on February 23, 2012
I have to admit that I did not immediately want to read this book, since the article version I read online seemed very different from my own views about parenting. But my father bought it and lent it to me, and it turned out to be a very entertaining and easy read. Druckerman does a fabulous job building a narrative out of her experience and weaving together personal anecdotes with strong research. As a work of non-fiction, it is highly enjoyable to read and thought provoking.
However, there is no question this book will also be read as a "parenting book" rather than just a "book about parenting." And, it does, at points, venture into "parenting book" territory, even though Druckerman never uses the imperative tense or claims ultimate authority. But, she does consistently present "French parenting" in a very positive light, and in every contrast to American examples, French examples come out ahead. I have very little experience with this culture myself, so I certainly can't judge how consistent this parenting style actually is, so I have to take her word for that. It wouldn't surprise me that a centralized European nation would have a more consistent parenting style than the mish mash of approaches here in the states. Given that "French parenting" is always presented within a very reasonable seeming paradigm of success, there is definitely a feeling of "this is a very good way to do things" throughout.
And, certainly, the ideas that overlap with successful parenting in the U.S. (often called "authoritative" parenting in the states) seem good. As a vegetable farmer, I especially loved the chapter about food and how to help our kids learn to enjoy a wide range of flavors -- so refreshing that parents aren't coercing kids into eating vegetables for their "health" and instead expect them to do so out of enjoyment!
But some of the cultural notions struck me as more negative than Druckerman allowed in her exploration. A few examples that stood out to me: the 99% (or so) epidural rate, the low breastfeeding rate, and the emphasis on infant/child independence from birth. The lack of natural births in France (or even the opportunity to choose one) is treated as very sensible (meanwhile, to the north in the Netherlands -- also a sensible country -- over a quarter of all births occur without medication at home). Druckerman mulls over the lack of breastfeeding for a few paragraphs but it's a minor exploration of what seems like a very big thing to me.
But the idea that even newborn babies need to start being independent from parents struck me as especially ... off? Scary? Potentially damaging? Going against instinct? I tried to keep an open mind when reading these bits, and the reasoning in the book is compelling (babies sleeping through the night at 3 months is always compelling!). But, from my reading elsewhere, most of the current science of infant development points to different conclusions about human newborns.
The human newborn/mother connection is strongly supported by biology on many counts. So, the idea that "the pause" (wherein a mother waits 5 minutes or so before respond to nighttime crying) is a good and scientific-based thing is hard for me to swallow -- I couldn't help thinking of how hard it would be to do as a new mom. When I first became a mother, I felt strong physical and instinctual desire to hold my baby as much as possible and be near him and care for him at night -- I didn't do it because I felt it was "good" for him; it was truly my #1 desire, and I think that is the result of strong and successful bonding. (Interestingly, there is a world famous French OB, Michel Odent, who worries very much about the role medicated birth plays in French mothers lack of bonding to their babies. He talks at length about the "love hormones" that are released during an unmedicated birth and how essential they are for creating those necessary human attachments. He wasn't mentioned in the book.)
That being said, I do think the French (according to Druckerman) are right in believing that children need to be treated as people from birth and allowed opportunities for autonomy -- but in my experience children begin pushing for that when they are ready. We as parents can then respond appropriately. Overall, I was struck by how much of the book focused on detaching from our children rather than bonding with them in appropriate ways and then letting them push off from us by giving them space. Even though Druckerman tells us so-and-so-mother is a warm, nurturing mother, the examples and emphasis is often on being apart or not interacting in playful ways. I couldn't help wondering when French parents and children PLAY together ... maybe they don't?
I would wholly agree that the American style of parenting she describes seems unhealthy in another extreme. Kids obviously need to their own space to develop as people. However, as a mother of a toddler, I rarely see the American extremes she describes -- but I don't live in New York City so maybe parents in my rural community are less anxious and less "helicopter"-like. We can have dinners with friends and have adult conversations, but we also like a good parent-child racing game at a party (especially since often for the dads this social time is also weekend family time). Because of my own experience, I couldn't help feeling like her "American parent" was a bit of a "strawman" in this argument. Since the American parenting seems exaggerated in its anxiousness and lack of control, I have to also wonder ultimately how much of the French examples are exaggerated too (or, at least, are the good examples that stood out once Druckerman started observing the perceived differences).
In closing, I would recommend this book if someone wants a good read and is curious about how France parents its children. I can honestly say I will be mulling over some of these ideas ones for a while (especially the ones that push on my own existing understandings of babies and children). It was also good to have some of my own weaknesses as a parent brought to light by contrast -- I have begun trying to "educate" my two year-old son in how to be patient, and it has already helped both of us get through the day calmer.
