Published by The Penguin Press on 7 February 2012
Genres: Memoir, Non Fiction
Source: My copy
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When American journalist Pamela Druckerman has a baby in Paris, she doesn't aspire to become a "French parent." French parenting isn't a known thing, like French fashion or French cheese. Even French parents themselves insist they aren't doing anything special.
Yet, the French children Druckerman knows sleep through the night at two or three months old while those of her American friends take a year or more. French kids eat well-rounded meals that are more likely to include braised leeks than chicken nuggets. And while her American friends spend their visits resolving spats between their kids, her French friends sip coffee while the kids play.
Motherhood itself is a whole different experience in France. There's no role model, as there is in America, for the harried new mom with no life of her own. French mothers assume that even good parents aren't at the constant service of their children and that there's no need to feel guilty about this. They have an easy, calm authority with their kids that Druckerman can only envy.
Of course, French parenting wouldn't be worth talking about if it produced robotic, joyless children. In fact, French kids are just as boisterous, curious, and creative as Americans. They're just far better behaved and more in command of themselves. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are- by design-toddling around and discovering the world at their own pace.
With a notebook stashed in her diaper bag, Druckerman-a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal-sets out to learn the secrets to raising a society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters, and reasonably relaxed parents. She discovers that French parents are extremely strict about some things and strikingly permissive about others. And she realizes that to be a different kind of parent, you don't just need a different parenting philosophy. You need a very different view of what a child actually is.
While finding her own firm non, Druckerman discovers that children-including her own-are capable of feats she'd never imagined.
Before I begin my review, I think it is only fair to warn you that I read Bringing up Bebe at a time when my son was 13 months old, and still not sleeping through the night. I had also just made the very difficult decision to resign from work to be a stay at home mum. So, as you can imagine, the last thing I needed was to hear how all French babies sleep through the night from 4 months and that being a SAHM may increase my chance of divorce by an alarming percentage.
So, my emotional state being duly noted, let’s get on with the review.
Pamela Druckerman is an American journalist who married an English journalist and has set up house in Paris. As the title suggests (I’m not giving anything away here) she falls pregnant and has her baby far away from the American life she is accustomed to.
Along with the challenges of adjusting to life in a foreign country, she begins to notice differences in the behaviour of French children as opposed to her own American raised daughter. They are polite, independent, sleep through the night and are not fussy eaters. She investigates the seemingly superior French parenting, and Bringing up Bebe is the collection of her findings and observations.
I don’t think this book was ever written as a parenting guide, it is clearly a memoir. However I found myself feeling guilty and judged at certain points. For example, apparently it takes French women 3 months to lose their pregnancy weight. Fail! It is important for French mothers to go back to work relatively soon after baby is born. Fail! And baby sleeping through at 4 months, well FAIL!
Having said that, there are certain ideas that are very interesting, especially when it comes to the French treatment of food and feeding a child. I can also appreciate the French woman’s need for ‘me time’ (Yes, please!) and encouraging your child towards independence.
It is, of course, a very generalised view of both French and American parents. I am sure, somewhere in Paris; a 13-month-old keeps his parents up at night, while an American toddler will happily nibble on a carrot stick instead of a McDonald’s chicken nugget.
Overall, Bringing up Bebe is an interesting read with a few good ideas, but personally I am glad I am not raising my child in France. The expectation to be the perfect parent and woman would kill me. And while sitting at the park with my Jimmy Choo’s and size 6 Prada suit sipping a skinny latte watching the kids play quietly by themselves sounds divine, I quite enjoy running after my son in my muddy trainers.