Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

Book cover
Pamela Druckerman
4
Wednesday, Sep 28, 2016

Ah, if only I'd read this last summer or fall, sometime before my five-month-old was born, because I'm quite drawn to many of the ideas. Some I'd already claimed as my own, some were vague notions that have now been articulated and solidified for me, and some still feel rather surprising and foreign. I'm not one to unquestioningly adopt any model--parenting, leadership, eating, or what you will--without tweaking it and making it my own, but I believe considering and practicing these ideas will make me a more effective parent.

"Model" seems the best word I can think of to describe what Druckerman is presenting; it's an examination of parenting, but not presented as a formula or handbook as many others are--part memoir, part sociological comparison, part research, it's her investigation into the cultural framework from which French parents operate, as understood through her American lens. Druckerman finds herself an accidental, reluctant expatriate by way of marriage (to an Englishman) in Paris in her mid-thirties, and feels like her three young children are wildly out of control, loud, and difficult compared to their peers. Her experience as a parent seem drastically different--and much less successful--than the French parents she sees all around her. So she decides to make a study of them to see what practices she can imitate, and in doing so learns she first has to come to understand an entirely different mindset for thinking about parents and children.

At the heart of that framework is the idea that children are fully aware, rational, capable humans from birth and deserving of respect and equal treatment as any adult, and that the role of parents is to help them grow into their autonomy through polite teaching within a frame of firm limits. Children are taught to manage themselves, respect the needs of parents, and integrate into adult society as quickly and seamlessly as possible. That sounds simple enough when summarized, but of course there is much more to it--and its differences from the predominant American approaches--than might be expected. Druckerman's explorations are revelatory, and her writing is engaging and entertaining. I expect anyone who works with or spends time around children--parent or not--will enjoy reading Bringing up Bebe simply for its insights, and many will find it more than a little helpful.

Chris K.

Written by Chris K.

Fun fact: Experts estimate that the average cruising airspeed velocity of an unladen European Swallow is roughly 11 meters per second, or 24 miles an hour.