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I personally find the recent trend of books about French parenting a little annoying. Maybe I get a little defensive when American parents get toasted for enrolling their kids in AYSO soccer and then praising them when they kick the ball. Or maybe I want to roll my eyes when I hear French mothers are horrified when they don’t wear matching lingerie. But when I saw Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bebe Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting, I still found myself picking it up to read the introduction. She starts off right away addressing people like me, people who thought she was “slamming” American parenting, and talking about the parents that were so thankful for her perspective.
It was 118 pages. A tiny book. I whipped through it while I was cooking a very un-French dinner, and then later, I flipped through it again at a slightly slower pace. It was an easy read, French parenting in 100 short bursts. Some were one paragraph, all were a page or less, and all were what French parents, media, and conventional wisdom says about parenting, from sleeping habits to a couple’s private life.
Was it life changing? Nah. In fact, it seemed a bit dry at times, almost clinical. Druckerman purposely avoided her own experiences, instead focusing only on what parenting advice you receive in France. I prefer hearing about personal stories, so maybe her first book would have been more interesting to me.
Was it interesting? Some of it. Most of it was common sense, like “Calm is better for the baby” or “Babies are noisy sleepers”, but there were a few nuggets that I really liked.
The gouter: This is the afternoon snack (the only snack of the day) that kids have so that hopefully they eat more at mealtimes. It is usually a combo of sweets, dairy, and fruit, like a piece of dark chocolate in a baguette, served with juice. Brilliant. This is something my youngest daughter struggles with – we call her a “snackatarian”, so the idea of having one special snack versus many…many other snacks is appealing. Plus, it’s fun to say.
Moments Privilegies: This means “little pockets of joy or calm when you simply appreciate being together”. She referenced in the section on having a good quality of life, not just cramming your kids full of extra-curriculars. I wholeheartedly agree, and I love having a beautiful phrase to go along with it. In fact, we just read a picture book last night, Doug Unplugged, which was a delightful story of a robot unplugging to go explore the big city.
C’est moi quidecide: Translated “It’s me who decides”, this launched an entire section on discipline. I like the idea of a declarative sentence that rolls off the tongue better than, “Who’s the boss, kids?”. I’m also notorious for asking my kids to obey, like “Parker, put on your pajamas, okay?”which is pretty darn ineffective. The reminder that no is no, and that is okay, was great. Plus, I obviously think that everything sounds better in French.
There were also parts that did not resonate with me, like the section on treating your husband like an “adorably helpless creature” who can’t do your job. I just don’t buy it. Giving your kids an acceptable “curse word” that they can use when they are with their friends and in private? Not a fan. And the reasons they give for women going back into the workforce? I didn’t quite agree with their perspective.
I still believe that we don’t have to throw out our American parenting with the bathwater. There is a lot that we do right. But any time we find ourselves being defensive, there is usually a shred of truth. The French have a relaxed approach to life that translates into how they parent their kids, and we could stand to take a few lessons.