Book Reviews Books for Adults Non-fiction

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

I am apparently on a non-fiction kick right now.

Natalie tweeted this article about French parenting titled “Why French Parents are Superior” (suspiciously similar to the article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” which preceded Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) and when I saw at the end that it was an except from a new book, it was only a few clicks to see if the library already had it.

Happily, Bringing Up Bebe was already on order and it arrived a few days later. And I blazed through it in a couple of days, and then proceeded to talk the ears off every person I saw for the next few weeks.

Really, you don’t want to know me in real life when I’m reading a book I love. At the very least, you should hope to live far away and be inaccessible by phone or email.

Pamela Druckerman is an American who moves to Paris with her British husband. All three of their children are born in Paris and attend French day cares and preschools (at the time of the writing of the book, their oldest daughter appears to be in about first grade). As she still visits the States periodically and has many American friends who are also navigating parenthood, it becomes quickly apparent to Druckerman that French parenting does NOT look like American parenting.

Here are some thing that are different, just off the top of my head:

  • Nearly all babies sleep through the night by about three months old
  • Children don’t snack except for one late, official afternoon snack
  • Most children, even ones with SAHMs, go to daycare for at least some of the week (which has a much less negative connotation than it does in the US)
  • After about three years old, you just leave your child at a birthday party
  • Schools don’t really worry too much about parental consent waivers
  • Children are capable of and expected to play by themselves
  • The parent is the one in charge
  • Candy and chocolate isn’t off-limits or something to really worry about

I’ve been particularly taken by the differences in eating in France, and how children really eat most items. Part of it is that they aren’t snacking from the moment they awake until the moment they go to bed, but also French parents see it as part of their responsibility to introduce their children to a wide variety of tastes and to learn to appreciate them. The idea of letting your child eat nothing but white pasta and french fries is absurd in France.

The emphasis on having your own life outside of parenthood is also fascinating to me. French parents don’t seem to have the same guilt that so many American parents do and they have no qualms about putting their children to bed, firmly explaining that the evening is for adults, and then expecting their child to remain in bed. They go on vacations without their children and when they have play groups, the children play together and the parents talk calmly and separately, not breaking up arguments or sitting on the floor with Legos. 

And the fierce competition and need for “advanced” children that exists in American parenting really isn’t part of the equation in France. They’re not in a rush for their children to skip to the next level or have the teachers gloat over how brilliant a child is.

Really, I could go on and on about the many interesting differences that she points out. There are some things that she doesn’t agree with entirely, but overall, she does feel like not only are French parents less stressed and more able to enjoy parenthood, but that the children are happier too (in addition to being much better behaved and able to identify the differences between goat, blue, and Gruyere cheeses by age three).

I’ve incorporated several things into my own parenting, including cutting out all snacks except for one in the middle of the afternoon (and, like a miracle, my child suddenly eats everything at meal times, sitting quietly and calmly while we eat our own food. Also, I am actually hungry for meals, instead of telling Bart when he comes home for lunch that I just ate breakfast thirty minutes earlier). I also have really encouraged Ella to play more on her own (which I thought would be wildly unsuccessful and has actually. . . .not been wildly unsuccessful). And I’m making more time for the things I want in my own life, like running and reading and cooking.

There are parts of this book that drag, but a “dragging” part was usually one or two pages at the most and then it’d be 50 pages of completely fascinating stuff again.

And of course, I’m not buying into EVERY thing she talks about French parents doing. I’m not planning to stop nursing my next child at three months and I don’t think I’ll be sending Ella on an 8 day school trip in first grade.

Also, although she doesn’t talk specifically about this, I noticed that her descriptions of French parenting don’t seem to lend themselves nearly as well to things like individuality or that the French society cares nearly so much about creativity as we care in America.

But even those disagreements are disagreements with the culture (or at least her portrayal of it), not the book itself.

So. . . what country is going to be the focus of the next “Why __________ Mothers/Parents are Superior”?

Copy checked out from my local library

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  • Reply lifeofadoctorswife February 28, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    I read that article and then proceeded to read as much of the book via Amazon as possible. I can't wait to read the whole thing! (Did you also read the follow-up article that sort of refuted the idea that American parents are so bad? It was a little draggy, so I had a hard time getting through it. And I think it missed the point, which is that books like Bringing Up Bebe and Tiger Mom allow us to pick and choose the best bits of parenting techniques from other cultures IF we are dissatisfied with the American practices. I certainly don't look at these books and think, "I will do EXACTLY THAT." No. Um. Sorry, I went off on a tangent there.)

