10 April 2012
PARENTING A LA FRANCAISE
I just finished reading a wonderful book ~ Bringing Up Bebe ~ One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. Pamela Druckerman (see image above), the "author of a cross-cultural study on infidelity, turns her judicious eye to the differences between American and Parisian childrearing. When Druckerman (Lust in Translation, 2007) was laid off from her job as an international reporter for the Wall Street Journal, she willingly reunited with British journalist Simon, whom she'd met six months earlier. Their romance relocated her to his 'two-room bachelor pad' in Paris, where an expected culture clash awaited. An 'Atkins-leaning vegetarian', Druckerman found particular discordance with Parisian cuisine and social norms. After getting pregnant, the author became obsessively worrisome and at odds with the structure of French childbirth and child rearing, though she was amazed at how inexplicably well-behaved and good-natured Parisian children seemed. Intent on uncovering the secret of French nurturing, she began some 'investigative parenting', and the American expat waded through her daughter Bean's crucial developmental years fortified by what Parisian parent taught their children. Druckerman's epiphanies include how months-old French babies sleep through the night via the 'pause' technique and, soon after, are taught the art of patience. She demystifies the day-care 'creche' and preschool 'maternelle', and how French mothers return to top physical shape (and their jobs) following childbirth .... She backs up assumptions and associated explorations with parenting examples and comparisons that temper her skepticisms with an authoritative air. With twins on the way, Druckerman eventually acclimated to the guarded, good-natured bonhomie of Paris and struck a happy medium between French methods and her own parenting preferences." [Kirkus Reviews]
"Druckerman wanted to find the key to forging the well-behaved youngsters she witnessed in parks and restaurants ~ infants who sleep through the night after two months, children with table manners, who don't interrupt adults or eat between meals. It starts, apparently, with calm, sensible French mothers who don't become enormously self-indulgent during pregnancy, but quickly lose the baby fat after birth and rarely breast feed. The French health system helps with its generous maternal and child-care policies. Babies are treated as rational creatures, expected to 'self-distract' in order to fall asleep .... and wait to eat when everybody else has their meals .... Instead of rushing to satisfy or stimulate a la Americain, the French are keen on aiding kids to discover on their own, developing autonomy with the help of a cadre, or frame, which is firm but flexible. Citing Rousseau, Piaget, and Francoise Dolto, as well as scores of other parents, Anglophone or French, Druckerman draws compelling social comparisons." [Publishers Weekly]
I was struck by the parallels between Pamela Druckerman's journey as a parent and my own. Even though I didn't have the cultural or parenting resources of Paris, I was similarly committed to finding a gentler, more nurturing alternative to America's obsession with raising boys and girls to fit into gender roles. I hoped that I could make my son's childhood as androgynous as possible, recognizing the overwhelming influence of the surrounding culture and even well-intentioned relatives and friends. The degree to which I succeeded is a story for another time. What's important is that parents (and children, and grandparents) seek out every resource they can find, in order to open up their thinking and question their assumptions. I do wish that this book had been around in 1977, when my son was born, or in 2002, when my grandson was born.
But it is around now, and I highly recommend it to anyone wishing insight into parenting which produces calm, confident, curious, cheerful, respectful, and motivated children.