Last year, it was Amy Chua's defense of so-called "Chinese parenting" in her book "Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother" that had parents on both sides of the playground debating the right way to raise kids. This year, the debate rages on, but the country du jour to emulate is now France as former Wall Street Journal reporter Pamela Druckerman argues that it's French parents who've got it figured out in her new memoir, "Bringing Up Bébé."
As an American in Paris, Druckerman was raising three children and struggling with the same parenting woes that affect many of her American peers when she began to notice a series of what she called "minor miracle[s]." Parents who did not have to rush off of the phone to attend to their child's demands. Children sitting calmly in restaurant high chairs while taking part in family conversation and eating the same foods as the rest of the family. And perhaps most shockingly of all, babies who were sleeping through the night at just 2 or 3 months old.
She asked herself what these French parents were doing so differently that their parenting yielded such amazing (and enviable) results. Druckerman notes in "Bringing Up Bébé":
"I hadn’t thought I was supposed to admire French parenting. It isn’t a thing, like French fashion or French cheese. No one visits Paris to soak up the local views on parental authority and guilt management. Quite the contrary: the American mothers I know in Paris are horrified that French mothers barely breast-feed, and let their four-year-olds walk around with pacifiers.
"So how come they never point out that so many French babies start sleeping through the night at two or three months old? And why don’t they mention that French kids don’t require constant attention from adults, and that they seem capable of hearing the word “no” without collapsing?"
What followed was years of research during which Druckerman investigated the basics of French parenting and boiled it down to a few essential differences. For starters, Druckerman noted that "having a child in France doesn’t require choosing a parenting philosophy. Everyone takes the basic rules for granted. That fact alone makes the mood less anxious." Another key difference? Kids in France are expected to adapt to the grown-up world and not the other way around.
Druckerman is quick to point out that most of the French parents she interviewed were affectionate parents who adored their kids. But they weren't obsessed with them as American parents seem to be. The don't lose themselves in their kids the way American parents seem to do. They do not negotiate, alter their vacation plans, tolerate tantrums, carry around a week's worth of snacks, or spend entire weekends herding their kids from one scheduled activity to the next. They enjoy time with their children but set definite boundaries to enjoy time with their spouses and other adults.
And both the parents and the children in France seem to be happier because of it.
"The French have managed to be involved without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there’s no need to feel guilty about this. "
No guilt? Maybe she's on to something.
"Bringing Up Bébé" by Pamela Druckerman (Penguin Press, 2012) hit bookstores today. Pick up a copy and let me know what you think.