But back to Bringing Up Bebe....I am astonished at the core differences between American and French parenting styles. As someone who works with the public sector in a place that caters to families and children, it's been clear to me for quite some time just how different parenting is today from when I was raised. Somehow American children have become tyrants over their parents, and parents seem to wear it as a badge of honor just how much they're willing to suffer for their children. I can't tell you the number of times a family comes in to my store and the kid immediately kicks their shoes off. The parent or nanny or guardian gently says, "Don't you want to put your shoes back on?" and has to ask it several times, and each the time the child refuses. After all, the child is being asked if she wants to put her shoes on. It seems like she has a choice, doesn't it? And it's this endless stream of "choices" that are representative of the systemic problems in American parenting today, at least as I see it. Because these commands in the form of requests seem to grant the child the right to say no to everything, and lo & behold, the parent actually backs down.
In my childhood, I wasn't given the option of not wearing a jacket when it snowed or of taking my shoes off in a store to run barefoot around it. "No" meant the same thing the first time I asked something as the fifth time I asked something (and I learned very quickly not to ask more than once). My mama had no truck with wheedling or whining with any of her kids. But I see parents today constantly giving in to unreasonable demands from their children and I don't really understand how that paradigm shifted.
Yes, I understand that it's quite comfortable to criticize something when I'm on the outside looking in, but criticize I must.
Actually, for the first three months, French and American parenting styles are quite similar, as least as laid out by Druckerman: no sleep, multiple nightly feeds, all things revolve around baby, and breastfeeding. After that, though, the differences rear their ugly heads. After the age of 3 months, French babies are taught to "do their nights" and to learn to live on the overall family's cycle while for Americans, the family usually continues to live on the baby cycle. According to Druckerman, if a French baby isn't sleeping through the night and eating only four times a day by the age of 6 months, it's a cause for concern. At first it sounded a little selfish and cruel, but I was eventually convinced that the French way is the saner way to do things.
Then there's the government-run support that that the state provides that lets French families get back to a normal lifestyle, except that the creche program is far superior to anything offered in the States (except, notably the day care run by the Department of Defense, which "accepts kids from the age of six weeks" and where "fees are scaled according to the parents' combined income" ), not least because the creche is subsidized. Meaning that working class families can afford quality care for their children. What's more, caring for children in France is a profession, a highly trained and licensed one at that, and it doesn't have the stigma that daycare does here in the US. When children outgrow the creche program, they move on to preschool, which is also subsidized by the state.
The best single illustration I can give is the daily lunch preparation for creche attendees. This particular example was for a table of two-year olds:
Here in the States, it's mostly only the privileged who eat that well every day for lunch. In France, that's a standard state-sponsored meal for all children.First, the teacher uncovers and displays each dish. The starter is a bright-red tomato salad in vinaigrette. "This is followed by le poisson," she says, to approving glances, as she displays a flaky white fish in a light butter sauce, and a side dish of peas, carrots, and onions. Next she previews the cheese course: "Today it's le bleu," she says, showing the kids a crumbly blue cheese. Then she displays dessert: whole apples, which she'll slice at the table. The food looks simple, fresh, and appetizing. Except for the melamine plates, the bite-sized pieces, and the fact that some of the diners have to be prodded to say "merci," I might be in a high-end restaurant (112).
The United States likes to give a lot of lip service to so-called family values and how much children are held dearly. We waste time and rhetoric focusing on the definition of family when we should be emphasizing what the values are. Compared to other first world countries, we're shamefully behind. Until we can provide a comparative level of health care, nutrition, and family support to all children regardless of socio-economic background that nations like France provide, we have no business talking about how we (as a state, not as individuals) value children.
One somewhat alarming thing noted by Druckerman is that the people of France haven't exactly embraced feminism, but she goes on to note that the state, at least, has:
There are structural reasons why Frenchwomen seem calmer than American women. They take about twenty-one more vacation days each year. France has less feminist rhetoric, but it has many more institutions that enable women to work. There's the national paid maternity leave (the United States has none), the subsidized nannies and creches, the free universal preschool from age three, and myriad tax credits and payments for having kids. All this doesn't insure that there's equality between men and women, but it does insure that Frenchwomen can have both a career and kids (192).
The only thing that I fundamentally disagreed with vis a vis the French parenting approach that Druckerman lays out is how quickly mothers stop breastfeeding their children (most give it up by the time their children are "doing their nights." Aside from that, I was practically cheering in each chapter for the commonsense approach to raising children with autonomie, as it is called. I recommend this book for parents and non-parents alike, and I suspect I may get myself into hot water more than once by giving this book to any parents to be--or worse, handing it out to parents I know who are expecting a second child.
NB: I picked up an ARC of this book at Winter Institute, but the book was published by Penguin in February of this year. Also, Druckerman seems to prefer the use of "Frenchwomen" to "French women" and I'm not sure why, since it's not considered standard English any longer, at least here in the US.