Reasons Why I Still Like Pamela Druckerman’s Book: Bringing Up Bébé
I only read one parenting book while pregnant with my first child and it was Pamela Druckerman’s 2012 best-selling book, Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.
Druckerman writes about all-things motherhood, from pregnancy to childrearing and even the “secrets” to marital happiness, in fresh, winsome and relatable ways, which in many ways makes her book an easy, fun read.
I felt so inspired by her stories of French sleep methods that helped babies, even newborns, begin sleeping through the night. Her discussions on how young, French children could quietly and politely sit at restaurants, while eating their food and not making a mess became a sort of ideal for me. And her descriptions of Parisian mothers, who still enjoyed independence and rest among other things…
This gave me hope for my newly arriving days as a mother.
Granted, many of those ideals never came to pass. It took almost 8 months before our son starting sleeping (halfway) through the night. He still doesn’t really sit that still at restaurants (unless we pull out a little video for him to watch), and I’ve now quit my job and have become a full-time stay-at-home mom, so that whole independent life thing hasn’t really worked out either.
I’m not the only one who hasn’t had a 100% success rate with Druckerman’s book. In fact, as this article shows, many of her early fans are experiencing a fall out from the whole Druckermania.
Part of the reason for this “let down” has to do with the stark differences between French and American culture as well as the issue of state subsidies. You can read The New Yorker’s piece on both those issues here.
Nevertheless, I still feel that Druckerman’s book was the best book I could have read as a pre-parent. Despite the socio-cultural differences between France and the U.S., there are still three major ideas from Bringing Up Bébé, that I practice today:
- Natural Rhythms:
Druckerman talks a lot about a child’s natural rhythm in her book. She shares story after story about French mothers who watch their child closely, observe their behavior, pause and, finally, respond accordingly. This applies to everything from sleep schedules to daytime activities.
The idea is that each child has his or her own natural rhythm, and the sooner you learn what that is, the better you can help your child in both his day and nighttime routines.
I still think this is one of the most brilliant, parenting advice!
For the whole first year of my son’s life, I didn’t push a schedule at all. When he was hungry, I fed him and, when he was tired, I put him down for a nap. He ate a lot so I did feel sleep deprived for a good long time. However, I never felt stressed out, guilty or overwhelmed, and I’m grateful for that.
- Exploring New Foods:
Druckerman talks a lot about French food rules in her book, including the “Honest Taste Policy”. Parisian mothers teach their kids that they can’t just reject food. They have to taste it, even if it’s just one bite, and then if they don’t like it, they have to explain why.
I instituted this policy from the first day my son started eating solid foods, and we’ve never looked back. There are still a lot of foods that he doesn’t like, however he knows that he can never outright reject a food without trying at least one bite.
That’s a win in my book, anyways.
- Allowing Bêtise:
Apparently, Parisian mothers are highly adept at not only differentiating between big and small offenses, but even allowing these said small offenses or bêtise (beh-teeze). In short, a bêtise is a small act of naughtiness, and in France parents try to respond to it with moderation.
This notion stems from the French parenting ideal that children should have firm limits (or boundaries), but that they should also have tremendous freedom from within those limits. It’s an interesting idea for sure.
I may not necessarily allow curse words in the house like some French women do in the stories that Druckerman shares (see the chapter on caca boudin).
I still try to let my son be a toddler.
In my own way I allow for a good deal of mishaps, while also helping him to consider the repercussions of his verbal and bodily choices. Instead of the immediate “no” or “stop that”, this more fluid approach allows for a healthy dose of independence and reflection, both of which can be good in moderation.
Do I still think there are flaws in Druckerman’s book? Sure, of course I do. But would I whole-heartedly still recommend this book to a new momma? Absolutely.