Friday, March 29, 2013

Parenting Book Review: Bringing Up Bebe

Some parenting books I seek out, this one I saw on the shelf at the library and grabbed it on a whim. Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman is about an American journalist's experience as she raises her children in Paris. She notices some big differences between her children and the French children and seeks out why, often implementing what she learns. Though as her husband points out, she sometimes has to be careful to not be more French than the French.

Druckerman has a unique, if limited, point of view on parenting in the two countries. She often has a hard time pinpointing what makes French parenting different, and even the French parents she is close to often can't express what they do because it is so instinctual in their culture. Druckerman's own instincts have her parenting much like Americans do, but she is not in America and so her idea of what is going on here is also limited.

When she talked about American parenting, I could relate to much of it. However, she used the most extreme examples of what she read in magazines and what she saw on playgrounds in high end New York neighborhoods where the parenting she saw bordered on (and often crossed into) crazy. These extremes were illustrative, but sometimes I was annoyed that she felt she knew what was going on in American parenting when, 1) very few people are so extreme, and 2) there are obviously many different styles of parenting here even among the people I know personally, that I felt that the generalizations misrepresented us. There was one topic, and one line in particular in the book that actually offended me. But that requires a whole new posting.

There were some French ideas that I liked. French kids don't eat kid food--they eat food. They are expected to try everything (much like a "no thank you" bite that my in-laws and others I know have done here) and thus eventually acquire a taste for everything. French parents talk to their children like they are people (oh, wait--they are!) and can understand them from the very beginning, which I've always tried to do. Some ideas are too late for me (how they get their children to sleep through the night very young) and some are too far outside my culture (children as young four go away to camps for up to ten days).

The best idea I got from this book is the French idea that they are educating their children--teaching them rather than disciplining them:

“American parents like me often view imposing authority in terms of discipline and punishment. French parents don’t talk much about these things. Instead, they talk about the √©ducation of kids. As the word suggests, this is about gradually teaching children what’s acceptable and what’s not.

“This idea that you’re teaching, not policing, makes the tone a lot gentler in France. When Leo refuses to use his silverware at dinner, I try to imagine that I’m teaching him to use a fork, much like I’d teach him a letter of the alphabet. This makes it easier for me to be patient and calm. I no longer feel disrespected and angry when he doesn’t immediately comply. And with some of the stress off the situation, he’s more amiable about trying. I don’t yell, and dinner is more pleasant for everyone.”

The book was well written and engaging. It also gave me some things to think about. I'm going to try to think of parenting as teaching rather than disciplining. If nothing else, it might help me be more patient as Druckerman found.

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