at explaining not just what Parisian parents do differently, but why they do those things differently and what goals and values motivate those decisions.
While there are certainly a lot of aspects of French parenting that I will not be adopting myself, the most interesting thing about the book was getting a fresh perspective and challenge on parenting values that American culture simply takes for granted, and having a chance to think through whether those values and methods really are what’s best for our family. Interestingly, I often found myself agreeing with the French assessment of why some American methods are damaging to children, but disagreeing with the French alternatives. When it came down to moral decisions, many Biblical parenting concepts that I would consider the best ways to deal with parenting issues were notably absent from both the American and French philosophies. However, there were numerous methods for dealing with practical day-to-day life that I found fascinating and worth giving a try.
I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you tend to feel guilt or pressure with every new parenting technique, but if you can take it with a grain of salt, it’s an interesting and amusing read.