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Controversial? Possibly. But still worth reading and here's why...
on February 7, 2012
As is the case with many books comparing American parenting styles with that of other countries, some potential readers have felt opinionated - even defensive - before even buying the book.While I certainly haven't concluded that French parenting is "right" and American parenting is "wrong", this intriguing book deserves a fair chance - one obtained by reading it - but some initial "reviews" were written by people who simply refused to read a book comparing American and French parenting techniques.
So what will will you find in Bringing Up Bebe? What makes this one worth a look?
To start with, the author, Pamela Druckerman, does not come off as someone who is crazy about France, let alone French parenting - at first. As she writes early on, "I'm not even sure I like living here" although she does change her tune later. She came to her opinions about French parenting slowly and she backs up her main points with plenty of research studies as well as techniques she learned from French parents and parenting authorities. As a result she concludes that "the French have managed to be involved without becoming obsessive. " They aren't waiting on their kids hand and foot and they don't assume that they have to push their children to succeed. Even so, she notes that she hadn't thought she was supposed to admire French parenting. So consider her a reluctant convert to French methods of parenting.
Druckerman observes that there doesn't appear to be a relentless drive to get babies and children to various lessons or such activities as early swimming lessons. A neighbor was content to let her children simply find ways to play, often with old toys or perhaps by exploring her outdoor environment.
Meals are also handled differently with set times for eating and with children being expected to exert enough self-control to wait hours in between meals. Vegetables, varied types of cheese, and other foods American kids might snub are not only served but actually eaten.
Then there are the studies. They are certainly food for thought and perhaps some spirited debate. One study notes that mothers in Columbus, Ohio find child care twice as unpleasant as mothers in Rennes, France. There is the University of Texas study that concludes that French mothers aren't concerned with accelerating their children's cognitive development or academic achievement. Instead, they are comfortable with letting their kids simply be children while they still can. The author cites another study which indicates that 90 percent of fifteen-year-olds eat their main meal with their parents - compared to 67 percent of those in the United States.
The author took detailed notes as she observed French parents. She learns that they expect their babies to start sleeping through the night within no more than a few months - or even in the first month. They ask Druckerman if her baby is "doing her nights" (sleeping through the night).
Admittedly, a certain number don't...but a fair number do because their parents use "the Pause" , not responding immediately to a baby's cries. When Druckerman tries using "the Pause" her own baby starts sleeping through the night, although...to be fair...she does wait until her baby is more than a few months old, unlike the French parents she describes.
Even infant mortality rates are lower in France, 57 percent lower than in America. There is an emphasis on a calm pregnancy and not eating too much. This doesn't mean starving but an overly obese mother isn't necessarily serving a baby's health. I won't stress this point too much because there could be many other factors that determine the possible difference in infant mortality rates between one country and another.
To sum it up, the author has discovered the "wisdom" of French parenting and has written a book that seems to be aimed at imparting that wisdom to American readers. Druckerman also seems to be encouraging parents to try and change the way American parents perceive children,to not base their lives so much around the kids. To be clear, the parenting advice here is centered on children, not teenagers, as French teenagers are given more freedom but in Druckerman's view also seem to have less cause to rebel.
I did have some issues with this book. The first chapter has far too much info about Druckermans' career before moving to France as well as her time meeting and dating her husband-to-be. This takes up an entire chapter. I wanted to get to the parenting observations more quickly. The book consists mostly of personal observations and Druckerman's parenting experiences which are also peppered with interviews with such people as the French "Doctor Spock" as well as other experts. I'm sure it will be controversial and from what I've seen and read it already is. Even so, this book deserves to be judged based on its contents.