Before reading Pamela Druckerman‘s Bringing Up Bébé : One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as “French Parenting.” Apparently, before Pamela moved to Paris and had a daughter of her own, neither did she.
Pamela Druckerman, an American journalist decides to move in with her British boyfriend in Paris after being laid off her job in New York City. Not particularly loving Paris, she manages to adapt after learning to accept the differences, not only between New York and Paris, but the differences between Americans and the French, particularly, Parisians.
After the initial culture shock wore off, she was able to settle down and starts working on a book. She eventually marries her boyfriend, Simon and they have a daughter they affectionately call Bean (they will later have twin boys named Leo and Joey).
During a particularly stressful restaurant dining experience with her family, Pamela notices that unlike her daughter, the other French toddlers in the restaurant were not throwing food, fits, and tantrums, and were sitting patiently in their high chairs, eating what was given to them, and were generally well-behaved.
After the incident, she starts noticing more and more that French children seemed more well-behaved than their American counterparts. Being the journalist that she was, she decided to do some research on the subject and bring some light into how or why French children seem saint-like compared to American children.
Trying to raise a daughter herself, she undertook the project of learning about the French methods of parenting not purely for the sake of research. She was amazed at how effortlessly French mothers dealt with their children, and even more amazed at how calm and obedient French children were by American standards. By talking to French mothers, child psychiatrists, teachers, doctors, and experts, she hoped to gain a little of that seemingly secret knowledge to use in raising her own daughter.
Here are some of the things that Pamela Druckerman learns from the French:
1. French children are trained to wait, even for just a few minutes. This is to let children know that they are not the center of the universe and that other people matter as much as they do. The French also believe that teaching children to wait teaches them frustration, and more importantly, how to deal with frustration – something they will need to do later on in life. Learning to wait will also train them in developing ways to entertain themselves while waiting, therefore expanding their creativeness and independence.
2. French children are more open to eating, or at least trying, different types of food, and are generally more behaved at the table. French mothers have a rule that their child only has to taste things prepared for them, whether they like it or not. They believe that it’s ok for children not to like everything they eat, just as long as they try it first. And just because a child doesn’t like a certain food, that doesn’t mean that you should take it out of the menu altogether. On the contrary, introduce it again and again in different forms until the child eats it – French parents guarantee that the child eventually will.
3. French children are encouraged to say bonjour and au revoir everytime they enter and leave a room. This is to train children to acknowledge the presence of other people in the world, especially adults, and that they should always be respectful to others. It also lets children feel that they are part of the society and therefore should act civilized.
4. It’s not necessary to praise French children all the time. In fact, the French believe that praising children too much is detrimental to their mental and intellectual development. The French believe that if children are praised for mediocre work, they will lose the motivation to work harder and to achieve higher. Praising children all the time will also create a sort of dependency between children and parents and create a constant need for approval.
5. French children are taught to be independent early on because it is believed that they are rational beings, who can understand when things are explained to them. Children are also taught that there are some things in life that one must go through, whether they are enjoyable or not, and that they just have to suck it up and do it.
6. It’s ok to say “no” to your children, but you must be firm about it, leaving no room for argument or negotiation, otherwise, you are not doing a good job in guiding them. The French feel that children look up to adults for guidance, so in giving them instructions (like allowing them or not allowing them to do things), you are encouraging them to trust you and to let them know that you are the boss.
7. Instead of pushing children to learn different languages, to play multiple musical instruments or to excel in different sports at an early age, French parents believe in letting their children discover the world at their own, unhurried pace, and to let them enjoy and decide for themselves what they are interested in.
8. French parents believe that children, no matter how young they are, have their own lives to live and parents should respect them and leave them alone as much as possible.
9. The French also believe that the couple (husband and wife) are more important than the child, or as important as the child, so romantic relationships between husbands and wives should not be set aside for the sake of the children. Couples should let children understand there is a time for them and a time for just the couple – once this is understood, the family will be a healthier and happier unit.
These are just some of the things Pamela Druckerman talks about in her book (the ones I remember, anyway).
Not surprisingly, cultural difference between the French and Americans play a big part in their different methods of upbringing. Mothers of both countries unknowingly raise their children the way they were raised by their mothers, and the mothers of their mothers before them. Pamela Druckerman learned that without actually talking about it, French parents have follow a cadre, or set of unwritten rules for their children. French parents are strict in enforcing this cadre, but within its limits, French children are given surprising amount of freedom. This cadre lets French children know that though the parents are in charge, their opinions and choices matter as well.
The French are not perfect parents, far from it, and Pamela Druckerman also talks about things she doesn’t agree with in terms of child-rearing practices and in the French education system. But by American standards, or at least, by her standards, French children are markedly more well-behaved and well-adjusted, and French mothers more poised, and in control of their children.
Learning about how different societies raise children gives us an insight on how that society operates and what traits and characteristics it values. Learning about different childhood practices can also help parents realize that there are alternatives to the ways they are accustomed to (but don’t necessarily agree with).
As a soon-to-be parent, this book is interesting in that it gives me an idea of how I want to raise my child. However, reading about child-rearing practices is one thing; actually raising a child is a whole different thing altogether. I am also well aware that parents are not the only ones responsible for raising a child. Outside factors such as environment, school, grandparents, and other people, also play a big role in rearing a child and in instilling lessons in his impressionable mind. Which makes me question how successful I will actually be in raising my child the French way if I’m not surrounded by French people and don’t even live in France?
Bringing up Bébé is funny, interesting and thought-provoking, so whether you are looking for a “how-to” book on parenting or just curious about the French, it is an insightful book about child-rearing practices and differences between American and French culture.
Bringing Up Bébé : One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (2012) – Pamela Druckerman
The Penguin Press, New York
Personal rating: 4/5