but I hate the French : a review of Bringing Up Bebe

It all started because of peer pressure. I read about Bringing Up Bebe on the beloved Cup of Jo and then I saw references to the book everywhere. At the store. In my Reader. On the radio. At the library. And I thought, well, the French are rather snobby and obsessed with illicit affairs,  I don’t exactly want to raise my children to be French, but I figured it would be all the rage among moms my age and I wanted to have sound reasons for why I chose not to follow its advice. I requested it from the library, found myself in 47th place, and waited. When it arrived, I jumped right in so as not to fall behind the bandwagon (but to stay off the bandwagon, thank you very much).

And then I couldn’t put it down. I carried it to the pediatrician’s, to the in-laws, to the library, and maybe to the bathtub with a glass of red. While others were reading 50 [Overrated & Oppressive] Shades of Gray, (just saying), I read all about Pamela Druckerman’s odyssey through French parenting culture and her reflections on whether or not to conform to it.

The first thing to note is that it is well-written. Really, Jen, that’s the first thing? Look, I have two under two and I used to work full-time. Leisure hours aren’t really my thing this decade, so if I’m going to read something it better not dull my intellect and imagination.

Ms. Druckerman’s debut makes for a smooth and engaging read.

The second thing is to appreciate her judgment. I read and heard a number of reviews, some of whose authors actually read the book (surprise), and most of them criticized an American-looking-to-another-culture-to-model. I contend they skimmed chapters and never read the text. When you read each sentence you’ll be quick to find how measured she is in her examination of French parenting. She admires some things like their loving authority, time for adult relationships of all kinds, general respect for the dignity of the person who is presently a child, and expectation that every child will love good food and be self-controlled—even as toddlers! At the same time she questions the French disregard for breastfeeding and dettachment-style of parenting. And for the most part, I agreed with her reflections.

That is the third matter: the book encourages, quietly, a parent’s personal reflection on the motivations and freedoms we impress upon our children. Since reading this book I now expect my then 15-month-old (and now 21-month-old) to behave himself in both private and public circumstances, to keep food on his plate, to speak words clearly and convey ideas with greater precision. I believe my children are far more capable of greater maturity and dignity than I previously practiced. Not because they should behave ahead of their age, but because their age is capable of more than what we Americans tend to believe.

Now, I recently read this article by Mr. Druckerman about his wife's book. He explains that A basic idea in Bringing Up Bébé is that French parents don’t live in the service of their kids. While he highlights the above, I'd highlight his own sentence regarding a happy marriage. We are raising little people, not perpetual kids. One of the best things they can witness is how Hawk and I interact together, how we have our own conversation, how they must wait at times for our own activities to end. Not because we don't love them, but because we do. We are showing them how to honor others. And the kids love it.

Hence, Hawk runs almost every day but he is willing to work that run around the family's (not just the kids') needs. Sometimes it's 4 miles, sometimes it's 8, and as a family, we adjust to that run. I have time to blog and on Tuesday nights I attend a study 30 minutes away. That leaves him alone with the kids, and Poppy-don't-take-no-bottle. Like the book attests, we shouldn't limit ourselves to "date nights," as if that one night is the night we get to be adults. When it's bedtime, the kids need to be in bed. For their physical and mental health as well as our personal leisure time. 

And don't get me started on my clothes. Before I read Bringing Up Bebe I practiced the Midwest-mom art of leisure clothes, i.e., gym clothes or scruffy stuff, not just on occasion but every day. Now, I wear skirts 50% of days and these cute, totally-trendy pop-color pants the other 50%. I shower and shave regularly and I no longer use my kids as an excuse for being un-sexy. (My 5'0" stature might, but not my legs). Besides, I want my kids to think this of me one day.

Why? Because as much as we love our babies and man, do I want to go up right now and wake them and cuddle them and wrestle I know that they are going to leave the coop just as we did, most likely find a mate or enter religious life and we will become the parents who raised them, not perpetual roommates.

I think Americans are too black-and-white about things that shouldn't be so stark. We think it's all or nothing, instead of some of this, and much of that. Being a good marriage doesn't mean being a bad parent. Teaching kids patience doesn't mean ignoring them. Missing one activity doesn't necessarily imply selfishness.

So in summary, here's what I personally gained from the book:

  • I am a good mom. Contrary to the American mantra I'm such a bad mom. You know you've said it, or heard it from another mom. Why?
  • My children are capable of mature behavior. Loving, gentle and firm discipline guides then in that direction when their appropriate development challenges them.
  • I can be sexy, fit, and smell rather pleasant as a mom. 'Nough said. This is my perfume.
  • Patience and a sense of others is one of the best things to teach a child, as is the word No. I love Ms. Druckerman's example of the mother who gently but firmly tells her daughter that she is in the middle of a conversation and then expects her child to wait. And the child waits. How beautiful! Manners, attention toward others, respect for self and one's self-control...how great! And my favorite is the snack time, goutier. Ace never questions when I say no to extra treats or non-once-a-day snacks (goutier) that we now practice. He may ask a thousand times, but he always accepts the answer. No.
  • On that note, how I respond now determines much of who they become. So instead of saying, Yes, that IS a cloud when Ace points to a tree, I say, Nope, that's a tree, dude. 
  • Language and the ability to converse are of vital importance. Forget the schools*. It is our job to teach our children to speak clearly, mean what they say, read, and hold a conversation. The gift of language is one of the greatest gifts!
  • One must be able to abide well within society. Conversation, manners, patience; these are good things. Being a member of society doesn't mean you're less a family member or that you ascribe to everything of society at-large. It just means that you can hold your own and still engage others in meaningful relationships. 

I could probably keep going but this review is getting a bit long.

I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts. Tell us, tell us! Have you read it? Are you wary of it? Have you already made the yogurt cake and thought it wasn't that great? Me, too. Did we make it incorrectly?

*In this statement I am not including learning disabilities which require trained educators, time, and attention. I just mean end the baby-talk and give our kids the gift of conversation and recollection.


  1. Your subject line sums up what I thought when I heard people raving about this book. Especially because of the detachment when I am strongly trying to attachment parent. But everything you're saying sounds like common sense, though we are a snacky kind of family. :) Sounds interesting, but I don't know that I will get around to reading the book. Thanks for sharing!

  2. OMG, I've totally said tha tI'm a bad mom phrase all the time! I wasn't going to read this either. Like the Jen commenter, I thought it sounded overrated. You've peaked my interest. I'm also reading Cup of Jo. Great blog, as is yours!


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