Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

Back in May, I catalogued my Summer Reading List, and one of the books I couldn't wait to read was Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up Bebe.  I have thoroughly enjoyed hammering through this during our first week post-partum.  It's about all the things I like and am interested in-- culture, France, food, and parenting. What's not to like? Well, to be honest, I had one minor miff, myself. As she praises French parenting, increasingly throughout the book she - at first humbly, and later self-deprecating to a fault- puts down her own parenting, and with it, American parenting in general.

Le Pause and Le Cadre.
She deals with many driving ideas in French culture about parenting. Two that stuck out to me were 'le pause' and 'le cadre.' While Americans might rush at the first peep, 'le pause,' is the idea that you should teach your child patience, and that they can learn it even as infants. If you hear them crying, wait a minute, or a few minutes, and evaluate the situation. Can they soothe themselves? Is it hunger, or is it a momentary anxiety that - in waiting and letting them work it out- can help them to learn patience in the long-run?  'Le cadre' is French for 'the framework.' This term applies to the schedule about which most French parents remain strict. This often means no snacking between meals, an earlier lunch, and a 'gouter' or snack around 4pm, followed by a later dinner. This makes a lot of sense to me, and I think we might implement this with my own kids- especially considering the "after-school snack" will be apart of our everyday routine with Molly now. There are many more significant French terms- sage, betise, that I don't have time to cover.

Druckerman also starts the book by talking about pregnancy and childbirth. It is fascinating to read how differently American and French cultures approach this part of life.  I was fascinated that French women really work hard not to gain much weight during pregnancy, and they will get comments and social pressure not only to lose the baby weight, but not to gain it in the first place.  This contrasts with many Americans' approach (including my own way of thinking about it) that the baby needs a milkshake, or a woman is craving cake, so let her have some (more)! It seems that many French women -at least in Paris- are also influenced by ads, but in a much different way from Americans. They're into the sexy image, even if their primary occupation is motherhood. Interestingly, there is no division between the "Mom look" and the "on the town" look.  French mamas show up at the playground, not in the grubbies or drawstring pants they found on the floor of their bedroom, but in skinny jeans and boots, just months after baby is born.

She chronicles her daughter's acceptance in and experience at The Creche- a state-run day-care provider. While American day-care is sometimes looked down upon by those who want their children to have more one-on-one attention, the Creche is standard for each neighborhood in France, and getting a spot at The Creche is deemed admirable.  The workers are well-trained professionals, and the atmosphere is a nurturing place where lunch looks like a menu from a five-star restaurant, and kids receive potty training and (if you are Mrs. Druckerman's daughter), a crash course in French! While Day-Care often gets a bad rap in our country, these look much different.

She writes about the history of this institution, the Creche, as well as various philosophies that drive French women. For example, she chronicles their approach to teaching children patience as they grow up, and their relaxed sensibilities,  particularly just letting the children play and learn without too much intervention.   The example she gives in the book of "helicopter parenting" is a series of American mothers she sees at the playground who narrate everything their child is doing. "You are going down the slide!" she overhears one mother saying to her son.  She talks to a French pediatrician who is based in New York, and he thinks Moms do this to tell other people at the playground what good parents they are! However, it's an exhausting way to parent.

I think American mothers do overcompensate in parenting and motherhood in general, and one reason may be because of Corporate America and the struggle with materialism. For example, Parenting Magazine's take on a confident day at the beach. It would only make sense that the average American Mama has a bit of guilt over this issue.  If a certain product doesn't answer our parenting woes, then maybe the latest self-esteem philosophy. We turn to anything and everything, always influenced by the latest ad. There seems to be a guilt-factor from various other aspects of our culture, too.

She goes on to say that the framework and the authority is deeply important. She writes, "For French parents, living with a child-king seems wildly out of balance and bad for for the whole family. They think it would drain much of the pleasure from daily life- for the parents and the kids. They know that building this cadre requires enormous effort, but they believe that the alternative is unacceptable. It's obvious to French parents that the cadre is the only thing standing between them and two-hour 'goodnights'"  (p. 228). Can I just stop there and get an AMEN?!

All in all, I loved this book. I think it would be great fun to become a French mama for a while.  Pamela Druckerman is quite honest that she never tries to be what she is not. She does things the American way, (for example, nursing and gaining that extra baby weight), while learning from and admiring the French parenting happening all around her. I would say she adopts some techniques and wisdom from the French- read the book to find out what.

The only quibble I take with the book is that Druckerman seems to put French parenting on a pedestal. When approaching the issue of authority, she compares herself to the French Mamas at the playground, and repeatedly undermines herself and her kids' behavior. We take for granted what our own culture says about parenting, and her humility is quite compelling. It can be refreshing and enlightening to read about other cultures and their perspective on little ones. Reading about the menu for toddlers at The Creche is itself worth the price of the book. However, stereotypes are made be broken, and perhaps American parenting should be held in higher esteem. Perhaps this book will help improve the culture of parenting in the U.S. and in turn change the tide and with it, the stereotype. I recommend it if you enjoy learning about other cultures, or if you have an interest or passion in parenting.
Linking up with Housewifespice for What We're Reading Wednesday!
...just because I couldn't resist! 


Rhonda Ortiz said...

Thanks for the review, Tacy. I've been interested in reading this book myself, and I found your summary helpful. Thanks!

Tacy said...

You should read it- it's really good, and probably better than I made it sound.

Jessica Thornton said...

Your review is well thought out and well written, but your pictures are my favorite part! Especially your bebes. Did the book address the critically declining birth rate of the French? Just wondering...

Tacy said...

I always find the photos on your blog funny! :)

And no, the book did not address the declining birth rate. The author is Jewish (not Christian) and doesn't bring much of any religion into her book.

The Stewarts said...

i really enjoyed that book!! (i read it when i was unknowingly pregnant with my 4th) a lot of what she said seemed to contradict the culture around me (attachment parenting, huge babies, complete loss of identity) and i thought that it was a breath of fresh air...she even inspired me to get the epidural. :-) though i definitely think that there was a noticeable lack of religion in her child rearing.