Wednesday, April 25, 2012

On the Pretty Bookshelf: "Bringing Up Bebe" Review

In addition to my mildly regular monthly book updates here, I post in more detail about what I'm reading over at Goodreads, cha cha cha.


"Bringing Up Bebe" by Pamela Druckerman

I wanted to hate this.

I really did.

I've had it up to HERE with pop culture telling us how French women are less fat and more chic and entirely more perfect than the rest of us mere mortals, blah blah blah (Allow me to summarize, "Dress for your body type + eat what you want in moderation" --> instant best seller).

I do not subscribe to the notion that any one nationality - or parenting philosophy, or book, or magical Disney genie - has the Secret to Good Parenting.

My eyeballs nearly sprung themselves from their sockets, so eager were they to roll at what struck me as such a "duh" call to common sense parenting based on the original hype.

The thing is . . . despite my best, most cynical efforts . . .

. . . "Bebe" was charming - thought provoking, even. It's neither the fangirl-style love letter to the French nor the parenting manual I'd feared. Rather, it reads more like a casual chat with a well-read friend, peppered with personal observations and autobiographical details from the author, an American expat raising three young children in Paris. It describes her sociological take on French parenting practices through each stage of early childhood - much of which, it must be said, we practice here at Pretty HQ.

Here's the paragraph that struck me first, the one about how parents publicly show commitment to their children. This got me thinking there's something common sense being overlooked here in my yuppie slice of American parenthood:

American women typically demonstrate our commitment by worrying and by showing how much we're willing to sacrifice, even while pregnant, whereas French women signal their commitment by projecting calm and flaunting the fact that they haven't renounced pleasure.

I'll never forget when the Anonymous Husband & I hired our (American) pediatrician, the phrase that ultimately sold me on his practice, "I'm here to help you raise a happy, healthy baby *and* to make your lives as easy as possible while you do it."

Our lives? I remember almost feeling guilty for even thinking about us - it felt positively revolutionary - though I quickly moved on to being relieved that somebody, somewhere had remembered we as parents exist too, that we are entitled to happiness individually and as a married couple in addition to caring for the wee CEO. Nothing - not my culture, not the books I read pre-baby - but nothing before had encouraged us to balance out the child and the us.

Turns out our pediatrician was on to something French . . . it was fascinating to read how the French cultural mindset plays out specifically in the lives of French children, from breastfeeding to infant sleep training to toddler manners training (hello, timeliness!) and independent play.

There's something here to offend anyone looking for a parenting philosophy fight - the dismissive French attitude towards stay-at-home-mothers isn't one I endorse, for (obvious) example - nor does the author, notably. Many American moms may take issue with the apparent French attitudes on breastfeeding and sleep training.

What I appreciated about this book was that the author wasn't necessarily advocating for those practices - in fact, she details the many areas in which she personally doesn't follow the French norm with her own children. Again, when read as an informal study and not as a how-to parenting manual, there's much to be learned here.

While I myself won't be putting all of "Bebe"'s parenting ideas into practice - for example, having dealt with older kids running amok French-style on the playground while their parents blithely ignore their little bullies and enjoy a chat, I'm happy to remain more American on that front - I do take away many solid ideas for working with Master P on patience and manners, as well as appreciating the natural rhythms of his day when it comes to independent play.

Imaginary berets *and* a French sailor shirt - we're naturals for this Frenchy stuff (photo credit: Ziem Photography)

I remain committed to the concept we already have in practice here of good sleep being key to a happy household, as is time away for the parents and eating everything in moderation. We hope to teach Master P to make his own decisions within the boundaries of a consistent discipline structure.

Should Imaginary Child 2.0 come into being, I'll also attempt to have a more French, less guilt- and misery-ridden perspective should breastfeeding not work out for us again - baby, mother, *and* family all considered.

I recommend this to anyone looking for some parenting theories to chew on with my usual caveat - don't treat this or any other parenting book like a set-in-stone Bible, but merely an intriguing jumping off point from which to form your own opinions. The biggest mistakes I feel I've made in parenting so far happened when I was paying more attention to a book or a mommy groupthink versus the actual living, breathing child before me.

I'll continue to work towards the following, though I wouldn't have thought to put it this way before:

I'm still striving for that French ideal: genuinely listening to my kids but not feeling that I must bend to their wills. I still declare, "It's me who decides" in moments of crisis, to remind everyone that I'm in charge. I see it as my job to stop my kids from being consumed by their own desires. But I also try to say yes as often as I can.

Yep. Is that really French or controversial so much as just a good idea?


Jessica Hudson said...

Such a spot-on review. Couldn't agree more.

Lilly said...

I appreciate the review! The cover does scream "how to waste $15 at Anthropologie" like those other Frenchy books, but I love the concepts discussed. One of the big reasons our family has fought off parenthood for a good while was because we both at different times felt that our lives were so over after baby that we would be fools to think about offing ourselves so early. Approaching the idea of becoming a parent while also deciding to remain an individual, albeit a changed one, is kind of a game changer.

Bebe + 50 Shades of Grey = very dangerous

Princess Freckles said...

I am almost done with this book and am enjoying it very much! I'm not a parent, and I imagine these ideas aren't so simply put into practice as one, childless, 20 something might think! If I ever do become a mother, I hope to adopt many of this books theories, as, like you said, the parents are people too, and I often think this is forgotten here. I'm a children's librarian, so I read this out of curiosity and as a kind of "study" on parenting styles and the differences.

My favorite part is when she is describing the "narrated play" at the NYC playground. I cannot even tell you how often I see this and cringe! At least now I know I'm not alone. Sometimes I just want to say, "Cut the kid a break already!" How much do we as adults hate to be mico managed? Honestly, kids probably do too!

Thanks for the review. It's really great to read the thoughts of a parent on this, because, like I said, I'm rather clueless as of yet.

Brandy said...

Great review! I definitely want to check this one out now. I'm getting tired of the constant message of self-sacrifice and making life revolve around kids. Those things come naturally, we need to be reminded to enjoy our lives too!

D @ Naptime in Suburbia said...

Great review! This book has intrigued me since Druckerman was doing her rounds of morning show promotions. I think it may be worth checking out now!

Alexandra said...

Loved the review and wholeheartedly agreed with it. I am going to pass it along to my sister, who I know will appreciate it too. Oui!

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