But, if a reader is interested in some different evidence based views on babies and their need for connection, I recommend Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent and/or Attached at the Heart: 8 Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children. Also, it's not my favorite book in the world (in part because it's a challenging read), but The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost (Classics in Human Development) is a classic example of another very successful parenting culture that has embraced a different set of values (when it comes to infancy at least).
ETA: I recently read French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters. I would highly recommend it to folks who are interested in French parenting. It is also a very delightful read and goes into way more detail about how the French think about food and parenting. As a "parenting book," I even found it useful and was inspired to make some major and minor changes in my son's eating habits (most notably cutting way back on the non-stop flow of snacks to encourage him to eat more at meals -- it worked!). This book is also a tad more critical of French culture (when appropriate), which was refreshing after reading Bringing Up Bebe.
on November 4, 2013
We are American expats living in a neighborhood near Paris. I read this book before coming to France and quite honestly it stressed me out more than helped me. Let me start out by saying that I am not your "typical" American mom according to Ms. Druckerman. I am a no nonsense kind of parent and I have been taking my children out everywhere with us since the day they were born. My husband and I have always had the philosophy that every member in this family has to compromise. There is a time for everything, and each one gets their turn. Like "French Parenting", I guess you would say. My girls are happy, upbeat and sweet children. I feel Pamela Druckerman bashes American parenting in her process of contrasting. Let me say that I, so far, have not been at all impressed with French children's behavior. In restaurants, I have seen no difference in French children's behavior than from those in the US. We have traveled extensively throughout France, and eaten from your corner Brasseries to the top end 200 euro bill restaurants. Children's menus in restaurants always have breaded chicken (Poulet Pane) and frites (fries), if you get the "formule", you get a scoop of ice cream for desert. They give you the option of getting seasonal vegetables... but they do that in the US too. Not astronomical. So, I call shenanigans when she says that "children are expected to eat what adults eat".
We went to the Playmobil Fun Park near Paris yesterday with my daughters, and my goodness! There were some really awful and selfish children. There was a child that was behaving awful, throwing Playmobil parts up in the air, at many times these parts landing on my head. Where are these well behaved children Ms. Druckerman speaks of? So far, I see no difference, in fact it may be a little worse because kids in the US at least smile back at you when you smile at them. Maybe Mrs. Druckerman is generalizing "America" when it seems like she has only had experience with New York parents. We are from Houston, it may be a different parenting philosophy than up north, but I really wish people wouldn't criticize parenting in the US. Druckerman is very biased, in my opinion, and I feel she has not stressed US parenting pros enough in her book. Because, there are plenty. After living here, and experiencing "bringing up my bebes" in France for myself, I feel she has exaggerated the wisdom of French parenting. I asked French friends about some of the points in this book and their reply was "oh, that used to be before, not so much anymore". So please American moms, take what you feel will help you from this book, because yes, it does make sense. Its okay to give time to yourself, but don't stress out if you cant follow the book. You do what you think is right. That's what French moms are doing too.
I gave it three stars because it is a good read, and very well written. I just don't like how biased it is.
on June 18, 2012
This is certainly a decent enough read, but there's nothing here to justify the rave reviews it's garnered nor to provoke any controversy or anger. It's quite good, but one you'd want to borrow from the library for a week, or order from a cheap marketplace seller.
Despite what the best rated comment said I'm certain the author was not initially unsure about France. Sure there's a few things along those lines early on in the book, but I'd bet the mortgage that although they now appear near the front of the book they were written near the end, to show 'the journey' of conversion from a skeptical expat to, largely, converted 'French parent'. I'm not saying she had no qualms about having children in a foreign land but essentially she's a massive Francophile immensely pleased to be living in Paris and, oddly, somewhat star-struck by (what seems to me ordinary) parenting. She does come over as quite an oddball in a way - hopefully it's just part of the spiel to differentiate her as an American from the French parents she's about to 'study' - but she seems a little insecure about herself as a parent, someone who needs(needed) a branded parenting 'method' to follow blindly and wholesale.
Parenting is about the easiest thing on earth, that's why everyone can do it and children aren't dropping dead every second of the day, but she writes as if she needs advice on everything, that everything comes as a revelation - from the novel notion that you might actually talk to your baby even when (s)he's too young to talk back, that you should explain things to young children/toddlers/babies 'cos they may well be taking it all in even if they can't process it right now, to baking cookies on a sunday, to you being in charge (why? because I said so), to expecting your children to say hello to a guest who comes to the door, to being quiet when mom's on the phone - all this basic stuff seems to blow her mind as examples of French parenting-in-excelsis. Lord knows what kind of childhood she had that these things are so mind-boggling.