  • Reply Lisa February 28, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    I feel like I AIM for all that, but feel like I shouldn't because that's not how it's done. I admit, I don't play with my kids all day. I shoo them away and expect that they can entertain themselves. And I would KILL to go away overnight without them. In fact, we have such an opportunity, PAID FOR, and I will not be able to go because I don't have anyone to ask to keep them. It is KILLING ME.

  • Reply Merry February 28, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    This looks very interesting. I will definitely be checking this one out.

  • Reply Deanna February 28, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    I can't wait to read this book! Like Lisa, I feel like I already parent differently than a lot of people I know–I am a LOT more laid back in many areas, and I think my children are benefiting from it (my personal opinion, of course, others may disagree–ha!). On the other hand, there's a lot I would like to learn more about. The snacking is definitely a problem in our house, and I would love to work on cutting it out.

  • Reply heidikins February 28, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    I loved this article, missed the part where it's a book too! I think there are so many great points and ideas that this brings up in how we raise our kids and what kind of adults those kids will become. Fascinating.


  • Reply Saskia February 28, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    As an American kid growing up with Dutch parents, I already knew the American parenting style differs from that of most of Western mom was legendary on our block for not letting her kids or her kids' playmates snack whenever we wanted (we had to *shock horror* ask before grabbing something to eat or drink -except for water, we could have all the water we wanted- and the answer was usually no, unless it was four o'clock and thus teatime and thus time for a snack).

    After we moved to the Netherlands, I don't think I brought home another parental consent waiver again. Which was probably a good thing as I was notoriously bad of getting them out of my backpack into my mom's hands.

    Oh, and the consequence of less competition/less worrying about your kids' brilliance? So much less homework in elementary school. In California, I had homework every day. In the Netherlands, perhaps twice a week (spelling on Tuesday, math on Thursday). Nerdy, goody-goody me was disappointed about this, because I liked homework. Plus, it shocked me that some kids just didn't do it. (I don't think I had ever entertained the possibility of not doing your homework before..)

    I'll stop hijacking your comment section now..I'm glad you liked the book and I'll be sure to read it before I become a mom!

  • Reply Jodi February 28, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    I'm so glad you read this and liked it! I put a hold on a copy at the library weeks ago when it was on order and I am so anxious to get it. I love being an American, but I recognize that much can be learned from the rest of the world. Do you feel like if you put some of these things into practice it can never be successful in the same way it is there because that's not what everyone else is doing with their children in America? That's what I'm afraid of. But at least I can have control over the food thing.

  • Reply Rachel February 28, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    This book sounds really interesting! I'm going to see if I can get it at my library. The point about kids eating sweets (and it not being a big deal) really strikes a chord with me–I feel like we Americans just need to chill out a bit when it comes to kids' nutrition. When my husband was in chiropractic school, many of our friends (fellow student families) were totally obsessed with natural health (which is fine . . . but many people took it to almost frightening extremes), eating CRAZILY healthy, etc. I remember once at a friends' daughter's birthday party, a couple noticed their 2-year old daughter carrying around a juice box that someone had handed her and snatching it away from her, saying that she's not allowed to drink juice because it has too much sugar. We didn't have kids at the time, but I remember just thinking, Seriously? JUICE? Come on. What's the poor kid going to do when mom and dad aren't around to monitor her every calorie? I definitely believe in moderation. My son's usual breakfast is wheat toast . . . with cinnamon sugar on top. I don't think it's fair to demand that our poor kids never enjoy any sweets in their lives–I think it's better to teach them that treats are great, but we don't eat them at every meal, every day. I wonder if being nutritionally extreme will push them too far to the point that they worry about what they're eating and what they weigh when they're far too young to worry about that sort of thing. I once read French Women Don't Get Fat and loved their approach to food and sweets–it was quite a few years ago that I read it so I could be remembering it wrong, but the feeling I was left with from that book was, go ahead and enjoy your dessert! And ALSO enjoy plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy grains. Just enjoy it all, in moderation. Anyway, I'm getting totally off track. Thanks for the review, I'm going to check this one out 🙂

  • Reply Merrick February 28, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    I'm like #40 on the waiting list at my library. Bah.

  • Reply Janelle February 28, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    This looks like it's going to be next on my to-read list.

    I must throw in my amen to no snacking (just one), and letting kids amuse themselves. I read your post this morning while three of my kids were entertaining themselves (reading, or pretending to) and two were finishing breakfast. I would go insane if they didn't know how to play on their own.

    • Reply Janelle February 28, 2012 at 9:02 pm

      Also, I just put it on hold at my library, and I'm hold number 264 on a total of 8 copies. I guess it'll be awhile.

