Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bringing up Bebe -- Pamela Druckerman

Yes, I know, I am too old to have much interest in child rearing.  I did my job, good or bad, and I have to say I raised two really good, really smart people in spite of myself.  Did I make mistakes -- oh yeah.  Being an only child with a very nervous mother put me at a huge disadvantage in this area.  I wasn't around children much so when they handed me my first little bundle of joy a panic ensued that can actually still be seen today.  We didn't have many books back in the mid-70's, I think I had a copy of a Better Homes and Garden's baby care book that showed me how to take temperature.  I did learn, however, through trial and error and now, at my advanced age, I can see clearly where I should have done a few things differently but the kids are fine and I am relatively calm unless the phone rings at an unusual time.

While I am not in charge of any more short charges, I am actively involved in babysitting one small future adult.  When this book was mentioned in conversation, I thought I would check it out so a week or so ago, when I was locked out of my neighborhood due to the Komen Race for the Cure, I spent a bit of quality time with my Nook at Barnes and Noble.  A lovely hot chocolate and a rather sad coconut macaroon was involved but I can't talk about that -- what a waste of $1.95.

As I sat down with my little indulgence I opened up the book on my Nook (you can read for free for an hour if you are in a store) and started checking out "Bringing up Bebe" by Pamela Druckerman.

  This is a book about a 30-something American woman married to a British man and they have a 18 month old girl-child fondly referred to as Bean (she does have a proper name, the author assures.) They are living in Paris. As I have a 30-something American daughter married to a British man with a 22 month old daughter called Bean, all living in the US,  I felt I needed to read the book.  It got me from the first page.

This is not a guide for raising a baby with a lot of clinical information.  It is a comparison of parenting styles in France contrasted to parenting styles in the US.  The author, living in Paris where there American and British ex-pats are not unusual, begins to notice a difference in the behavior of the children in social situations.  The French children seem to be calmer and more able to do without their parents attention for reasonable periods of time.  This behavior was especially noticeable in restaurants and the playground.  After making this observation on a number of occasions, Druckerman decides to research the French children's behavior to see what makes the difference.  As I read on, it seemed to me that it was less a study of the differences in the children (there really weren't any) and more a study of the differences in the reactions of the French and American/British parents to the children's behaviors. 

The main focus of the book is "the cadre" -- or framework of parenting.  There are set rules that are not broken, the French are very strict about this, but within that framework there is a great deal of freedom which, they believe, allows the children to blossom.

There were some concepts in the French parenting style that I agreed with completely.  Their emphasis on food and eating was, in my opinion, one of the healthiest I have ever heard of but I still can't get my head around two pieces of French baguette with a chocolate bar in the middle -- that doesn't sound good  even to me.  They don't believe in snacking and the observation is that French women don't walk around with little ziplock bags of pretzels and cheerios in their designer bags.  They believe that children should be required to taste everything on their plate but they don't have to eat it if they don't want it.  It is the general concensus that children can handle more sophisticated tastes at an early age and they are fed accordingly.  They eat the same as the parents every day with the food being chopped or pureed according to age.

The other main consideration is sleep.  Naps aren't really part of the conversation but bedtime is.  Bedtime is rigorously enforced and that is something I can completely agree with because it helps nurture the other thing that is prominent in French parenting -- The Couple.  The French believe that not letting having children interfere in the parents relationship is a priority.  That sounds negative but it isn't -- they just feel like having the parents relationship stay strong is as important to the children as it  is to the parents.

Another main point that I can agree with is treating children with respect and listening to them, taking their thoughts into consideration, the whole time retaining the concept that the adult is in charge.  I wish I had had a better working knowledge of this concept when I was raising mine.

There are a number of things that I don't think would work here in the US or that don't personally agree with.  I can't imagine one child going snackless in a world of little ziplock bags.  Not that the child wouldn't be better off, mind you, but I can just imagine the tears, chaos, and possibly even hostility in the playgroup.

I am not a fan of sending a four year old off to some camp someplace for several days at a time without a supervising parent.  That just wouldn't fly in this house.  The only camp my kids ever went to was Camp MeeMaw and yes, for the record, I am sure they felt terribly deprived -- at least one of them does.  However, that is the mood in the US -- to ensure your child's safety which doesn't seem to be a priority in French parenting -- at least they don't seem to be quite so neurotic about it.  Could we lighten up?  Probably.  Will we?  Probably not.

And then there is the question of those chocolate bar sandwiches.  I just don't get that -- it must be a cultural thing!

I would recommend this book to any person who is or ever has been involved in raising children.  It is an eye opening, thought provoking tome that makes me wish I could go back and do some things over again with this more "worldly" view of things.  However, we are in Texas, not France, and I just don't think it is a concept that can be fully embraced here.