I picked this up as we had lived in Paris for a couple of years so I know the place pre-kids, and also I'm English, married to an American and raising children in New York so I thought the 'bi-cultural' investigation would be interesting, fun. It was to a point. She's right about NY preschools, right that quite a few middle-class Anglophones like to tick off milestones with as much rapidity as possible and that many see life as a race. Perhaps it is more so than in France, where so many work in the public sector, but that's another story. Those are good points, and the contrast with France is illustrative of a different - arguably better and certainly less stress-filled- approach. I wonder if Chinese Mothers can fight the system in France or if they're content to let little Jacques-Feng do finger paints until he's 5 without learning the alphabet.
There was a lot of just normal adult behavior that was manufactured as a 'thing' - the whole 'cadre' thing I thought bogus. The fact you enforce rules and make your children say please, thank you, hello, be polite, honest and fair is for most just instinctive normalcy, such that it doesn't deserve a 'name', even if you point out that it's done unwittingly a name implies it's a real thing, however ethereal. There was a fair bit that was contradictory in the first 2/3ds of the book - mainly caused by the fact that she labels so much that should fall under the heading 'common sense' as a specific designed, national, co-ordinated if unspoken approach. Fair enough you might think, she has sold the book to a publisher and you've got to put something down, even when there's not really a whole lot to say.
After a while it becomes a little more true, if basically a little pointless, in that she starts to say that 'French parents do A. Except they're not rigid, so if that doesn't work they try B. And they're not too proud to try C if that doesn't work'. You don't say!! Basically decent French parenting, except with cultural specifics like 3 course meals every day and their attendant rituals, turns out to be more or less identical to decent British parenting, or decent American parenting and no doubt decent Bulgarian and Bolivian parenting too.
She does tend to use extreme examples from America and contrast them with mainstream decent parenting from France to declare France the winner by illustration. There are too many times when (middle/upper-middle class) Americans are all neurotic crazies experimenting with vegan diets, baby sign language and golf lessons for their 18 month old, and then thrown up against just plain old sensible but attractive Mme Clothilde who turns up all sensible and firm but fair. "Aha, French Parents Win!!" as she doesn't need to say.
The comparisons are often slightly disingenuous - for example giving the nationwide average of child mortality France vs US while purporting to compare middle/upper-middle class parenting. France has universal healthcare and the best/worst is narrow, America has healthcare that is far better (than in France) for those parents the author is supposedly focusing on, the national figure dragged down by the mortality figures of poor and immigrant America. I'm sure the infant mortality rates (or indeed generalized healthcare) at Mount Sinai or Lenox Hill would be the envy of France. That might be a take on the benefits of socialized healthcare (although when she calls things 'free' I'm not sure she's accepting the link to taxation), but it's not a strict comparison on point of her argument. There were a hundred and one things like that - not comparing like and like - when I read the book, but it's not like I took notes on particulars, I just noticed them reading through.
On a personal note it seems although the author is, rightly, trying to find a balance between her children's 'American' and 'French' sides she's not concerned at all about her children having an English or British identity. Their dad is British, as inconvenient as that may be to her. I know it's a book written to sell in the USA but to constantly describe her children as Americans born in Paris seems like she's fairly deliberately cutting out one whole half of their biological identity. The tone is ever so slightly annoyed that her one child speaks with a tinge of an English accent and positively thrilled when she was packed off to Miami and came back speaking with a fully American accent. It's not keeping me awake at nights, but it was something that out of my circumstances I noticed.
So yes, it's actually not a bad book at all, it's readable and if it's the type of book you're looking at on Amazon chances are you'll like it - but it's not great either. It's a library read or a cheap seller that you'll get through in a week, pick up a few interesting things about how the system works in France, a few interesting things that French parents do slightly differently, a few amusing things here and there. C'est tout.
on November 4, 2015
My husband's response when I told him that I was reading a book about French Parenting was "There's nothing to it, they just sit and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes while the kids run around in the yard." He wasn't too far off.
Actually I kind of loved and hated this book. It was an easy, and mostly fun read, but it was too repetitive. This is just a small gripe, but it really irritated me how she constantly reminded the reader that her social circle consists of middle to upper middle class, college educated professionals. Every anecdote started off something like "My friend Marie, an upper middle class art historian..." It was like literally every other page she describes someone as "upper middle class" or "college educated". If she only wanted to compare a specific socio-economic class, fair enough, but she could have just explained that in the introduction. I just found it obnoxious and irrelevant.
