The Culture Mum Chronicles

Never Settle

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A Review of Bringing up BéBé: Liberté! Authorité! Patience!

Let me preface this entire review with a confession: I am a total Francophile.  Had the contents of Pamela Druckerman’s book advised me that part of the French parenting strategy consisted of replacing formula with blended brie - I honestly might have thought about it.

Yes, I am very big on the French…I love the food, I love the cities, I love Charles Aznavour! I was slightly dubious however when I came to Druckerman’s book for two reasons.  One - as I explained in an earlier post, I am not big on parenting books in general. And two - my last encounter with a French toddler involved her correcting my French with a very gaulish air of superiority; I was therefore less than convinced that this was a trait I would wanted to encourage in my already quarter-French offspring.

But, as I said before, Druckerman’s books isn’t a parenting manual.  Like Amy Chua’s book before it, Bringing Up Bebe is a hilarious look at one woman’s mission to be the best mother she can be.  That desire in and of itself seems to be a rather American one. Druckerman explains that French woman spend considerably less time agonizing over their parenting choices, wallowing in guilt, or strutting their suffering selves in front of other moms in an endless game of one-ups-manship…”You buy organic baby food? That’s nice….I harvest and crush my own grapes under foot to fill Junior’s reusable BPA free juice box”.

Druckerman is just another mum, muddling through.  She just happens to be doing it in French!  Many of the practices that French mums and dads seem to encourage intuitively according to the book, are among those to do hope to instill in my culture baby….snooty French toddler aside.

For one thing, my little one is only now, at the ripe old age of one starting to “do his nights”, instead of the tender French age of 2 or 3 months!  I certainly will hear out any and all input on how to avoid another year of sleeping in 3 hour shifts with the next one. The key, says Druckerman and her French compatriots is a little patience.  Giving baby time to calm themselves back to sleep.

Patience or “la pause” is also encouraged in baby during waking hours and is vital to a calmer, tantrum free baby.  A baby who can wait and deal with frustration is less likely to throw a complete wobbly when a toy or snack time is not immediately forthcoming.  Snack again being something that the French do differently…once a day, not at 5 minute increments. This means that French moms are not constantly fishing little crackers out of their purse to head off any aggravation or frustration on baby’s part.   

I was also very interested to read about the way that the French inculcate a love of food into their youngest gourmands.  If there was one thing that drove me nuts when I first moved to the US, it was little ones who subsisted on only white chicken, plain pasta and pizza.  The love of food and the firm establishment of its nourishing and fulfilling role in ones life is a gift I definately want to give my son.  

If anything will make you mad reading BéBé, it is the ease and affordability of France’s childcare system. I was amazed to read about the rigorous training that caregivers receive and the low cost of the “creche”, which is charged according to your income.  Say what you will about the price tag of a system like this or the European debt crisis….this to me was about a society’s priorities….the professional care of its newest citizens and the sanity of its mothers - otherwise known as the happiness of the family dynamic.  What I wouldn’t give!

Overall, I give Bringing Up BéBé two enthusiastic sucked thumbs up.  The step back it encourages us all to take didn’t feel like I was being told that French parents do it better, despite the headlines surrounding its release.  It was instead a call to calm down, take a “pause” and not worry so much about all the ways I could do it better.  Insouciance after all, is very French.