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Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother…

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French… (2012)

by Pamela Druckerman

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I was curious about the buzz this one received and since I’m pregnant, it seemed to be the perfect time to check it out. I went into it assuming that Druckerman’s argument would be that everything French is better. I was prepared to take that with a grain of salt and move on. Instead I discovered that, although she was living in Paris, she wasn’t a huge fan of France or the French. That being said, she was in awe of French parenting and the seemingly effortless success they had raising their children.

Druckerman approaches the whole subject as a journalist, not as a mother desperate to figure out what works. I appreciated her factual approach. She included anecdotes about her own experiences, but relied more heavily on what she learned from other French mothers. I thought it was fascinating to learn what cultural differences are ingrained in French and American parents, respectively.

There is plenty that I know wouldn’t work with my particular style. The sheer pressure put on women to look perfect as quickly as possible after giving birth is a bit overwhelming, but there were plenty of other things to learn from. I loved seeing how the day cares in France, called a crèche, work. Where American day cares have a negative stigma attached, crèches are the opposite.

BOTTOM LINE: Interesting and informative. There are a few parenting styles that I hope I’ll keep in mind as I attempt to find what works best for my family. I particularly liked the French approach to encouraging your kids to eat a wide variety of food and sleeping through the night as early as possible. ( )
  bookworm12 | Jul 27, 2015 |
Rather than having many sets of competing and conflicting (and anxiety-inducing) parenting philosophies like in the U.S., parents in France seem to take a few basic things for granted. One of these things is that babies are people who are capable of learning things; another is that the baby must fit into the family, not be the center of it, so that adults still have "adult time." French parents also believe in the importance of teaching their kids to cope with frustration by having to wait for things; ultimately, this makes them "calmer and more resilient."

There is the idea of the "cadre," a strict framework within which children have a lot of freedom. Parents consider themselves to be teachers rather than police, and there is a word - "betise" - for minor acts of naughtiness that may be corrected but aren't deserving of punishment. French parents aim for "l'equilibre" (balance) but don't subsume their identities in their children, or feel as guilty as some American parents (particularly moms) do for working or taking time for themselves.

The chapters about sleeping and food provide an excellent guide that American parents can use just as well as French ones. The chapters about day care are less applicable, as there is no system in the U.S. that compares to the French creche (except the American military day care system). The U.S. doesn't even have a national standard for day care. Druckerman writes, "France has less feminist rhetoric, but it has many more institutions that enable women to work." ( )
  JennyArch | Apr 16, 2015 |
I love the title of the British edition of this book: French Children Don't Throw Food (I would guess that's a tip of the hat to Mireille Guilliano's French Women Don't Get Fat).

While my parenting days are long behind me, I applaud the sensible French who don't let Little Napoleon run the house, run his parents ragged, and make all innocent bystanders smile through gritted teeth while looking for the nearest, quickest escape hatch.

I don't have much in common with Pamela Druckerman, but enjoyed her self-deprecating writing style. Some people have criticized her for writing only about upper-middle-class parents in Paris, who may not be typical of the majority of French parents, but that's the milieu Druckerman was living in, so I won't quibble with that.

An interesting read, and some young parents or parents-to-be would undoubtedly pick up some good tips they could put into practice. ( )
  booksandscones | Apr 2, 2015 |
I think this book is more about cultural shock than about parenting. You will learn a few things about parenting, especially if you're not French, but mostly about cultural differences. Funny and witty (occasionally trying too hard). The passages on her first birth and "perineal re-education" got me laughing out loud. Worth reading, but not more than once. ( )
  ftorralba | Oct 8, 2014 |
narrated by Abby Craden

The backstory: I've been curious about Bringing Up Bebe since it first came out, but now that I'm pregnant (the nomadbaby is due August 9th), it seemed like a great time to finally read it. On the recommendation of Jen at Devourer of Books, I opted for the audio version.

The basics: Pamela Druckerman is a journalist and New Yorker who falls in love with a Brit and settles in Paris. Once they have a daughter, Bean, Druckerman begins to notice how different French children are than American children. They don't whine. They're not picky eaters. They sleep through the night earlier. yet when she asks French parents, they don't claim to do anything special or know what they're doing. In fact, compared to her U.S. friends who all espouse a variety of named parenting philosophies, the French parents insist that's just how children are.