As far as the actual content, I liked the advice about how to teach young children to enjoy a variety of foods. I won't start serving meals in courses like she suggests though, I like to sit down and enjoy my meals with everybody else, and who needs all those extra dishes to wash? "The pause" is also good advice, which I should have started doing a long time ago (although maybe not while still at the hospital!). I think encouraging children to say hello and goodbye is awesome. I especially like the idea that we shouldn't feel guilty for taking time to focus in ourselves and endulge in our own pleasures, we are still women after all (but I'm glad not to be shamed by my husband, doctor and peers for not being rail thin at a few months postpartum), and we all deserve regular guilt-free personal time.
Here's what i didn't like: She makes it seem like stay at home mom's are boring losers. I have respect for working mothers, but I choose to stay at home with my son because I want to breastfeed and enjoy him while he's a baby. That's more important to me than being interesting at cocktail parties. Besides, I don't have access to cheap, high-quality crèches to raise my child for me.
I agree with the idea that if your kid is playing happily, you should just leave well enough alone, but she makes it seem like you're some kind of freaky hellocopter-parent if you do play with your kid.
The examples of American culture were so extreme and exagerated that I can't help but wonder if the French examples of perfect babies and relaxed parents were exagerated too. We were in France a few months ago for a wedding (our son was 7 months old at the time) and we were talking to a couple from Paris in their early 30s who were thinking of having a child, but they were nervous because all of their friends with young children are exhausted, sleep deprived and have no time to socialise. There were several other guests with babies and they all went home before the main course had been served!
on June 11, 2016
This book really aims to sell itself as the fix-all to having a well-behaved child that sleeps through the night, doesn't act up, etc. But really, it just seemed like common sense to me. I don't feel like I got much out of it, and the author takes forever before getting to the point. Still, it's a fast read and it is interesting to understand the differences between the French and American parenting styles (although even those comparisons were over generalized in my opinion).
As far as some of the examples she gave (like newborns sleeping through the night at two weeks) I feel this is something that's very unrealistic if you're planning to breast feed. Breast fed babies need to wake up throughout the night to feed. As far as self-soothing goes, I think at a certain age it may be appropriate, but soothing a newborn has been proven to increase their sense of security, so I disagree with the author there as well.
But like I said, there's some useful advice to consider, it's worth a read, but if it doesn't feel right, go with your gut and doctor's advice.
on March 30, 2012
This book contains some good advice for parents everywhere on how to raise intelligent, respectful and well-behaved children. What I find so interesting is that the concepts in the book are being treated as if it is "new". I am 28 years old and the youngest of 6 children. My mother had my eldest sister in 1969...I was born in 1983. Even in 1969, many of these concepts are the same concepts my mother and father employed in raising us. Having set meal times, not being in "service of the child", even "The Pause" (as they call it in this book). What I find odd is how someone who is opposed to the "cry it out" theory, is all for "the pause". Call it by whatever name you want, but they are essentially the same concept: do not run to your baby at the first cry or noise. Yes, check on them to ensure their safety. But give them a chance to settle themselves without running to them and picking them up. My sisters started this as early as a couple of weeks old - and their children all slept through the night within the first 4 months. They were criticized by many for allowing their baby to cry for 5 - 10 minutes, but these same critics now have 4 year olds that fight them EVERY night when it's bed time.
Overall, some of the material in this book is informative and useful. However, having been exposed to some of these concepts through my own upbringing, it just does not seem like anything new. Also, the author lists several wonderful things about French mothers and children, but she often does not seem to have any real, solid advice as to how someone who isn't French (and therefore, supposedly not born with "le feeling") is supposed to obtain these results.
on August 1, 2012
This book was a very fast read, entertaining and interesting, but left a very bad taste in my mouth. At the end of it, I felt really pretty let down. The author didn't do enough research into the American parenting-- maybe this is difficult, writing from France, but it doesn't excuse her. She bases her ideas of what American parenting is like on a few trips to the playgrounds in Brooklyn and Miami, on a few blogs, and on her friends. Which means that her idea of Americans is they are all high-powered super-competitive, super-neurotic people-- the cartoon versions of those helicopter parents you read about in the New York Times Magazine. She does mention that she's only speaking of middle to upper class Americans, but I'm a middle class American, and most of my friends are. She's speaking of extremes here, not your average American, or EVEN your average middle-to-upper-class American.
