For some reason, parenting books hold an irresistible allure for me. I know that when I crack one open, I’m probably not going to find anything groundbreaking, and most of them do more harm than good by parading foregone conclusions as scientifically based fact. But my curiosity often gets the better of me and I end up reading books like Bringing Up Bebe to see what crazy things parents are up to these days. It feels a bit like peeking into someone’s medicine cabinet.
This book is supposed to be particularly controversial, so I was interested to see what was so shocking about it. It turns out that the old has become new, as what the author believes the French can teach us that:
- children can be trained to sleep through the night at an early age
- parents should practice “le pause” by not jumping at their children’s cries immediately
- children should respect their parents as authority figures
- food should be prepared to broaden children’s palettes instead of catering to “kid-friendly” fare
- the importance of regular mealtimes vs. the American trend of allowing children to graze all day
These simple truths are so integral to my style of parenting that I felt a little bewildered that this was the extent of the controversy about the book. I did find it interesting that in America, these practices are often associated with a rural, religious and conservative demographic. But here we have an example of one of the most socially and economically liberal countries in the world embracing the same precepts. The typical Parisian parent that Druckerman encounters is, in many ways, the polar opposite of the kind of person who would be using those parenting techniques in America. I know I’m probably just padding my own bias here, but I tend to think that the cross-cultural nature of it serves as evidence that the method is sound.
It was also striking how monocultural France seems to be when it comes to parenting, at least if we take the author at her word. I know that we can’t ignore the fact that France only has about 20% of the total population of the United States and is certainly more homogenous in many other ways as well, but even taking that into account, it’s hard to believe that this culture exists in a country where virtually everyone agrees on the basics of parenting. Did it used to be that way in America? How far back would you have to go? Or have competing parenting philosophies always been a staple of America’s capitalistic and melting pot society?
Just as I began to warm to this refreshing description of parenting–it jived so well with beliefs I already dearly hold that I was two steps away from taking up chain smoking and wearing a beret–the author energetically began to describe how wonderful France’s government-sponsored daycare system is. Thanks for pulling me back from the edge, Pamela. The merits of daycare were sang in an angelic chorus that lasted for much too long of the book. How wonderful that children can be handed over to the state at under a year of age, free of charge! I fear that most liberals reading this book will completely skip the other more challenging courses on traditionalist parenting and dive into the author’s mouth-watering description of daycare lunches (even I have to admit that they sound pretty good).
Unsurprisingly, the insistence that free daycare from infancy is not only good but necessary to any civilized society is the main cause for my difference of opinion with the author. Apparently, stay at home moms are practically non-existent in France. Still, I agreed with most of the ideas espoused in the book, and I found that both surprising and heartening.