What would happen if Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame had three children, settled in France instead of Italy, then read Amy “Tiger Mom” Chua’s diatribe against American parenting with both horror and assent, and sat down to pen her own book? You’d have something akin to the new “it” book about parenting, Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, by Pamela Druckerman. It smacks of an attempted repeat run to the bank exploiting American’s parental insecurity with another foreign-mothers-are-better book. (And in defense of my own cynicism, all three books share the same publisher.)
There’s much in this book to critique. The style is annoyingly chatty, the evidence for both her allegations and her adulation largely anecdotal. There’s more fault to find, but this book, though sans mention of God or any spiritual reality beyond the material, raises an essential question that matters to parenting women of faith.
But first, for those who haven’t read it, here’s what you need to know. Druckerman, a former writer for The Wall Street Journal, moves to Paris with her British boyfriend and daughter, has twins, and while immersed in early motherhood notices an ocean of difference between French and American parents and parenting styles. The French are, simply put, calm and relaxed. Their children don’t act up in public. They happily eat every kind of vegetable. Babies don’t throw food from high chairs. They learn to sleep through the night by three months. French mothers don’t gain much weight while pregnant, regaining their skinny, sexy figures soon after. They don’t breastfeed or stay home with their kids. They put their babies in all day state-run daycare with anticipation rather than guilt. They maintain their parental authority at all times, but give their children freedom within a few simple, enforced rules. And many more feats besides: Vive la France! How do they do it?
American parents, well, just aren’t as clever or capable. American mothers give up sexy clothes and stilettos and don sneakers, diaper bags, and extra weight. Parents readily sacrifice their own schedules and pleasures for the betterment of their offspring. Many approach childrearing as a project or a race, speeding their child through her developmental stages as though toward a finish line. This hypermanagement and overscheduling yields guilt-ridden, anxious, and exhausted parents. The children are worse: demanding, spoiled, and rude. They don’t eat their vegetables or sleep through the night until they’re a year old. Quelle différence!
Druckerman is clearly over-dazzled by the French, but she does have a point–or, several points. Who doesn’t get annoyed with badly behaved American children, and doesn’t it seem that there are a lot of them? Who hasn’t been squeamish around mothers infantilized by their children, who slavishly attend to their child’s every want and need? And we all know parents with racing stripes on their diaper bags. (Christian parents are not off the hook here; In fact, I believe they’re more likely to engage in these excesses than any other group of parents.)
Source: Christianity Today Her.meneutics | Leslie Leyland Fields