Bringing Up Bebe: Musings on Frenchies & their parenting

So, there’s this book. Bringing Up Bebe. I listened to the author on an NPR podcast a few weeks ago and it peaked my curiosity. The book is good: thought-provoking, promoting self-reflection, gives me some good ideas…. But it’s also annoying. I’ll explain.

So, the high-level goes like this: In France, they do things differently. You know this debate we like to have in America about everything (breastfeed/formula, SAHM/work, organic babyfood?, cry-it-out, etc etc ad nauseum)? Well, in France, there’s sort of a consensus on how to do things. There’s a very regimented way to make their tiny humans a part of the family in a loving but not-very-disruptive way. French parents (who I respect but also come to hate in reading this book…blah) just expect to pretty much get their lives back. And then they do. You know that saying “You get the baby you expect,” … because that’s how you treat them? In a lot of ways that makes sense to me, and I think that also sort of comes into play in the way the French deal w/ their kids.

There are some important things that are different, such as state run daycare (can you even IMAGINE what a game changer that is? Free Daycare? For all? That alone blows my mind.) They have a different attitude toward foods their kids will eat and how to get them to sleep through the night. They are more strict in enforcing their house rules, but yet more open and understanding on some level. The author referenced a few French parenting experts and I found it fascinating that many of them sounded like philosophy textbooks. They conceive of childhood and parenthood differently than we do.

*snort* (from The New Yorker)

 So, in short, informative, interesting. BUT, where I encountered issues was when things were not going perfeclty with my own tiny human? I *really* didn’t give a shit what the book had to say, to put it kindly. Oh, isn’t it fantastic how French toddlers play quietly alone while their parents have a conversation? And eat foie gras and escargot at daycare? I’m just so happy for them, as my own kid throws her chicken nuggets onto the floor and whines the whole way home from school because she dropped threw her sunglasses and now she wants them. So yeah, some days I wasn’t really, um, open to the message.

She also talked about what it’s like raising children in a foreign country (she’s American and her husband’s British), how the French relate to their spouses differently, and a few small things to do to incorporate some of the things they do into your life. Making my child wait, for instance. That one is sort of a pain but it makes sense that if you satisfy her every need the second she requests it, she’ll be a brat, right? Also, there was an interesting section about how the French are big on teaching their children to say bonjour when the arrive somewhere. I never thought about it, but Margo doesn’t so I have been prompting her to. The theory is that it gives them autonomy and independence, something they can do to join society. Also, it’s polite! I’ve also been saying the mantra “It is I who decides,” when she gives me pushback. Mainly for me. It sort of makes me laugh, but also is empowering at the same time.

One thing that resonated was the concept that parents should say yes more than they say no. I believe this, but I’m also pretty sure that anyone who’s ever parented a toddler can attest to this not always being how things play out.

In a lot of ways, the culture Druckerman depicts reminded me of the message Free Range Kids… pretty much “RELAX. You’re way overthinking this, parents.” (This was my favorite message of the book.) We don’t benefit our kids by taking care of every little thing for them, by enabling them to only have bananas that are *cut just so* or stopping the car to get said sunglasses off the floor. Giving them freedom, letting them cope with consequences of their choices and actions… that’s part of the growing experience.

Bringing Up Bebe isn’t a drinking the KoolAid book, to me. This book doesn’t make me want to move to France and change Margo to Margaux. It doesn’t make the French endearing at all to me. Sometimes they come off downright cold, pretty much like the popular stereotypes. But I do love the societal ideal they all seem to share. I don’t often debate or feel conflicted on my parenting choices. (Like this Mommy Wars business? I feel completely unaffected. I made my decision and I’m 100% happy with it, don’t care to rehash!) To have it just be a societal thing that we’re all laid back? That’d be pretty fun.

What it seems like this book is best known for is the Yogurt Cake. I am going to post about that soon, because it’s a really fun toddler activity! Stay tuned.


