American Parents Can Still Learn from the French Says Pamela Druckerman in Her New Book ‘Bebe by Day’
Tuesday, February 12th, 2013
Did you read Bringing up Bebe? Last year’s controversial book written by American mom Pamela Druckerman? She suggests that French parents do certain things better than we do. They sleep train their children early. Their kids eat braised leeks. They sit on the sidelines at the playground. They do not taxi their children around to a whirlwind of activities.
Everyone is entitled to her opinion, but I personally side with Pamela. In fact, she just saved me $369 because I read her new book, Bebe Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting, and decided to cancel my girls’ gymnastics class. Thank you, Pamela, for that, and for writing the guest post below. She still thinks we have a lot to learn from French mamans. For one, she says Americans parent from a point of anxiety while the French try to find more calm. Ahhh.
From Pamela: “This time last year, I got a taste of America’s love-hate relationship with the French. I’d just published a book explaining what I learned from French parents about raising kids. Not everyone liked the comparison. I suddenly found myself being introduced on the radio as a ‘polarizing figure.’ One journalist wrote that before we met, she was ‘expecting someone fairly nightmarish.’
It was odd to be cast as a defender of France. Frankly, there are bigger Francophiles out there (I think Paris could be friendlier, for starters). I moved to France not out for love of it’s architecture or literature or cheese, but because I happened to meet a fellow who lived there. I liked him – and I’d just lost my job. Three kids and a French mortgage later, we’re still here.
But I have learned a bundle from the way they raise kids. French parents tend to be pragmatic. They stick with what works. In so many important realms – from food to patience to teaching babies to sleep – they have common-sense wisdom that’s worth listening to.
One of the most important lessons I’ve picked up in Paris is that a household that pivots entirely around the children isn’t good for anyone – not even for the kids. If you give children a little more independence and free time, everyone thrives. The conventional wisdom in France is that the best parenting comes not from anxiety and guilt, but from calm.
Of course, we Americans know this already. But often, the social pressure here goes in another direction. Watching the French live out these ideas – or try to – helped solidify some of them for me, and renewed my confidence.
Once the publicity storm tapered off, I realized I wasn’t alone. I started getting letters and reading posts from ordinary American parents, who didn’t care where their parenting advice came from as long as it worked. “Today my very picky daughter ate a chicken sandwich with avocado, brie and sun-dried tomatoes, no fights no tantrums,” one wrote. Another added, “Why should I feel like a lazy parent if I don’t try and force my 18-month-old to read?”
Letters like these inspired me to write a new book, Bébé Day By Day. In it, I’ve tried to distill the 100 smartest ideas I’ve learned from the French. These run from the practical (“back off at the playground”) to the philosophical (“your baby doesn’t replace your husband”). I hope they’re thought provoking, and will arm American parents to make decisions for themselves. Champagne is optional.”
Photo of Pamela Druckerman courtesy of Benjamin Barda