Some examples: Her chapter on Daycare is totally out of date. She posits we Americans look down on daycare while the French promote it as a way to 'socialize' their children. My experience is that most Americans use daycare because it's economical. If they don't it's because it's not economical. It also costs an arm and a leg here. Parents pay anywhere from $1000 to $2000 for an infant. The price goes down as the kids get older, but it's hard as a mother to fight against the urge to stay with your baby when we are basically paying half our paychecks to childcare. Which leads to my other bone to pick with this book-- she downplays the role of free childcare, free healthcare, the short workweek (don't the French work an average of 35 hours a week?) in Europe. This is really annoying. Her claims that the French are such great parents because they are calmer than Americans-- well, yeah. I'd be calmer too if I all that support. She has all these grand claims about the 'cadre' created among children-- but children in France spend a lot more time eating dinner with their families, going places, and doing fun things-- hence the need to train them to behave in these situations. In the United States, most families are caught in a vicious cycle of working and catching up on household chores, and the need to teach your children how to eat vegetables correctly with a fork comes last after making sure they get some sort of dinner (usually something quick and easy like mac and cheese, something you don't have to spend 2 hours preparing) and into bed and their clothes washed and laid out for daycare the next day. Ok, so the casualty is kids without table manners. Among other things-- like no family time at all. It would be nice if she had acknowledged the different priorities of our countries and the government policies that have resulted as a major factor in the difference, and not blamed it on us poor American parents who don't know any better.
A final little annoyance-- she talks toward the end of the book about the 'owl eyes' of Parents when their kids are doing something wrong. Apparently, in France, the parents can turn this special expression, their 'owl eyes' on their kids and the kids will stop being bad. We have that too. It's called 'The Eye.' Any teacher worth her (or his) salt can do it, and most people who grew up in big families can do it too. The people who can't are those people who grew up without a lot of little kids around. Again, the segmentation of American society, the loss of our extended families, the priority of work over family life that exists here-- NOT the stupid naivete of the Americans.
on April 24, 2012
I just finished reading this book, and took away some clever French parenting tips such as saying to my children: "It's me who decides," or "You don't have the right" to hit your brother...and the idea of giving children "framed" autonomy. Those were the high points. And I wish that schools in America had the same focus on delicious menus, but alas, we don't!
What disappointed me was how the author characterized American children as rude (not saying hello when greeting adults), whiny (kicking their parents in public), argumentative (rather than complying with adults' instructions) and being overly-reliant on their parents (not going to sleep-away camp at a young age). While those traits may characterize a particular cohort of American parents engulfed in modern parenting angst, I would argue that there are plenty of parents in America who raise polite, autonomous, respectful children with broad culinary palates who go away to camp at age 5. Perhaps they are not the stereotypical bratty American children one sees on TV, but I know lots who are just like the ones the author describes as uniquely French, my own children included.
So, for that reason, and because the author is an experienced fact-based journalist, I'm disappointed that so much of the premise of the book is founded upon faulty data--using as comparison, Americans she's encountered and who she presumes to be representative of the American way of parenting. It seems too anecdotal--her evidence too spotty and suited toward her argument. (The book seems like it could have benefited from a healthy editing, with a dominant focus on what's good about French parenting, rather than so much comparison with America.) In some places she does insert the inevitable caveat ("while not all are like this...") but too often she attributes Frenchness to what most people would consider regular 'ole good parenting, regardless of nationality.
on August 25, 2013
I read about this book in a newspaper a few years ago, and since friends of mine were about to have their first child, I purchased this book for them as a gift. I decided to read it myself, because I am fascinated by cultures anyway. I found it to be very informative for a new parent interested in trying something new, and culturally informative for a bachelor like myself. When I have children I will try and conjure my inner Frenchman.
The resource material for the book seems more interesting than this book. I would like to read the source books that the author quotes.
Long story short. Very fun, not too long, and at bare minimum, practical parenting advice.
on June 7, 2012
I thought this book was a fun read. It was interesting to read about her experiences as an American raising a family in France. I think it would have been more of a fun book if it was more lighthearted or turned into a fiction.
What really bothered me was the over generalizations on everything. The whole book sounded to me like, ALL American parents/children are this way, while in France they are ALL this way (and by the way, the French do this much better than we do). Not all American moms hate daycare, feed their kids only white food, and refuse to take any alone time.
As a parent herself I would think she would know better than to over simplify raising children and being a mother with just saying that we would all be happier and skinnier if we did exactly what these women did.
If you are going to read it, I would just suggest to not take anything she says too seriously.