20 thoughts on “Bringing Up Bebe: Musings on Frenchies & their parenting

  1. as an “outsider” in America, I think the single thing still most bizzare to me is the apathy or dis-interest (is that even a word?) in discussing or brainstorming ideas at the highest levels – on how parenting style/philosophy/support could be different here. 🙂 Longer maternity leave, gov’t supported child care… things like that are never (or at least it seems to me!) thought about here. Not that every idea is perfect or possible…

    • Good point. There’s so much discussed about little stuff (like breastfeeding) but very little discussion about structural things that could be done to make it easier, like longer maternity leave. And the subsidized daycare – WHOA. In France, something like 90% of mothers work, and that’s a huge factor. Can you imagine how different the decision is if the cost of childcare isn’t put up beside the mother’s salary? Even with our subsidized portion from SAS, the equation is way different. But you’re right, there doesn’t seem to be the willingness to get the bottom of issues like this.

      Are you Canadian?

      • oh yeah, eh! 🙂 and it’s not perfect there either – but there is a LOT more focus on those things you mention – infrastructure, years before 5, etc. People sometimes generalize *everything* as “socialist” when really, if you dig in – it has nothing to do with socialism vs capitalism. It’s philosophy…

  2. I was not willing to pack up and move to France either after reading this, but i did think it made afew points – many American children are raised with the impression the household/universe revolves around them. We live in an area among many european households which have abit more of this french attitude on child raising and their kids clearly act more as “part of a family” than “center of attention”.
    Great write up !

    • Thanks! I like your point a lot about the children not being the center of the household. That’s definitely the American way and it’s hard to push back against that. & in the end, who wants a child who thinks the world revolves around them??

    • 🙂 “America” sometimes thinks of itself as the center of the universe though – right? they come by it honestly!!! I don’t want to sound persnickity… America is proud and absolute in a lot of ways and beliefs… many of those traits drew us here. But sometimes… the ‘it’s this way and always has been and always shall be’ is holding back improvement I think… There is not a lot of interest in what *could* be.

    • Please do! The author has twin boys. Not that it’s a central point of the story or that “you twin boy moms are all the same,” but you know… might be interesting for you 🙂 Or something.

  3. I agree on the kids should be part of a family, part of a team, rather than the center of the universe! There is another book you might like that I just read, “The Idle Parent” by Tom Hodgkinson. Also “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids” by Bryan Caplan – it outlays economic perspectives, suggests we give “nurture” too much credit over “nature”, and makes the case that we have fewer kids because we make parenting a much harder task than it needs to be.

    • Interesting, Kel. I’ll keep those books in mind. Without your overview I probably never would have considered reading the have more kids book 🙂 Still not sure I can get past the title, but we’ll see!

      But yes, both Bebe and Free Range Kids go with the theme of “you’re making this harder than it has to be” which I found really liberating.

      • Yeah – he should not have gone with that title. It’s a much better book than the title suggests (and it’s not preachy and definitely not religious).

  4. Just a thought from a nana………
    I cannot comment about the book, but my son is seeing a girl from France and her family still reside there. She has two children, a boy and a girl and they are very well behaved and are definitely incorporated into the family. Their parents are divorced and they are very well adjusted. They do not think the world resolves around them! They are not demanding to have it all! In the beginning, I felt sorry for them because they have had “nannies” all their lives. (I was a stay at home mom) Their normal is trading places with mom and dad and are content to do so! I learned there is more than one way to raise our children. Of course, the jury is still out on these young children but I have all the confidence in the world they will be okay!

    • Interesting! I bet you’d enjoy this book, Liz! Didn’t know he was seeing someone 🙂

      I think there is something about the way the author presents the French mothers in the book that made me get annoyed. I think the overall “way” they do things is interesting, and so much different than here. A lot of the details the author gives about how the daycare is structured, and even their school, and the autonomy children are given from the outset felt very, um, foreign? It’d be hard to raise a child like that in America simply because the norm seems to be having parents involved in EVERYthing in America. Better or worse… 🙂

  5. Pingback: Makin’ Cakes! (Yogurt Cake Recipe Time) | McBlog 2.0

  6. I agree with your impression of the book. I did like how the French don’t make their children the center of the universe because a lot of my parenting angst comes from feeling I should. I thought Druckerman had an esteem problem in France, and I didn’t like how she generalized. Wouldn’t it be nice 1)to attend their daycares? I don’t even mean my child. I mean ME! I want to eat that food! And 2) to have one seldom-discussed parenting philosophy? Bliss!

  7. Pingback: Book Dump | McBlog 2.0

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