Face it Americans: You’re shitty parents. If you don’t believe us, take a look at all of the parenting books telling you that someone else – or, more recently, some place else – knows how to do it better. Last year, Amy Chua’s book about raising her American-born daughters according to strict Chinese tradition - Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother - showed us that we were raising soft, entitled kids who would never be any good at the violin because they didn’t practice three hours a day. But how many of us could channel Chua’s strict militarism and threaten to burn our daughter’s stuffed animals if they messed up their piano scales? What we need is a more American-friendly approach. For that we turn to Pamela Druckerman’s new book Bringing Up Bébé, which presents the solution we’ve all been waiting for: raise Frencher kids.
Being a Franco Mom sounds far easier than being a Tiger Mom. In fact, the French moms Druckerman describes sound a lot like Hollywood moms: thin, stylish, not defined by motherhood. One imagines they all vaguely resemble Katie Holmes, leading an army of perfectly behaved little Suris around the Champs-Élysées. According to Druckerman, an expat raising young children in France, these French kids rarely throw temper tantrums or demand to eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese at every meal. In fact, they might condescend that the cheese isn’t real, as Druckerman’s daughter did upon seeing the neon orange powder for the first time. Instead, they will sit calmly at the table eating leeks and camembert, and will be less demanding, happy to play by themselves and able to bake gateau au yaourt from a very young age. Druckerman even shares a yogurt cake recipe, so your kids’ Frenchification can begin the next time you buy Yoplait and flour.
We were hoping for more play-by-play instructions for turning our kids into cigarette smoking, Serge Gainsbourg enthusiasts, but much of the book is straight memoir, and a very engagingly written one at that. But we won’t hold that against Druckerman, since she doles out a few keys to making our kids Frencher:
- French parents expect babies to sleep through the night by the time they are three months old. They largely accomplish this through what Druckerman calls “the pause,” a five-minute or so window in which they give fussing babies a chance to put themselves back to sleep. We assume that if the pause fails, you can always give your baby a sip of fine Bordeaux – now that he’s Frencher, he should be working on his tolerance anyway.
- To ensure that children are actually hungry at mealtime, the French don’t allow their children to snack throughout the day as many Americans do. They eat three meals and a late afternoon snack called goûter, which is when they consume all those yogurt cakes.
- The French believe that even babies are rational beings with the capacity for self-control. Therefore, they are far less likely to put up with the temper tantrums that can be de rigueur for American parents. Disappointingly, the book doesn’t discuss the point at which your child’s self-control will be replaced by the need to find a mistress.
- Unlike many American mothers, French moms don’t expect parenting to take over their life and identity. They rarely give up their jobs once they have babies and clamor to get them into state subsidized daycare centers called crѐches, where toddlers eat four course lunches. They believe this gives their children autonomy, which in France is an attribute akin to developing our children’s talents as soccer goalies, musicians and/or mathletes in America.
Much of this advice may seem like common sense, which has been in short supply in America of late. The good news is, once we adopt these French habits, we will acquire some. Druckerman tells us that parenting advice doesn’t have the same market appeal in France as it does in America. She quotes a French mom who says, “These books can be useful to people who lack confidence, but I don’t think you can raise a child while reading a book. You have to go with your feeling.”
Hmm… We’ll see what next year’s book about the wisdom of Pygmy mothers says about that.