Linda's Reviews > Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman
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May 06, 2012

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bookshelves: human-behavior, nonfiction
Read from May 06 to 15, 2012

One of the things that struck me most when I was in Paris was just how quiet the children were (and how fabulous their mothers looked) and I remember that whenever I see a toddler have a tantrum in public. I don't have children, but I picked up this book hoping for some explanation for the cultural differences I saw.

A lot of the anecdotes in this book are from Ms. Druckerman's friends and associates, both American and French. However, I feel as though they have been selected as to exaggerate the differences between French and American children. She talks about a dinner once at an American friend's house where the host's child bit her leg, saying that she would never see that kind of behavior in a French child, but I think even we free-wheeling Americans can agree that a kid biting another human being is unacceptable.

Ms. Druckerman has also interviewed many childcare experts in France, and the insights here are more fully formed. In France, there is just one way to raise your child, and everyone is familiar with it because they went through the same thing. It is constantly drummed in, though it may baffle a new foreign mother. Your neighbors will ask you whether your child has started sleeping through the night yet because it typically happens at around four months, everyone eats at around the same time, people will always greet you with a "bonjour" and leave with an "au revoir". If you stray from this, there are certainly reminders. There is free daycare available to children as small as nine months, and the care givers there will reinforce that idea. Your kids will play freely with minimal interference, they will be fed healthy meals at noon in courses, they will be treated as rational beings.

The ideas here are simple, but may be difficult to enforce here in the U.S. In France, separation is encouraged because it breeds independence, and while they may have school-sponsored week-long trips for children, others parents here would judge you harshly if you let your toddler go away alone. If you were to go out, how would you explain to your babysitter that you mostly want to let your kid play by himself? If you are at a party with other adults, how do you keep them from heaping attention and praise on your kid? But on the other hand, there are probably a lot you can do before outside influences come creeping in (up to age one or so, I think). Maybe you can manage to get your child to sleep through the night at four months and teach them that they must eat what the adults eat and hope that it carries through to the rest of their childhood.
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