Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Maman Knows Best

Paris, 2010

I've been reading Pamela Druckerman's book, Bringing up Bebe, this afternoon, and I'm hooked.

I've spent good stretches of time in France and am a pretty unapologetic francophile. Will and I often discuss the possibility of relocating to Paris, and one of the more practical arguments in favor of this cause is the system of French nursery schools and the pro-family policies of the French government.

While we're not packing our bags, just yet, I think the book does a good job of explaining why the obsessively child-centric parenting style of many Americans often winds up creating children who can't stand the slightest bit of boredom or delayed gratification. In turn, these kids are impossible to take anywhere, so the parents are either held captive at home or forced to constantly apologize when their children have meltdowns in grocery stores or restaurants.

A while back, when I told one acquaintance, a mother of a toddler, that we were hoping to have children fairly soon, she all but said we'd never go anywhere again. "I'm not travelling internationally until my child is at least 5. It would be a total nightmare," she said ominously.


I don't think you'd hear a French mother say this.

The idea, says Druckerman, is that French mothers believe that children have to fit into the life of the family, and they have to learn to do this at a very early age. They don't, she says, subscribe to the view that motherhood should entail total self-sacrifice.

French mothers don't climb on jungle gyms with their children or attempt to provide contant narration of their play or incessant creative stimulation. They don't tote around bags of Cheerios in case of a mild hunger pang; the kids wait until they are home and snack in a more structured way.


I think when I mention the fear of being a parent, it's the fear of being a one of those harried parents who can't complete an adult conversation for a stretch of years and years, beholden to this insane schedule of activities and unable to go anywhere with their child that doesn't contain a ball pit.

The slightly more strict, old-school European way of doing things seems manageable.

What do you think? Is this total nonsense?


3 comments:

  1. Yes and no. I'm reading the book as well. And I just got back from living in France, not Paris, but rural Burgundy, with my husband and two daughters. I'm not buying that all French moms are relaxed and all French kids are better behaved any sooner than I buy that all American kids are spoiled and not worthy of taking out in public. I saw more naughty, bullying boys in my daughter's school, and more spanking on Main street, than I have ever come across in America. I think the biggest difference between us and them is that French mothers don't doubt themselves. They have no reason to believe they are doing parenting "wrong" and would never be interested in reading a book about how another culture raises their children. But we American moms are so often doubting ourselves and can't seem to get enough of books like that. Why this is, I cannot say, but it is our culture.

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  2. I haven't read the book yet, but I've now put it on my reading list.

    I have a 5 yo and 3 yo. My husband and I live in Los Angeles. We both have careers. I do not understand parents that say, "Oh, you can't do this or that until the kids are X years old."

    While we haven't traveled out of the country with both kids yet, we did take my son to London for my birthday when he was a few months old. We do lots of things with our children though that don't involve a ball pit. We visit museums, real ones, with paintings on the walls, not just dinosaur museums. We go out of town for the weekend and stay in hotels, not just camping. We go to restaurants, well during the daytime, not in the evening;) We go to farmers markets and to the arboretum. We live our lives pretty much as we normally would, we just bring our kids with us. Why wait till your kids are grow to experience life?! I'd get on a plane with my children to just about any intl destination tomorrow if someone will give me a ticket;)

    Listen, the French don't have all the answers, but they have some good suggestions.

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  3. I have a 3 yr old and a 15m old. I have been to Paris 4 times, and each time I notice kids I strollers sleeping, walking with their parents, or playing in parks. Looking very peaceful.

    This isn't just a French thing, but I think that they don't let their kids run the show. And that is a good thing.

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