I had zero interest in reading The Tiger Mom book, but am all over “Bringing Up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman, probably because I am already a lot like a French mom (and not just my amazing sense of style and penchant for fine wine and cheese). According to Druckerman, French parents expect their children to play by themselves most of the time, sit at the dinner table, be polite to adults (by greeting them with a bon jour!). American parents often let their child be the “child king” and run the show. I wish that this book was required reading in America. I’m not saying the French have it all right: critics have said that the book focuses on upper class Parisian parents and Druckerman is careful to point out that French men are much less evolved than the dads here in America that share parenting responsibilities (and French women don’t afford the same opportunities in business as we do). I am more Dr. Sears than French when it comes to sleep training my babies, and tonight I fought with my 6 year old when he refused to try blue mashed potatoes from our CSA share vs. the French way of expecting them to take a taste and it’s okay if they don’t like pommes de terre bleues. However, most of the examples in the book are spot on in terms of what is out of balance with so many mothers and fathers I see at the playground, and in some cases, some of my friends who well, frankly- coddle their children and make them their child kings. French mothers think about their own needs as well, and don’t feel as guilty as moms do in the US.
Here’s what stood out for me in the book (I haven’t dogeared this many pages in a long time, sorry library!):
when American families come over, the grown ups spend much of the time chasing after or otherwise attending to their kids…”maybe in five years we’ll be able to a conversation” jokes a friend. When we finally sit down, they let Rachel crawl under the table while the rest of us eat dinner. The parents wax about her prodigious reading skills and her possible admission to a gifted kindergarten. During the meal, I feel someone stroking my foot. A moment later I yelp. The gifted child has bitten me.
Why are middle class Americans so skeptical of daycare? “It’s just not a situation I want” sniffs a friend. “I want him to have a little more individual attention.” which Druckerman calls a euphemism for “Unlike you, I actually love my child and don’t want to institutionalize him.” (I’ve had a nanny and a daycare/early preschool similar to a French creche and always feel like I have to justify the daycare situation to other moms, elderly aunts and the like). Another way middle class American women judge: “many mothers treat infant formula as practically a form of child abuse. The fact that breastfeeding requires endurance, inconvenience, and in some cases, physical suffering only increases its status.” (I breast fed and used formula and again, felt like I was somehow inferior or less of a good mother because of this thinking). Speaking of good mothers, we American women are too hard on ourselves. We joke “I’m a bad mother” for letting our kids watch too much TV or drinking non organic apple juice or forgetting to send a snack to school, but you won’t hear French women beating themselves up like we do.
On Americans pushing their children into a million activities from a mother in Miami: Danielle dislikes overzealous parenting. She’s horrified by a mother in her neighborhood whose four year old son already takes tennis, Soccer, French, and piano lessons…You start thinking: this kid’s doing all that stuff. How is my kid going to compete? And then you have to check yourself and say: that’s not the point…still Danielle’s four kids are overscheduled. She acknowledges that she could cut out all of these activities…but what would her kids do at home? I agree with Danielle and agree with this French mom:
A French mom’s take on extracurricular activities: she stopped sending her kids to tennis lessons because she found them constraining (for whom? asks the author) ” constraining for me” She explains: “You bring them and you wait for an hour, then you have to go back and pick them up. For music you have to make them practice at night…It’s a waste of time for me. And the children don’t need it. They have a lot of homework, they have the house, they have other games at the house, and there are two of them so they can’t get bored. They’re together. And we go away every weekend.
I wish I read this book earlier on in my motherhood, but I’ve usually trusted my instincts as a mother and this book affirms my beliefs. Part of my parenting skills come from being an only child: I had to entertain myself so I don’t get on the floor all day long with my kids. Also being an only child, I am a bit selfish and really need my me time. My kids are pretty well behaved and sweet, for now, anyway. Let’s see what happens when they grow up and write a book detailing being raised by a mother like me.