Bringing Up Bébé: A Critique

I am grappling with writing a review of Pamela Druckerman’s, Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. Because I am half French, lived in boarding school in France as a teenager, and am now married and raising a child in France, I may “see” things about French parenting that the author does not (or chooses not to) see.

For example, contrary to what Druckerman describes, French parents do yell at their kids. French kids do have tantrums. French parents hit their kids. I’ve seen it all. And contrary to how she describes American children (most examples in the book are from NYC only), the ones that I know and have witnessed, have not shocked me by their behavior.

Druckerman also spends a lot of time saying that French babies ‘do their nights’ (sleep through the night), from as early on as two months, without letting them ‘cry it out.’ I would hate for this to put added pressure on American mothers, because that is not the whole picture.

First of all, I know many families whose babies didn’t sleep through the night until seven months or more. Others have their babies sleep in nurseries that are far from the parents’ rooms, where the parents don’t hear them at night. And then there are those, who do let them ‘cry it out.’ A friend, who is in her early 30’s, regrets having let her children cry. Even my own mother, who is French, still regrets having let me cry, but the social pressure to do so was, and is, huge.

At one point, Druckerman does cop to the fact that, “some babies who do their nights at two months start waking again a few months later.” (p.40)

The book is filled with blanket statements that are then often contradicted by the author. Even the title is a contradiction, in that it speaks about French parenting, when it is actually about white, middle-class Parisian parenting, which Druckerman freely admits. France is broader than that. We have many other cultures and ethnicities, mainly from former colonies in Indo-China and Africa, who bring their own parenting styles to the table. And though the book does describe a generalized way of bringing up children, they are not all perfectly behaved. Even in France, we had our own version of the TV-show, Super Nanny.

Druckerman also bases a lot of the parenting tools she digs up out of books and magazines. Just because it is written in a book, this does not mean that the regular person does it the way that the books say. She says that French parents explain things calmly and are always trying to understand the child. As I said, that is what the books (especially Françoise Dolto, France’s Dr. Sears) recommend.

Even some French friends and acquaintances snorted at the author’s suggestion that French parents are calm. They all admitted to the fact that they are reactive and then gave me examples, which included one mother being so angry with her son that he was lucky he got to his room and closed the door, before she got to him.

Though the most interesting aspect of (and most likely the most helpful to Americans) of the book describes how French mothers introduce food and make for less picky eaters than in America, even there, she is not quite on the same page as reality. I know children who don’t eat everything, and who do eat pretty much only pasta and hamburger patties, and drink Coca Cola.

Pamela Druckerman isn’t sure that she likes living in France, and “I certainly don’t want my kids growing up to become sniffy Parisians.” I am surprised that with all the research that she conducts on French parenting, that she never asks herself the question, ‘Does this come from the way children are raised?’

Bio : Dya Englert, who is half-French, half-German, has lived in Florida, NYC, Los Angeles, Paris, Aix-en-Provence, and now in Toulouse, France, with her French husband and their 6-year-old son. She is a stay-at-home mom, photo artist and writer (Yoga Journal, Bravo Sport !, Sorrisi e Canzoni).

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