Bringing Up Bébé - reviewed

Friday, June 1, 2012

In one of my pregnancy updates this past February, I mentioned Pamela Druckerman's then new book Bringing Up Bébé.   I have since read it (more than once), and have read about it everywhere.  The hype surrounding this book is reminiscent of the hype that surrounded Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother last year.  I think that all of this spirited reception for motherhood guidance literature is a true testament to how hungry American women are for guidance (myself included, obviously) that doesn't flow directly from Dr. Sears' paradigm resembling total and complete self-sacrifice.  We want guidance that seems fresh and welcomingly unfamiliar.

Drukerman's book explores the vast differences between French and American mothers from a first person perspective, as she is raising her three children in France.  Here are some of my take-aways from Bringing Up Bébé:

  1. Guilt:  French moms generally accept that there is no perfect mother, and so they simply do their best (which generally does not include breast feeding).  One French mother even wrote a book entitled La Mère Partaite, C'est vous! (the perfect mother is you).  During trips back to America Druckerman noticed many mothers constantly repeating the phrase 'I'm a bad mother' as a way to explain to themselves why they didn't let their child sign up for yet another after-school activity that may or may not have been his ticket to an ivy-league school acceptance.
  2. Patience:  Based on Druckerman's account, French children are more patient because their patience training began on Day 1.  For example, French babies generally sleep through the night much earlier than American babies because their mothers 'pause' before tending to them.  When they get a little fussy, day or night, French mothers don't rush over to console the baby - they wait 5 to 10 minutes.  This pause allegedly gives the sleeping baby time to move from one sleep cycle to the next without being jolted out of sleep entirely.  The pause allows the anxiety-ridden baby to self-soothe.  Druckerman says that French parents feel that this teaches children to deal with a little bit of frustration and, in so doing, teaches them patience.  "If parents do The Pause in a baby's first two months, the baby can learn to fall back to sleep on his own," Druckerman says.  This is based on the idea that even young babies are capable of learning things.                                                                                                                                         Also, French kids aren't allowed gobble food all day long.  They have a set snack-time, called a goûter, around 4:00, but that is their only snack.  French mommies don't carry snacks with them.  They expect their children to wait until the prescribed mealtimes just as adults do.     
  3. Preservation of The Self:  French mothers preserve the self by going back to work, not breast feeding (I find this one particularly bold), by not becoming 'maman-taxi', by sending their kids to stay at grandma's house while she goes on a romantic vacation with her husband (sans guilt), and by not narrating their children's playtime.  You would never hear a maman française say that she doesn't have time to read a book or to go to lunch with girlfriends.  

Druckerman certainly acknowledges that her points are based on her personal experience and the experiences of those around her.  There are of course outliers on both sides of the Atlantic.  She writes about what she has learned about French mothers' cadre, or frame, for raising children.

American mothers (myself included) see pregnancy and parenting as the supreme project for which there are specific elements that dictate one's 'success' or 'failure' as a parent.  Bringing Up Bébé offers some perspective and a calmer approach to parenting that seems absolutely delightful.  Druckerman's writing is well researched while remaining funny and light-hearted.

Pamela Druckerman with her three children.  The boys are twins.  They call the girl 'Bean' after the chic ecru-colored beanie that the French hospital supplied her when she was born.

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