Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman


When American journalist Pamela Druckerman and her British husband have a baby in Paris, they don't expect to become French parents. After all, French parenting isn't a "thing" like French food or fashion. But after taking their toddler to a restaurant and noticing theirs is the only child not eating the same dishes as the adults and acting well-behaved, Druckerman decides to investigate the ideology of French parenting.


I loved this book. It's well-researched and written in a very accessible way. I found Druckerman's anecdotes highly entertaining and her insights into French parenting intriguing.

Since finishing this book, one of the points I keep coming back to is that there are very few stay-at-home French mothers. France has a government-funded child care system and their child care workers are well-paid and regarded as essential to society -- in fact, working at a creche takes schooling and is a career, not a low-paying job for high school or college students. French mothers also seem to see themselves as more than mothers. Once they have children, "mother" is another addition to their self resume, along with "woman," "lover," and whatever career path they have chosen.

I'm not saying this is better or worse. But it's something that's stuck with me because it's something I've struggled with. As a stay-at-home mom, I expected "mother" to be my career. But I'm learning that this is not healthy for me or my daughter, because I need more than just this outlet to feel complete. As much as I love raising her, my type A, detail-oriented personality is a little too much when it's only focused on nap times and feeding schedules. In a word, I was not enjoying my time with my little one because I was too focused on the minute details. By finding another outlet for my (let's call it) creativity, I can use my skills (notice I didn't say "neuroses") in other ways and relax a bit more when it comes to Emily. Because let's be honest: you just can't control everything relating to your baby or toddler, and you'll drive yourself crazy if you try. So I really liked Druckerman's insights into the French way of looking at motherhood. It's a part of you, but it's not all of you.

There are plenty more gems in this book, from teaching a toddler to wait, getting a baby to sleep through the night, and instituting a framework for your child in which they have plenty of freedom inside firm boundaries.

As much as I liked this book, I do wish it had been a little more specific in some regards. For instance, Druckerman talks about a look that French parents give their children when they're committing betises (small acts of naughtiness) that the children know to obey. I've tried giving Emily this look and she laughs in my face. Apparently I'm not very convincing. Druckerman also describes a way French parents seem to have with their children that garners instant cooperation. When her own daughter was pulling items off a shelf, Druckerman chalked it up to her being a regular, wild 2-year-old. Her French friend, however, saw the behavior as unacceptable and quietly spoke to the toddler, telling her this was not an okay way to act. To Druckerman's surprise, her daughter immediately complied. I understand that there are some things that cannot be taught in a book, but it would be really helpful to have it spelled out for me step-by-step, since I have a shelf of books that needs some serious protection.

5 out of 5 stars. Bringing up Bebe is a great book if you want to learn about another culture and country's way of parenting. There are some good take-home lessons in this engaging read. I'll definitely be checking out Druckerman's follow-up book, Bebe Day by Day.


  1. I keep meaning to download the audio from my library but then some readalong or another comes up and I forget completely about it. A lot of the things you describe in this post are things that I have also struggled with as a new mother--the keeping interests outside of mommyhood, the working away from home full-time, not losing self in sight of my new roles. It's been tough--especially as there seems to be such a divide between working moms and stay at home moms.

    But yes--I always thought this was a parenting book which surprises me that there isn't more detail in the hows. You're not alone--if I give Elle a look she just gives me one back--I can tell that she's testing me and even if I do tell her "No" it doesn't always do a lot of good. I find it hard to believe that ALL French bebes are well behaved! ;)

    1. There are details to some of the more concrete things (like how they get them to sleep through the night early on and how they get them to eat just about anything, even as toddlers). But some of the things are just hard to translate into the written word (like The Look).

      Plus I think something she found was that for the most part, French parents don't have a set of written rules they follow. Their parenting techniques are so ingrained in the culture they don't even know they're doing them (or more likely just don't realize they're worth mentioning) so it was hard for her to get specific details.

      I do like her insights into the French idea that kids are little adults and they know and understand much more than we (as Americans) sometimes give them credit for. Even though I don't think I can explain to Emily why she should sleep through the night and she'll comply because she gets it, I do like this idea much more than a common theory in our parenting universe that kids are little more than Neanderthals.

      So I think there are a lot of useful things to glean from this book, even if not everything can be copied exactly as the French do it (at least not without a diagram or how-to video).