26 August 2012

Book Review: Bringing up Bébé

According to Pamela Druckerman, French children are, for the most part, well-behaved angels, tiny ambassadors of good manners and self-control to the world, and it all has to do with the way the French parents raise them.  I don't know if that's true or not, never having been to France myself, but I decided to suspend my disbelief and just go with it for the course of this book.  And honestly, it wasn't as bad as I was expecting, though there were a few passages that left me with the momentary urge to chuck it out a window.

The book does get a bit long-winded when it doesn't need to, and it seemed to me that the author is a bit too full of herself and the fact that she lives in Paris and as such is far better than the rest of us uncultured Americans who have to suffer through a barren and croissantless life here in the states, but parts of the book were interesting from a purely anthropological perspective.  I'll divide it up for you according to whether or not I agree with the particular facet of parenting wisdom.

Things I Agree With:

  • I really like the idea that French parents teach their children how to wait, and more importantly, how to behave like human beings while doing so.  I'm sure we've all seen kids in stores and restaurants having epic tantrums because they can't have something RIGHT. NOW.  The idea that parents should intentionally teach patience is very attractive.
  • I also agreed with the concept that we should expect children to say hello and goodbye the way we teach them to say please and thank you.  Letting children just slip silently into someone's house as if they're the family dog probably does leave the impression, even if subconsciously, that they aren't held to the same standard of politeness as everyone else. 
  • The way French parents supposedly teach food is something we've always done, for the most part.  I make one healthy meal.  Syd doesn't have to eat it if she doesn't want to, but I will not make anything else, nor will I allow her to get something else out of the fridge.  To this day, she's not a picky eater at all, and doesn't balk at trying new foods.

Things that Bugged Me:

  •  First of all, there is far too much importance placed on attractiveness in the book.  For about the first half, every other page we hear about how slim French women are, how they do whatever is necessary to stay thin, and how everyone in the country will tell them, and rightly so, if they get the least bit pudgy.  I'm certainly not one of those people who supports morbid obesity, but on the other hand, I'm also not a fan of public humiliation over five pounds.  And despite what the author says, I really doubt that these women eat and drink whatever they want and just somehow manage to stay thin.  I'm pretty sure the laws of physics are the same across the pond as they are over here.
  • There's also, apparently, a lot of shame attached to being a stay-at-home-mom in France.  According to the author, women are publicly shunned if they don't work.  No one will talk to them.  People give them cold stares.  They have no friends.  In France, you pop out the kid, stay home for a few months, and then deposit him or her in the nearest crèche, and go about your life.  Sorry, but first of all, I doubt it.  I think the author was projecting a lot of her own wishes and insecurities onto others.  Second, if it is true, that's just cold, man.  Some of us like to see our kids for more than an hour a day.
  • Overall, French women just seem... selfish.  I understand the need to have your own life and interests, and I know a lot of American children that are spoiled rotten, but French women seem to swing too far to the other side, with admiring stories of women who stay home but still leave their child in daycare five days a week so they can have some me-time.  I'm not going to spend every waking second fulfilling Syd's every whim, but on the other hand, I like being a mom.  I like interacting with my child.  In France, it would seem, parenting is this tedious chore than men and women spend a lot of time trying to escape.
There's a lot more in the book, and I'm not going to go into exhaustive detail, but if you like your ethnographies with a generous helping of snoot, give this one a try.
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Krista Montalvo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Krista Montalvo said...

I loved reading the book especially from a sociological point of view. I would be very interested in observations from other societies as well. Our society could learn a thing or two about parenting. Although, I think every society has good points & bad points. On the points that bugged you, Pamela also said that these things were more common in Paris and didn't extend to the whole country. Parisian women are definitely known for being this way. I spent a summer in the South of France with a french family and they talked about Paris people kinda the way we talk about New Yorkers. So, Pamela's study was only based on what she saw. I think that Americans in general could take note on this point though. I think that we definitely let ourselves go after mothering which is just a shame to me. It feels good to take care of yourself. I have found that through my mothering years that my appearance was a direct reflection of how I felt about myself. I wrote an article (Finding my High Heels) about it on my blog and did a review about this book too :) www.amarmielife.com

Mergath said...

That's true. I would enjoy reading another book by the author that looks at how people in the rest of the country handle parenting. I'm also fascinated by the way parenting is done in Asian societies. They're so much more group-oriented than we are, it's very interesting to see the differences.

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