In Her New Book Bringing Up Bébé, Journalist And Mother Of Three Pamela Druckerman Argues That French Parents Do It Better
By Meghan Gearino
The French may be onto something—and this time it’s not fashion or food. When American journalist Pamela Druckerman moved to Paris in 2003 and subsequently started a family, she took notice (and copious notes) on how differently the French parented compared to Americans. She has compiled her observations in a hilarious, relatable and smart new memoir, Bringing Up Bébé (The Penguin Press), which covers everything from schooling to snack time to sleeping habits. And while American critics seem quick to consider the book an antidote to Tiger Mom’s ferocious style of ultra-competitive parenting, a balanced temperament is what’s helping Druckerman make waves in the parenting world.
Your book has recently released stateside. Would you say the reception in the U.S. has been good, critical or both?
It’s interesting! I feel like the reaction in the media has been, at times, critical. But the reaction I’m getting from readers has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m struck by how there’s a larger conversation going on right now, and my book is just a small part of that. These conversations are about the intensive style of parenting that has developed in the United States over the past 20 years or so, and there’s a real hunger for alternatives.
Is it more important to you that readers give you positive feedback, as opposed to the media?
Absolutely! I definitely would like everyone to love me, but that’s just because I was over-praised as a child.
Was there an exact moment of inspiration that made you decide to write this book? I think my “aha” moment was [what] I describe at the beginning of the book. I was at a restaurant with my 16-month-old daughter when I was on vacation and I noticed that the French families all around us were NOT having a horrible experience. From there, along with the things I had seen over that year and a half, everything just sort of clicked and I thought “I want some of that!” From there, it became this detective story for me to try and figure out what French parents were doing. It was both the reporter in me and the desperate mother in me.
In the book, French women are perceived as more confident in both themselves and in their parenting skills.
They definitely don’t worry that they’ve chosen the right parenting philosophy because there aren’t lots of different parenting philosophies to choose from. But also, I think they are really pragmatic—they stick with what works. That is one thing that stuck me regarding French approaches. The French are not reinventing the wheel. They hone in on and stick with [a] few key things that really do work. It felt to me, in most cases, [like] common sense. I didn’t have to leave my comfort zone exactly, as it was more about seeing these practices in action and trusting them.
You also talk about American women holding a lot of guilt in regards to parenthood.
Guilt is very much in the room for French mothers—it’s not that they banish guilt or don’t talk about it. But they treat it differently. I think American mothers, in some way, embrace guilt. We feel it’s a tax we pay for being able to do the things we want. For instance, if we say: “I’m a bad mother,” then that allows us to take time for ourselves. We don’t think it’s OK to be selfish. French mothers say: “Guilt is a trap. The perfect mother doesn’t exist.” They don’t want to contaminate their scarce free time by feeling guilty.
I loved your example about how French women don’t feel guilty for spending time alone with their husbands or going on dates.
They think every human being, even a baby, needs time to themselves! That’s non-negotiable. You just have to be able to find that free time. French women often work full-time and they have just as many babies as we do in America, but they prioritize this time to themselves.
As far as “American experiences” go, is there anything you feel that your children (or you!) have missed out on?
Socially, it’s harder to make friends in France… There are no mommy groups and you’re probably not going to make friends for life with the mommy whose kid is playing with your kid in the sandbox… I’m also concerned about French schools later on; I think [they] get really tough. There’s a lot of emphasis on the negative, and not as much positive reinforcement in the schools.
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