July 27, 2012

Bringing Up Bebe

I know I JUST DID a post with books. But here is another book.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Bringing Up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman. I think there was some very good parenting advice in here. And the author's writing style was amusing and easy to read (after I skipped the intro, which I was finding irritating)---like reading a blog rather than a manual. And I liked that she, too, notices how often United States mothers call themselves "bad mothers" in a tic-like, not-having-anything-to-do-with-being-a-bad-mother way: "I gave him a sandwich for lunch---I'm such a bad mother." "I know I'm a bad mother, but I wanted to go to the grocery store on my own." "I'm such a bad mother: I let him watch television so I could read my book."

But I have five major objections:

1. I am tired of hearing about how superior the French are, even if they are. I think cultures are wise to learn from each other---and now I would like to learn from a DIFFERENT culture for awhile. How about India? Scandinavia? Russia? Nigeria?

2. I already feel enough natural annoyance at parenting styles other than mine, and I've noticed others feeling that kind of annoyance as well, so I suspect none of us are in need of something to SUPPLEMENT that annoyance. After reading this book, I feel like everyone including me is an idiot making things hard for themselves on purpose while simultaneously being show-offs and bringing up children to be beasts. Since I can't make everyone read the book and start doing things in the superior French way, this seems like a bad feeling to cultivate.

3. It's TOO LATE: I have already reared my children past this age. (The book mostly addresses from babyhood up to the start of elementary school---and some methods are too late after 4 months.)

4. I didn't really...BELIEVE her. I felt like her sample was too small and too anecdotal. There were things that didn't make sense: everyone in France does daycare! but there aren't enough spaces for everyone! It's like if someone visited Mississippi in the United States and then wrote a book about how all United States children say "Yes, sir" and "Yes, ma'am." And some of the French child-rearing ideas she praises are EXACTLY what I've heard here in the U.S., such as offering a child a vegetable again and again, having the child cook with you, making the child try one bite. THAT IS NOT EXCLUSIVELY FRENCH. And most telling to me: she tells how great these child-rearing principles are, but then doesn't really apply them to her own kids, even though she's living in France. She has excuses, but they sound exactly like the Typical American excuses she just finished saying had no merit. She throws herself so deeply into getting her Parental Suffering Merit Badge, she's almost losing her mind and almost losing her marriage and almost going bankrupt hiring nearly round-the-clock help---but she still delays putting the children in the subsidized flexible care she just finished telling us was so excellent and so crucial.

5. A major section covers how great it is that French mothers don't eat much. This seems off-topic, and I already read that book.

This isn't an objection, but I also felt depressed reading about her marriage. A memorable line is where she tries to talk to her husband as they're getting ready for bed, and he cuts her off by telling her that nothing she could possibly say to him could be as interesting as the articles in the magazine he's reading. Another memorable tale is where she finds he's brushing the teeth of a child who still has a mouthful of food, and he says he can't handle her picky and arbitrary demands.

But my mom and I both read the book, we both laughed all the way through it, we both found things we considered very good advice and/or very thought-provoking, and we're both glad we read it. Well, I THINK I'm glad I read it. Let's see if the Increased Annoyance wears off a bit.


Slim said...

Books like this always make me think of Lisa Belkin's comment in the Times Magazine, when she was discussion free-range parenting vs a more-sheltering approach. She said something to the effect of all these debates have in the background the implication that the way other people parent is wrong.
I can judge myself harshly all by myself, thanks.

Suburban Correspondent said...

Wonderful review! And I agree with the comment above. Please, people, just parent your kids in the way that makes you happy. It's about the family, not the kid.

Shelly said...

Um, that comment about her husband saying she can't possibly be as interesting as his magazine makes me very sad. And alarmed. Get out, honey, GET OUT!!!!

M.Amanda said...

Ha, Slim! Yes, that is what I usually think about these your-way-is-wrong-but-everything-will-be-okay-if-you-start-doing-it-my-way advice books. I don't need strangers picking apart why and how my methods aren't working when I, intimately familiar with the workings of my life, can do it so much better.

Anyway, there is just sooo much more to think about than just "French" method versus "American" method of childrearing. There is a reason you can ask for advice on getting your baby to sleep and have a dozen different suggestions from parents who ALL SWEAR "this worked like magic for me." It's a matter of figuring out what works for you, unfortunately a matter of trial and error.

And until you do figure it out you are no doubt ruining your child's chances of becoming a happy, healthy, well-adjusted adult. You bad mother. ;)

JEN said...

I read this and there was some useful advice. However, if you Google the author, you can find an article she wrote about arranging a threesome for her husband's 40 birthday. It made me see her in an entirely different light unfortunately.

Grace said...

I read this too (and even wrote my own review of it), and completely agree with you. It was a fun, light read (and had some good parenting tips), but ultimately I didn't believe her either. (Especially because as you note lots of Americans have a 'French' style.)

I also think it's not very accurate. Just out of curiosity, I looked up employment rates of French vs. American mothers, and actually they are almost identical. Since she makes such a big deal of French mothers working in the book, it made me doubt everything else she said.

Finally, since France has the highest rates of depression in the world, their parenting practices can't be all that great in every respect. A little balance would have been nice.

anne said...

