I just finished Pamela Druckerman’s book, “Bringing Up Bébé.”
.She’s an American journalist who moved to France with her husband where they gave birth to a daughter and two twin boys and quickly learned about the vast differences in culture, parenthood, and child rearing in France versus in America.
Druckerman covers a wide variety of topics in the course of her three kids’ arrivals into the world, but one of the most reoccurring observations is how calm and collected children in France are in contrast to the American parents often found chasing their kids around the park, the house, etc. They refer to it as “being sage,” a sense of calm in a child, whether they be at home or out in public.
From the French culture, she learns that parents give their children rules, but it’s a limited set of rules. Those rules are important and very strict, but there is freedom within those rules. For example, one example from her French friends is children having to be in their room at a certain time each night. Now, the children may play in the room, read, etc, but that’s where they go, to the room. The method behind this is that, eventually, the children will get tired and know it’s time to climb into bed and go to sleep. The line of thinking is that this sets up boundaries for children, but is not overbearing enough where they feel they have no freedom. Rules, with freedom within the rules.
Another big topic throughout Druckerman’s journey is food. American children can be notoriously picky eaters, but she finds that by starting children off with real food at an early age, and having them try new foods, adult foods, even if it’s puree early on, will develop an open-minded taste palate in children. She even recounts how many kids in restaurants in France aren’t offering off of some ‘children’s menu’ of pizza, chicken nuggets, etc, but real food off the real menu. Very very fascinating.
I’m really just cherry picking two topics that stood out the most to me in the course of her book.
So, is it possible?
Druckerman finds a way to take the good of the French style of parenting and blend it with her own American upbringing, but she does so why she’s living in France, a place where all children take part in a grand lunch so that their meals at dinner aren’t as large. There’s even a gouter in between. French kids don’t graze throughout the day like the American kids constantly walking around with a bowl of Cheerios. They have their breakfast, their larger meal of the day at lunch, a gouter (snack) in the afternoon, and then a smaller dinner.
And just because they are better behaved and understand that they have their own lives as do their parents, the children don’t appear to be automatons from this. No, they seem to be joyous, fun-loving little people, thoroughly enjoying life.
However, Druckerman does this while living amid the French culture for years, surrounded by the system that was already in place and having to adjust their American ways to it.
But what about Americans living in America? Do we have to pack up and live in Paris in order to make such a switch in the way our children grow in these aspects without American ‘norms’ getting in the way? Is it possible without peers and family saying that it’s “not how you raise a kid?” because it’s not how we were raised?
Now, notice I used the term “cherry picking” earlier. I did this for a reason, which is that I’m not making a blanket statement that I feel everyone should run out and do absolutely everything that the French parents do, or even what Druckerman’s family did in this book.
In fact, here’s an article from Forbes completely blasting the book, saying the methods take away a child’s individuality, promote socialism and promote forms of child neglect.
I can’t say I agree completely with that author, Erika Brown Ekiel, either.
Like much of life, it’s not about blanket statements or ideas that are cure-alls. It’s about finding your personal balance and what works for you.
For example, I love the idea about raising a child who loves the idea of exploring new foods and tastes, who aren’t raised on the kids’ menus of pizza and chicken nuggets. However, as I’ve stated in the past, I’m not a fan of the “crying it out method” when a child can’t sleep.
I like the way that Druckerman describes the French authority of parents, creating a framework with a few key phrases throughout their childhood that produces those well-behaved children who are still having fun with the other kids, at the park or playroom. However, I’m not a fan of the dismissive nature of breast-feeding, as it comes across in the book, as I’m a big proponent of breast-feeding for mothers who have the ability to do so.
There’s a lot of question marks up in the air and you know what? Neither one of the authors I’ve mentioned (the book, or the article disapproving of the book) has all the answers. That’s why we, as readers, as consumers of knowledge, have to take in what we can, digest it, and discover what is appealing and useful to us, and what might not serve us well in life.
Maybe the best way to end this one is simply to say c’est la vie!