Bringing Up Bébé

Recently, while reading A Cup of Jo (great blog - check it out), I came across a post about Pamela Druckerman's book, "Bringing Up Bébé."  It was the first time I'd heard about it, and as a fan of all things French (and all things baby), I not only read the post, but also the comments that went along with it.  

To bring you up to speed, Druckerman, an American expat married to a British expat raised in Holland, embarks on motherhood in France and decides to raise her three children in Paris.  As she struggles through parenting, she observes that the French have a different (better?) way of doing things and decides to investigate. 

My initial reaction after reading the Cup of Jo post was that these parenting techniques were not French, they were simply good parenting.  Then I wanted to know just how long Druckerman had lived in France before coming to her conclusions.  I've been here almost 8 years and the French still confuse me- what were her stats? Was she really an authority on French parenting? After reading this critique in the New York times, in all honesty, I didn't even want to support Druckerman by purchasing her book. But I had to - I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.  Amazon.fr helped me with that, and I was soon the owner of my very own hard-copy of "Bringing Up Bébé."

Maybe it's because I'm also an American in Paris - an expat making a life in France, maybe it's because I'm almost 30 and have babies on the brain, or maybe it's because Druckerman is just a really funny writer, but I loved "Bringing Up Bébé." Though she investigates like a reporter, siting her references and  interviewing experts in the field of child-rearing in France and the US, I didn't really mind that many of the "French parenting techniques" she speaks of were sometimes just simple observations she made in the park or learned more about by speaking with the French mothers she meets at the crèche (daycare center for babies).

She talks about the challenges of finding a spot at the crèche in France, the meaning of caca-boudin - a French "bad word" for five-year-olds, and the many differences between French and American parenting.  A lover of franglais myself, I appreciated that her chapters are perfect translations of French parenting expressions, making sense only to those of us to speak both languages. In other words, when I read the book, I wasn't judging whether or not her claims were supported by enough documentation (such as Meadows, the New York Times reviewer), I just enjoyed reading about her observations as an American raising her kids in France,  learning how to navigate being a parent in a system that is so unlike the one we were raised in - it's something that I may be doing at some point later down the road. 

Druckerman describes how strange/funny/wonderful it is to raise bilingual children whose first reaction when opening a Christmas gift is, "oh la la!" This is something I wonder about as well - how will I feel having children who lean more towards French than English, who grow up eating chocolate bars in baguettes - a typical French gouter! (snack) - and who play in Parisian parks instead of the soccer fields of suburbia? 

I couldn't help but love the book more when Druckerman quotes from Katie Allison Granju, contributor to Babble.com and respected writer of mamapundit, another one of my favorite blogs. She talks about helicopter-parenting, a phenomenon I am all too familiar with, and brings to light the over-the-top, super-human parenting that goes on in the US.  I should know, my mom was what the French call, une maman-taxi - a taxi-mom - shuttling me to dance, my sister to soccer and my brother to football practice, every.single.day. The French don't do this and there may be a good reason why - they don't let being a parent completely take over their lives. (I love my mom for shuttling me around, but I know it was completely and utterly exhausting for her - I'm not sure that I could do it and remain sane). 

It's not without a little cynicism that Druckerman presents all of these techniques and ideas - coming both sides of the Atlantic. Her endearing self-deprecation makes me appreciate her writing even more.  I may even love the fact that she and her family live on the east side of Paris, that she goes into detail about her fears of giving birth in a French hospital and explains the techniques of French health-care-covered perineal reeducation. She may or may not also admit that her entire family uses the French word "prout" instead of "fart," now that they are a little Franco-American brood (am I the only one who still thinks that bathroom humor is funny?) She's relatable, witty, making it work abroad (bravo!), and I'm frankly a little bummed out that I've already finished the book.


  1. Oh I'm even more curious to read this book now! I didn't know that us French parents could ever be seen as a good example... We scream all the time, are way too permisive, and we have ads like Comptoirs des Cotonniers, where mothers and daughters dress the same... How often have I heard Earl say how bad we raise our kids and they don't show respect to us... ;-)
    I must say that as a bicultural couple, we often disagree on where to put the limits with the kids. He is very consistant, me on the other hand I allow everything but then I scream because I don't like it!
    I should learn more about the American way to educate children maybe :-)

  2. It would definitely be interesting to hear your perspective after reading the book - what does a French mom think of how Druckerman describes "French parenting"?? If you read it, let me know! I'd love to hear your thoughts! ps - you are right about Comptoir des Cotonniers!!! (and yes, sometimes I do find French parents to be a bit harsh - but it may be that I don't understand the "parental" phrases as well since I didn't grow up here. It may just sound different to my American ears.) I'm sure that Copain and I will have just as many (if not more!) challenges in that department.


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