I appreciate your review. This is next up to read on my nightstand!

Ann Wyse said...

I read this book and have a rather bitchy review sitting in my drafts. Although, I agree with you that it's an interesting read and I (still) liked the book.

Since I also had my first child abroad, I have a lot of empathy for her experience - and maybe also some additional insight. I think this book is almost as much about her experience of culture shock as a mother as it is about parenting. It's a pretty normal part of culture shock (which everyone experiences when they move to a new country. period.) to go through a phase where "everything is better in my new country." It's just a shame that Druckerman doesn't go through the NEXT phase of culture shock in her book. Because in that next phase, you realize that the different cultural responses embed different cultural values in its members and that, in turn, explains why stereotypes of different cultures do, in fact, exist.

For example: teaching your children autonomy doesn't exactly teach your children empathy. I'd guess all that autonomy might be the reason why French as adults are generally considered rude and stuck up while all the doting Americans parents do in their parenting might be why Americans as adults are considered friendly.

Alice said...

i feel this way about SO MANY things i read: i can find them enjoyable, and take away a number of interesting/useful/helpful points, and still be irritated by the implicit assumption that the author believes she knows better than i do about [insert anything].

g~ said...

The thing I find about parenting is that NO ONE KNOWS if their parenting style worked until way after the fact AND the sample size for each family is too small to accurately judge if that particular brand of parenting done at that moment was good or not. Also, there are too many other variables that influence how a child acts/views childhood/turns out as an adult. I say parenting is done best with a mild sedative of choice (errr...vodka, here) and the realization that nature is, arguably, a more reliable indicator of how a person turns out. And this makes my head explode with frustration.

nicole said...

I am already annoyed and I haven't read it. So I think I will pass. Thanks for the review though--now I don't have to get worked up reading it.

vanessa said...

I listen to the double XX factor podcast, and they were talking about how this book is fine and everything, but french kids seem miserable, so whats the point? do you really WANT a preschooler who will sit in a fancy resturant with no whining for three hours?

Gwen said...

I'm reading this right now. So far I think it's interesting, and I'm glad I'm reading it. It's a pretty quick read, after all, and I'm often interested in what other people are thinking about parenting. But I did notice that today I felt more irritable about parenting my kids (who are 5 year old twins and a 2 year old). Like...I said no to things that are off limits (as I always have, because even though she seems to assume otherwise, French children are not the only ones with limits). So then my kids whined, and begged, and melted down. And I repeated no, no, no. And then I started to get pissed. Is it true that French kids just know better than to pull this shit when they hear "no?" And what the hell is it about them. Because I promise you that I have always said no, and meant it. I have always said, "No, you're going to need to wait, I can't do that right now." I had no choice on that one, having two infants at once after all. But my kids whine and cry and beg. What the fuck?! So...I'm pretty sure that French kids are not perfect. And I'm pretty sure that increasing my irritation with my children and myself, and giving me another lesson on why everything I am doing is wrong, is not the most helpful thing. So...I'm glad I'm reading it. But I don't know why.

Magic27 said...

Hmmm. I have not read this book and, as my girls are 10 and 8, won't in any foreseeable future.
I am, however, a non-French (British, in fact) expat living in France (since 1992, so I feel I do kind of know France and the French reasonably well).
My experience of French parenting and French children is that...well...there are, indeed, many who will sit in restaurants etc. There are also many who are ill-mannered, or have tantrums, or who are picky eaters or whatever.
Yes, my girls started "school" when they were 2 and loved it, yes, school is more "sit still and write all day" than anything I knew in Britain (and I'm not totally up on it - my 8yo had 45 minutes' homework every night this year in 2nd grade; that's just ridiculous), yes, daycare is pretty cheap (public sector, I mean).
The biggest difference I can see with my British friends in Britain is that French kids go to bed much, much later than British ones.
Other than that, I really don't think this myth of "French parenting" is anything more than that - a myth.
There are kids who are autonomous and kids who are not; parents who molly-coddle and parents who do not; there are kids who are a pleasure to be around and kids who are not.
Kids, as far as I can tell, are kids, wherever they are and whatever "parenting style" is used on them.
My ex (who's French) and I had (many) different opinions about child-rearing, but ultimately we found a middle way. My girls are independent up to a point, molly-coddled up to a point. One will eat anything, one likes nothing but pasta.
I think in the long run, books like this probably do more harm than good - they set you up to judge yourself even more than usual (and none of us need to do that, right?), develop envy of these mythical perfect children and question everything you do when the truth is no one parents perfectly, we all just do the best we can.

Anonymous said...

I definitely want to read this now. The thing is, none of us can be an authority on anything except our own experience. And as G~ wrote, you don't get meaningful feed back until long after you've implemented your parenting techniques. Even then, it depends on what your criteria are for measuring parental success. I'm like Vanessa, I don't want kids that can sit for 3 hours.

Also, I look at my siblings and I and I just can't believe how different we all turned out. We have completely different attributes and failings, yet were probably parented fairly consistently. Parenting = crapshoot. That said, if someone gave ME a contract to write a book about MY way, I would totally do it and laugh all the way to the bank. Why not, right? Lindsay