How French of a Parent Am I? - A Review of Bringing Up Bebe

Tuesday, July 19, 2016



I've had a number of requests to read Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. She's an American writer exploring French parenting as she is raising her daughter and twin sons in Paris.



Honestly, I was little sceptical of this book because it had been brought up so often. Fad parenting is way too popular in my area for comfort. But I finally concluded that I had to actually read the book before I judged it, so I would give it a go.
It was a fast and addictive read. I read it in less than a day. Here's where I mesh, and don't, with the French parenting choices portrayed by Druckerman.

Pregnancy

Druckerman makes a lot of the French pressure to keep up your looks and not gain too much weight during your pregnancy, and to lose it quickly after birth.
My gut tells me this is something that might vary depending on location and social group - even in France.

I've had a pregnancy where I gained a lot of weight (John) and one where I lost weight (Therese). Neither really had anything to do with the "paying attention" to food that Druckerman says French women do to stay slim.

My emphasis during all pregnancies has been on maintaining strength and flexibility, and eating what I need. (Birth is a marathon, y'all.) I keep as active as I always am, with adaptations as my belly gets bigger. I don't gorge on sweets but I don't deny them either. Never going to be a fan of needing to obsess about food - even in an attempt to be healthy. I've seen too many people go down bad roads that way.

Birth

Apparently natural birth is just not a promoted thing in France. It's assumed you'll get an epidural and deliver on your back in a hospital.

I don't know if I can convey the depth of not caring I have for other women choosing to give birth in hospital or birth center or home. I really don't care if you got an epidural or not, and I don't think having a c-section says anything about what kind of mother you are - nor is it some badge of pride to have a med free birth. We're all different people and we're going to need/want different things.

I care about the mom and dad feeling heard, safe, and cared for in the whole birth process. Past that...nope. 

Sorry everyone.

I didn't do well with cliques on the playground as a kid either.

Breastfeeding

Controversy Time!!

Because I think breastfeeding is a more emotionally charged topic in the US then birth (if that is possible.)

So Bringing Up Bebe says the French barely breastfeed. It's just not a big thing. Druckerman contends that it has to do with mom's need for autonomy. The general expectation is that breastfeeding will not be a long running endeavor.

Breastfeeding in the US is over-hyped, in my opinion. I wish it was an exaggeration to say that failure to breastfeed is seen as a failure to mother in the US, but it's really not.
I think both the French and the Americans do this wrong. There has to be a way to support moms without putting down other moms. We all need to calm down, just feed the babies, and make the choices that work for that mom, that family, and that baby.

Spoiler alert: that's basically how I feel about all parenting choices. 

Sleep

The French do something called "the pause". You wait a few minutes to respond when you hear baby wake up in the night. It gives them a chance to go back to sleep on their own, and lets you determine if they are really waking up or if baby is just in light dreaming.

I had the same reaction that the French moms did in the book. It wasn't even something I registered as a parenting technique. Once Druckerman laid it out though I had the same "oh yeah, we do that" reaction the French mothers had in the book.

Accidental French-ness!

Play

I've written before about how I don't follow my kids around the park. Druckerman brought up something that some Americans do that really bugs me: narrated play.

I just don't get this one.

It often involves the parent tailing the kid all over the playground speaking in a loud, high-pitched, voice about EVERYTHING the child does, touches, or might see or hear. 
It sounds like an adult re-enacting Caillou. It's terrible. For the sake of all of us, please don't do that at the park. 
At home - fine, whatever - but we're all stuck at the park. Little darling is capable of discovering sand without information about it being squeaked at her. Promise.

Food

This is another place where I somewhat do the French thing because that's just what worked for me. 

I make most of our food from scratch (because it's cheap), and can easily spend 2-3 hours making dinner. There is no way I'm making multiple different dinners for picky eaters. They don't have to eat everything, but they have to try everything.

Often I'm surprised by what they like. Therese can eat an entire bunch of kale if you make them into kale chips, but will just take a single bite if they're sauteed. They LOVE sushi, but dislike chicken nuggets. 
Who saw that coming?

This a photo of the 1 year old eating all the Kale over her Mac and Cheese. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I don't really do food in courses they way the French do in the book - after spending that long cooking I want OUT of the kitchen. So everyone can learn to deal with eating the food I put out at once.

Totally on board with the French approach to sweets. I'm not a fan of flat out bans on whole food types. Unless there is a significant allergy or health condition involved, I think shunning categories of food breeds unhealthy thought processes relating to eating. 

I don't do moral evaluations of food, and I really don't want my kids to view foods as "good" or "bad". Because they're not. Everything has a proper place in life.

Authority

The French are shown in the book to have very clear lines of authority between parents and children. The kids get strong boundaries but they have a lot of choices within those boundaries. But the final authority always rests with the parents.

