A Response to French Parenting

Pamela Druckerman’s new book, Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, is causing a Tiger-mother-like stir. Druckerman wrote an article in last week’s Wall Street Journal entitled, Why French Parents Are Superior. I try not to be offended by these things. Really, I do. But I actually refused to read the article for a good four days because the title was so off-putting.

The teaser for the article says,

While Americans fret over modern parenthood, the French are raising happy, well-behaved children without all the anxiety. Pamela Druckerman on the Gallic secrets for avoiding tantrums, teaching patience and saying ‘non’ with authority.

Oh good. Let’s feed into Americans’ insecurity even more. I’m sure that will solve our “problem.” And while we’re on the subject…just what is our problem? And who is “us”? Because I’m sure you know, if you’ve ever gone to a playgroup, or a family dinner, or logged onto Facebook, there is no collective American parenting practice. If there were, we wouldn’t have Mommy Wars.

This book, I’m sure, will be a comfy confirmation for French parents on what they already know. But based on the premise alone, it seems misplaced for Americans. We don’t need more lessons of how to be something we’re not. Instead, we need to look at our values, and examine if we are achieving them. To be fair, several reviews have pointed out that the actual book is more of a memoir extolling the positive virtues of French Parenting, which could be useful as a starting point for talking about positive change, rather than the inflammatory how-to I’ve seen marketed so far. If that’s the case and I were Druckerman, I might ask for a new publicist.

Instead of talking about who’s “superior” and what the “best” way to parent is, perhaps it would be helpful to have multiple resources (and I believe we already do!) that help parents move in the direction of what they value most. Maybe it’s independence. Or maybe it’s interdependence. Maybe it’s creativity, confidence, or competence. Looking at the end goal, and then working backward, considering our culture and our resources, is a better way to support parents.

Asking Americans to jump on board with a very culturally defined set of parenting “rules” sets us up for failure. For some, it may be tempting to hear that your child would wait for his “4pm snack,” eliminating the sometimes annoying ritual of preparing, offering (and sometimes being refused), and cleaning up food, several times a day. But um, I don’t eat three square meals, with a light snack. I eat 6, 7, 10 times a day! Why would I want to train my child to differently? I wouldn’t, because I don’t value a strict meal schedule. So assuming the French parenting style is superior is devaluing quite a few other cultures.

As Druckerman notes,

 In a 2004 study on the parenting beliefs of college-educated mothers in the U.S. and France, the American moms said that encouraging one’s child to play alone was of average importance. But the French moms said it was very important.

Exactly. We have different priorities. Sure, I’d like Anabella to play alone sometimes. Cultivating peace with being alone is important. As one TOBB Facebook poster said, I don’t want a needy teenage girl on my hand. Where I part ways, however, is the idea that if I miss this boat, at age one, or two, I’m up the creek without a paddle. I know that Anabella and I both enjoy doing puzzles, reading, walking through town, cooking (yes, I let her lick the spoon!) and making cats from playdough. I also know that she’s probably not going to be excited about moulding clay forever. So how about I let her be a toddler, and in turn I get to enjoy early motherhood, in all its intense, lovely, messiness?

I’m off to smooth my ruffled feathers. To be fair, there are some solid points in Druckerman’s article, and likely in her book, which I may read….and maybe she’ll read mine.

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2 thoughts on “A Response to French Parenting”

  1. Did you read the book? I did, and I have a bit of a different understanding/take on it than I got from reading the news article alone. My thoughts are here: http://www.regardingbaby.org/2012/02/07/book-review-bringing-up-bebe/ .The book is worth reading, as it’s well written, witty, and well researched- and there are gems of wisdom to be found. Pamela Druckerman is sharing her experience and observations as an American mother who is raising her children in Paris. She’s doesn’t advocate for “French parenting,” nor does she claim “French parenting” is superior to American parenting. I’d really like to see us move beyond the “mommy wars” and the question of who has a “superior” parenting method and instead take a look at what we can learn from each other that might work to benefit babies and their families….

  2. I don’t believe that is fair at all. If we were to spoon feed our children nutella for breakfast lunch and dinner and pastries and crepes in between they would be angels too! Joking 🙂

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