  • Reply emandtrev February 28, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    I need to get my hands on a copy of this. It definitely sounds intriguing and interesting. And you know…as I was reading this, I realized I already do the afternoon only snack thing. Yay, me! But…my kids generally do want a bedtime "snack," but it seems to be more of a stall tactic than anything. I try to get them to just have a drink of water or milk instead. Anyway! This sounds like something I'd really like and that would further illustrate how different parenting styles are totally cool and workable. Since I just said "totally cool" maybe I should end this by saying, "Thanks for the RAD post." Sheesh. 🙂

  • Reply Kristy February 28, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    This is in my digital library queue and I am quite impatient! Mostly I just want more reasons to move to France and more validation for the "French" ways I already parent. Vive le chocolat!

  • Reply Sherry February 28, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    This sounds so interesting. I actually hardly ever give my kid snacks. He eats big meals usually, and that seems to work fine. He also plays by himself pretty much all day, but I think part of that is just his personality. I did not know that parents in America attend birthday parties with their kids. Mine never attended with me. And when I had parties I don't think other parents were usually there. This is something I will have to observe more carefully.

  • Reply Lexilooo February 29, 2012 at 12:12 am

    Funny that you posted about this, a friend was just telling me about this book the other day, and I requested it at the library…I guess everyone is talking about it, as I am number 24 on the queue!

  • Reply Rachel February 29, 2012 at 4:29 am

    Ha! Like everyone else, I'm discovering the crazy demand for this one. I'm number 91 on the hold list 😉

  • Reply craftyashley February 29, 2012 at 4:42 am

    Hmmm! Sounds like I am a bit of a French parent, except I still have some of the guilt? I kinda laugh at parents who let their kids stay up late- I need my own space, too! I will totally check this one out… In ten years when it will be available at the library.

  • Reply Lady Susan March 1, 2012 at 1:05 am

    So, I sort of got suckered into all the publicity of this, thinking that I would need to get the book and rethink my parenting techniques, but then I saw this article:

    which I really loved because I think that it outlined well the differences in the two parenting styles (French and American) and the resulting outcomes. Different characteristics are held in esteem between the two and so it makes sense that the parenting styles would be different too. I will probably still read the book though.

  • Reply Meridith March 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    I love this concept, and it seems almost second nature. I once asked my mom about her parenting style (as I was preparing to become a mom), and she said, simply, "I just expected my children to obey." After watching her siblings try to discipline their children, then immediately turn to her and say, "Of course they'll do [that certain thing] anyway," she was shocked.

    I have very, very strong feelings for educating with respect for my children. I already have great respect for my one year old, and I expect that same respect in return.

  • Reply Jamie Onken March 3, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    I guess I should've been french because I don't understand how this isn't just "normal" parenting. I actually think that in past generations Americans have raised their kids like this but for the past 20 years or so people have started the new (way over bearing in my opinion)way of parenting. Ever since having my own kids I've felt like the odd one out as far as parenting goes, not hovering and making them eat the same food that I make for Nick and I (I refuse to make two separate meals) and everyone is always shocked at how well they eat and how independent they are.

  • Reply Science Teacher Mommy March 4, 2012 at 1:02 am

    Hm . . . I would like to read the book to see other "differences." Your list looks a lot like my family. I read Babywise as a new mother (American authors) and it saved my life. The best parenting advice my mother gave me is that "somebody is going to be in charge at your house, and it may as well be you: you are the grownup." Amen, mama.

  • Reply Karen Le Billon March 4, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Fascinating comments! I agree with those who have said: this sounds like how we were raised. Much of French parenting is just common sense – and you can find plenty of that here in North America. (I am married to a French man and we have spent time living in France and North America with our two young daughters, so I have seen both styles of parenting up close!). There are differences, but French parenting isn't superior–just different. We're better at some things (creativity, empathy, initiative) and they're better at others (politeness, obedience, manners).

    One thing they really have figured out is kids' food. The French have an amazing set of strategies and routines that they use to get their kids eating really well at a very young age. I found this so inspiring when we lived there (it converted my kids from picky eaters into happy omnivores) that I started blogging about the amazing school lunches my kids were eating (at the French Kids' School Lunch Project: In fact, I ended up writing a book about it (French Kids Eat Everything, out this April with HarperCollins). This is one of the areas where I think we do have something to learn from the French. But there are a few things we could teach them too,

  • Reply Caitlin March 8, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    I can't wait to read this one – I lived in Paris, France with my family when I was a teenager and I can definitely see a big difference in parenting styles. And it was always surprising to me how quickly I could pick out the American tourists around the city – they were the ones with the poorly behaved, loud, demanding children. I don't have any kids yet but I figure I'll read this one now and store the information for when it's more pertinent to me.

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