Bringing up Bebe

I don’t read many books, so when I do it’s definitely blog worthy. Plus, this book has quickly become a hot-topic especially in mom-groups. It’s kinda like the 2012 version of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the TIger Mother (which I have NOT read, but still feel entitled to comment on).  Yup, it’s a parenting how-to book for everyone interested in raising their child to be Parisian.

Normally, I’m all over anything that promises to make me a little more Parisian -like berets, but this book left a bad taste in my mouth. Sure, the book was a fun and easy read and parts of it actually made me laugh-out-loud, but the book was a little insulting and degrading to both women of French and American backgrounds.

Pamela Druckerman compares American parenting practices with those in Paris, but other than mere playground observations and chatting with her esteemed friends, the book lacks any hard evidence that one way is better than the other, even though Druckerman has a clear bias to all things French. Every now and then she’d raise a good point, like the importance of having children (and adults) always greet and acknowledge a guest, a waiter, a teacher etc. “Greeting is essentially recognizing someone as a person […] children don’t get to have a shadowy presence. The child greets therefore he is.”  I like that and am going to try and be more mindful about acknowledging the people that I encounter. Boo will too.

Druckerman claims to uncover other French parenting secrets, though most of these just seem like common sense -like practicing La Pause (pausing before you jump to meet your child’s every demand), finding a balance in your life between work/family, children/spouse/self, not pushing your children to the next level before they are ready, educating your child and not just disciplining etc. etc. Yes, there are some helpful reminders for us paranoid, over-competitive, over-zealous (North) American parents, but the French alternative did not seem to be the magic answer for anything. In fact, I often found that in Druckerman’s attempt to celebrate French mothers, she made them look incredibly shallow and self-absorbed all while making herself look incredibly naive. She shames the over-scheduled  American mom who encourages her kids to pursue their interests (even if that means having to drive them to soccer practice -the horror!) and then admires the French mother who proudly boasts that she made her daughter quit music lessons because “it was a waste of time for me.”  In fact, Druckerman makes  French mothers seem incredibly whiny about all the things they HAVE to do for their children and incredibly determined to not let children interfere with their lifestyle. Sadly, the book fails to acknowledge all the joys that come with parenting.

Druckerman really started to get under my skin at one point when she observes some downright batty behavior in an American park.  Parents were chatting animatedly with their kids and “they weren’t ashamed at how batty they were”.  Druckerman is so taken aback at this parent-child interaction on the playground that she goes to a doctor to find out what’s up.  There she learns that “kids need periods of peace and quiet” and assumes that those park moms don’t know this.  Seriously?!?

One of Druckerman’s American friends notes, “The French way sometimes is too harsh. They could be a little more gentle and friendly with kinds, I think. But I think the American way takes it way to the extreme, of raising kids as if they are ruling the world.” I agree with this statement, and Druckerman claims she does too, before she goes off on a tangent about how Americans have no clear limits and no ability to enforce them.  I wish Druckerman could have found a happier middle ground instead of so blindly attacking  and stereotyping both cultures. In the end, Druckerman appears to be the only parent who has really learned anything from her obvious observations.

Parenting books are always a little out there since there are no clear and fast rules in parenting, but my parents always said that when in doubt, always err on the side of loving too much.

I’d recommend a trip to the library to check it out and see what all the controversy is about, and I strongly recommend the extremely entertaining NYTImes review of the book (it’s even more entertaining than the book itself).

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