Bringing Up Bebe (now with Bebe Day By Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting) by Pamela Druckerman
I read it as a: paperback
Source: library/ my own collection
Length: 434 pp
This is a book I read because I heard about it on one of the Book Riot podcasts I listen to and I just thought it sounded interesting. I normally don’t care about parenting books or anything, so my dendrites and synapses must have been connecting in a weird way that day, because I immediately was intrigued and placed a hold on it at my library.
It turns out, this is a book I wish had been available when I had a newborn, or before she was born, when I was still pregnant. Maybe I like it so much because a lot of it is stuff I already do, or did when my kid was a baby, and so I feel validated. I don’t know. But I did learn some awesome new things as well, so I don’t think that’s all of it. Whatever it was, I really appreciated this book and wish it had been written when I was still the parent of a newborn.
I don’t adhere to the idea that there is one right way to raise a child, but I really, really do think that some things should be universal. For example, treat your children like they have a brain in their head and can understand you, even when they are tiny babies. Listen to them, but do not cede any of your authority to them or allow them to make the decisions. You are the parent; you make the decisions. Set strict limits, but give a shit ton of freedom within those limits. Teach them how to act, which includes how to sleep, how to eat, and how to dress for public. Let them be bored and learn how to entertain themselves. Hearing no isn’t going to damage them. Children who don’t know how to deal with frustration are going to have a hard time in life, as are children who are always given what they want or who have parents who think they are here to be their children’s friends. Snacking is bad for everyone, but a small, healthy afternoon snack is fine for younger children. Tips like this are the foundation of Druckerman’s observations of middle class French parenting, and I fucking dig it.
One thing Druckerman saw French parents teach their children was how to wait and how to entertain themselves. This starts from infancy, when parents don’t rush to the crib the second bebe makes a peep. I often feel like such a weirdo when I actually expect my kid to behave, or teach her that we don’t do XYZ behavior no matter what her friends are doing, or that it’s not going to kill her to be bored or wait for a minute because I’m busy right now and I’m not put on this planet to entertain her. I am horrified (and annoyed) when other parents assume I will drop what I’m doing just because she demands something. Nope. If she’s not bleeding or otherwise damaged, she can wait until I am finished with my task, when I can give her my full attention. I feel that is better anyway, when I CAN give her my full attention and not be distracted by whatever it was I had left undone. Besides, delayed gratification is something everyone needs to learn, as is self-entertainment. This book covers a variety of ways in which French parents teach their children how to do this.
Since eating and enjoying one’s food is a big part of French culture, it makes sense that it is also a big part of the way they raise their children, too. In general, according to Druckerman, you will not see the French letting their kids run feral in restaurants or not making them eat healthy meals at appropriate times. Snacking is also generally frowned upon for all but young children, which is awesome and something I think everyone needs to get behind. It’s not necessary constantly to poke food down one’s pie hole. Perhaps if children weren’t snacking so much, they would actually be hungry at meal times and eat.
Yes, a lot of what was covered in the book was common sense, but a) a lot of parenting books are and b) I think it’s important to remember that the author was a first time mother when she was initially thinking about it and writing it. Her own mother, who presumably is the person she would have turned to for a variety of child rearing tips, was on a different continent, across an ocean, and probably had, at the very least, a five hour time difference. I don’t imagine it would have been too easy for her just to ring up her mom and ask for help like I could have, or others who had their mothers closer by and able to help out more. A lot of common sense child rearing things aren’t common sense at first to sleep deprived new parents. When you do finally figure it out, it comes as a revelation. Give Druckerman a break. Besides, she made it work for her. She got a book deal out of it, at any rate, so good for her. The haters, I’m guessing, didn’t. Or maybe they feel defensive about their own parenting? Maybe their kids didn’t sleep through the night at 3 months old, refuse to try new food, and don’t know how to wait for things nicely.
I also found it interesting that a lot of comments on Amazon and Goodreads were negative because of the focus on mothers regaining their figures within three months postpartum. But why is that a bad thing? Why should it be unexpected, too, in a culture where looks have traditionally been valued? No one is dragging a woman to her doctor and forcing her to undergo perineal retraining sessions, or whatever it was, so I am assuming there is at least some willingness on her part to do a lot of work to get her body back. I guess I’m not sure why this is a surprise to some people, or why it seems offensive to them. If you don’t want perineal retraining, then don’t get it. No one is making you, nor are they making you lose your pregnancy weight, just like no one made you gain 75 lbs while pregnant in the first place. The social pressure appears to be a part of the framework of French society and it is something people are used to and expect, just like in America you are used to and expect that you can get 24-hour drive through fast food. The French generally seem to have a healthier relationship to food than Americans do, and are more willing to make healthy lifestyle changes (as opposed to fad dieting) to attain a nice looking body, but god forbid anyone point that out.
Ultimately, I loved this book so much that I bought my own copy after I returned my library copy. The one I bought myself includes Druckerman’s follow-up, Bebe Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting, but I haven’t read that all the way yet. I’ll update my review once I have done.