My thoughts: One of my biggest fears about motherhood is exhaustion. I've always been a sleeper, and I don't function well on prolonged lack of sleep. Obviously, I'm aware that early motherhood will have me short on sleep, but I'm eager to find out anything that might help that period be as short as possible. In this sense, I enjoyed the first part of Bringing Up Bebe most because it focuses on the youngest children. My not-yet-born child does not yet whine in my fantasies, yet ini my head he does smile adorably in the middle-of-the-night when I wish I were sleeping.

Bringing Up Bebe begins with some background on Druckerman and her husband, which was interesting, but I was glad when she shifts the narrative to pregnancy. I didn't expect this book to include cultural differences about pregnancy, which I've read a lot about already. While I enjoyed her observations about pregnant French women, this section included the first red flags that Druckerman writes as a journalist who is not always willing to examine evidence or her own assumptions. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that stance, but throughout this book she vacillates between journalist and memoirist. This combination frustrated me as a reader at times, particularly because so many of her personal opinions she refuses to examine as a journalist are not ones I share.

Typically what I love about memoirs is having a glimpse into a person's real life. I liked that here, but I also realized for all the parts of this book I really enjoyed, I don't think Pamela Druckerman and I would be friends in real life. In fiction, I don't need my characters to be likeable as long as they're interesting and I understand their motivations. Listening to this book made me realize that preference extends to nonfiction too. Druckerman passes the interesting test--her life is fascinating, but her unwillingness to fully embrace this topic as a journalist frustrated me. For all the good observations (much more than half), there were several missed opportunities.

The verdict: There's a lot of wisdom and interesting observation about French parenting in Bringing Up Bebe. When Druckerman wrote as a journalist, I enjoyed this book much more than when she veered into more of a memoir style. There's a lot of good in this book, but I wished Druckerman would have pushed herself farther.

Audio thoughts: Abby Craden's narration was superb. Her French pronunciation (to my Anglophone ears) was accurate without being over-the-top. She read with emotion, and her voice reminds me of my favorite audiobook narrator, Cassandra Campbell. I'm glad I picked this one up on audio, as I fear Druckerman's opinions would have been more grating in print.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (4.5 out of 5 on audio) ( )
1 vote nomadreader | Jun 10, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Much of the so-called French child rearing wisdom compiled here is obvious. ... Ms. Druckerman is oddly unjournalistic here. "Bringing Up Bébé" is essentially a series of generalizations based on her American and French friends and her own experiences as a mother.
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Les petits poissons dans l'eau
Nagent aussi bien que les gros.
The little fish in the water
Swim as well as the big ones do.

-- French children's song
For Simon,
who makes everything matter
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When my daughter is eighteen months old, my husband and I decide to take her on a little summer holiday.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"The secret behind France's astonishingly well-behaved children. When American journalist Pamela Druckerman has a baby in Paris, she doesn't aspire to become a "French parent." French parenting isn't a known thing, like French fashion or French cheese. Even French parents themselves insist they aren't doing anything special. Yet, the French children Druckerman knows sleep through the night at two or three months old while those of her American friends take a year or more. French kids eat well-rounded meals that are more likely to include braised leeks than chicken nuggets. And while her American friends spend their visits resolving spats between their kids, her French friends sip coffee while the kids play. Motherhood itself is a whole different experience in France. There's no role model, as there is in America, for the harried new mom with no life of her own. French mothers 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.They have an easy, calm authority with their kids that Druckerman can only envy. Of course, French parenting wouldn't be worth talking about if it produced robotic, joyless children. In fact, French kids are just as boisterous, curious, and creative as Americans. They're just far better behaved and more in command of themselves. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are-by design-toddling around and discovering the world at their own pace. With a notebook stashed in her diaper bag, Druckerman-a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal sets out to learn the secrets to raising a society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters, and reasonably relaxed parents. She discovers that French parents are extremely strict about some things and strikingly permissive about others. And she realizes that to be a different kind of parent, you don't just need a different parenting philosophy. You need a very different view of what a child actually is. While finding her own firm "non", Druckerman discovers that children-including her own-are capable of feats she'd never imagined."--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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