I've never had a problem being in charge. My family refers to it as "getting your Kirby on" when you need to speak up for yourself or hold ground.

I want my kids to learn how to make good choices, but in order to do that I have to provide some parenting scaffolding (to use an education buzzword.) There ARE dumb choices kids think are great ideas. If they won't be too badly hurt, I let them figure that out on their own. Other times I need to own my authority and say no.

I expect the kids to respect my no, and they generally do. Kids have an amazing capacity to rise to the occasion - the parenting skill lies in observing and determining what is a reasonable expectation.
AKA. I get a lot of use out of my Anthropology degree.

Date Night/Marriage

One of the first lessons we had during marriage prep with our awesome priest was that the marriage should always take priority over the kids. That sounds terrible at first, and is really hard to do in practice, but I see what he was getting at now.

Bringing Up Bebe shows the time after the kids are in bed is now "adult time". French parents are unapologetic about needing that time. 

Without taking time out from being mom and dad, it is oh so easy to lose that base of being wife and husband. We only go out on a date maybe once a month. The other weeks we try to set aside an evening to hang out at home. Our current favorite thing after the kids are down is to bring a big candle and chairs up to the roof of our building. On a clear night, it's a great view of the Bay.

This night it was too windy to get the candle to light, and too foggy to see the bridge, but effort was made!
The book brings up how the French do not expect men and women to be equal at home. I agree and disagree with this one.
The honest truth is women do bear much of the weight when it comes to carrying a child, parenting, and running a home, and there can be a lot of stress on the marriage when things are expected to be perfectly equal. I don't think men are incapable of helping with parenting and housework. I think most can be good at it given the chance to develop the skills.

The women weren't born knowing how to do this either.

Daycare and Working vs. Staying Home

Again, I really don't care people.
I happen to like staying at home and taking care of the kids- this works for me and my family right now. All decisions - be it schooling, parenting, jobs - are all made on a case by case, year by year basis.
I reserve the right to change my mind.

It's not threatening that other people make different choices. Really.

Overall

I found the book interesting because I love learning how other people do things (hence the whole being an Anthropology major thing).

Will I change anything based on this book? Probably not. What I would do, I do already. 

It is a fun, and fast, read. I enjoyed it.

It's important to bear in mind with all of these "how people parent in other countries" books is that that parenting style grew out of the needs and history of that place and people. Some of it might work for you, but I shy away from elevating the parenting of another culture as a monolithic better.

It's very tempting to think the grass is greener somewhere else, but it's worth noting where American parenting has some upsides. Many European countries are overwhelmingly homogenous in terms of demographic make up and in parenting style. There is often "The Way" most everyone parents.

I happen to appreciate that we have a wide range of parenting styles in the US. Diversity is a good thing.

6 comments :

  1. A week with many achievements to you!

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  2. I'm glad that you enjoyed the book! I agree about diversity being a good thing-which I think is one of the reasons why I like that book so much. In the different circles of people I've been around for most of my life, it often seems like there is "the way" that is seen as better when it comes to parenting. So I like how this books presents a completely different alternative look at things. Though I probably would be annoyed if this was touted as "The only way" to parent.

    I think it's really interesting that you mention breastfeeding being over-hyped; I've never looked at it that way, but I can see what you're saying. I know many women who feel guilty when they can't breastfeed, and feel the need to defend their use of formula, which is sad. At the same time, I also get a little annoyed at the amount of videos on social media that go "Oh look, a woman is breastfeeding and all these people are giving her the evil eye!" (in my short time of breastfeeding, I've found that most people in public don't seem to notice or care that much)

    Also, your rooftop dates sound awesome (what a view!) and I love that picture of Therese eating kale :)

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    1. I have found that in our rush to educate people about how to properly feel/react to things like public breastfeeding we end up teaching them how to react badly - and moms to fear reactions that may not even be coming.

      I see the same thing in a lot of kid books. They're trying to show how to work through things, like being scared of the dark, but they end up teaching the kids about fears they didn't even realize they could have.

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    2. I agree completely! That's really interesting how kid books do it too; I've never thought of that before!

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  3. I read this book this summer as well and really enjoyed it. Our kiddo is only 7 months old so, ya know, still new to the parenting thing but I totally agree with your review. Some of the best parenting advice I got was " do what works!" And what that looks like for us won't necessarily be what it looks like for you. Overall, though, I seemed tonm resonate with a lot of the "French" style. Thanks for the great review!

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    Replies
    1. I'm big on the idea that I have to parent for what works for both me and my child in that particular time and place. It would just be *so nice* if there was always a "best way" to go about things, but that's not how this world works. It's hard work to figure it out, but I think we're all better parents for it. :)

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