Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bringing up Bébé

Bringing up Bébé: One Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
© 2012 Pamela Druckerman
304 pages

When Pamela Druckerman moved to Paris to start a life with her new husband, she noticed something rather odd about French children: they behaved. Long accustomed to the whining, shrieking, squirming, picky eaters in the United States, she couldn’t help but wonder how the French did it…especially seeing as they didn’t seem to be harsh disciplinarians. Indeed, the children seemed to enjoy a fair bit of leeway…but then again, they also seemed to merit it. Druckerman flinched when a group of children ran ahead of their teacher on a busy sidewalk, but the teacher wasn’t bothered in the least – nor should she have been, since the children stopped at the crosswalk to wait for her, just as the teacher knew they would. The French and their children seem to have made a golden peace with one another…but how?  When Druckerman’s own marriage produced a baby, she began finding out how. Bringing up Bebe is the delightful result of Druckerman’s observations and direct experience with childhood and parenting in France, reflections with a lot of offer parents wondering what kind of approach to take with their own bébés.

Although at times Bringing up Bebe seems like a straightforward story of what happens when an American woman raises a child in France (Druckermen comments on her daughter Bean's early bilingualism, freely mixing English and French in the same sentence), the chapters are organized more by subject, following Druckerman's move to Paris and her following pregnancies.  The chapter titles ("paris is burping") establish Druckerman as a storyteller with a quirky sense of humor, ever entertaining to read. The sections cover diet, disicipline, daycare, food culture, language, and so on, but there are at least two concepts which emerge as a foundation of French parenting and are reference throughout. The first is that of 'éducation:   according to Druckerman, the French treat babies not as angry and hostile things that need to be tamed, but as little tiny people who simply need to be taught what is right. They communicate constantly with babies in the belief that the infants can understand them. (This seems dubious to me, but given that humans are social creatures, such communication can't help but be healthy.)  What's interesting is that since babies are regarded as people in their own right, they're expected from the start to conform to certain conventions of society, like the idea that you are just one person among many and are not the center of the universe, even if the only thing you can do is lie in your crib, wait for your cells to divide, and ocassionally fill your diaper. One parenting trick Druckerman learns early on is "The Pause": instead of running every time a baby cries, French parents wait a few seconds to see what happens. Often, the baby will go back to sleep (or was merely making noises in her sleep in the first place), and it is believed the delay between the baby crying and the parents responding establishes in the baby's mind that she is not the center of the universe.  Although children are granted certain indulgences for being young, in general they are expected to conduct themselves in a civilized manner, and are constantly groomed in this direction in every aspect of their lives. "The Pause" also teaches babies patience, and patience is emphasized so consistently that it allows children to dine with their parents in an adult restaurant, sitting for hours and behaving themselves.  'Education' is constantly enforced, not by punishment but by communication.

Children respond to this, partially through a second concept --  the cadre, or framework.  This establishes a few firm rules that are never to be violated, while giving children a free hand everywhere else. For instance, French parents teach their children that adults must have time to themselves, so the children are made to go to their bedrooms at a certain hour...but they are not forced to go to bed if they are not sleepy. The children thus learn to entertain themselves instead of constanting demanding their parents' attention.) The cadre allows children to explore and learn about the  world on their own, but within certain safe limits.  They are treated like adults who simply need to be taught the right thing, and they grow into adults who do it.

Although I'm not a parent, nor do I anticipate becoming one at this point in my life, I found much to appreciate here. The French parenting approach is in line with my own values, and seems quite sensible.  Definitely entertaining and nicely written: those who are interested in considering it as parenting advice might want to read customer reviews at Amazon or some other place to get an idea for how successful the approach has been in other people's lives. I bought this book to start off my Bastille Day reading set, and it's definitely a keeper.

1 comment:

  1. sc said: Druckermen comments on her daughter Bean's early bilingualism, freely mixing English and French in the same sentence.

    I experienced that on a train between Rome and Florence. We were in a compartment with an American woman and her two children. They lived in Switzerland with her Italian husband. The children could speak English, Italian, French and German and freely constructed sentences from all four languages - and struggled to understand why we failed to understand what they were saying! Their ages were 8 and 6!


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