Bringing Up Bebe

If you’re like me, you may be a little skeptical about one more parenting book claiming the superiority of one nationality over another.  But, if you’re like me, you will be pleasantly surprised by Pamela Druckerman’s book Bringing Up Bebe.

Druckerman, a New Yorker, moved to Paris to marry her husband, an Englishman who grew up in Holland.  In the course of time she has a baby and begins to notice the striking differences between how French mothers think, act, and parent and how American mothers do things.  Rather than setting out to see which was superior, Druckerman observes the cultures and points out ways that the French ideas she picked up might be helpful to other parents.

I was interested to note how traditional French parenting is.  My guess is that most of our grandparents were raised more like these French kids than like the overprotected, helicopter-parented kids of today.  Emphasis on parental authority, having manners, eating a wide variety of foods, and not being the center of the universe are things I think any American parent could stand to learn more about.  Things American parents boast about like how little sleep they get, how much they have given up their personal lives for their children, and the like are viewed as horrifying by the French.  Then again there are some things that Americans take for granted, such as the health benefits of breastfeeding, that French culture hasn’t adopted in spite of scientific evidence.

Likewise some parenting methods I employ, partially because I had three kids under age three at one point and you have to survive somehow, and partially because I have a strong sense of needing my own intellectual outlets, are common in France but have garnered me strong negative reactions in the US.  At times while reading the book I thought “perhaps we should move to Paris.”

Throughout the book Druckerman is interesting and informative, maintains an engaging and intelligent writing style, and gives a great sense of what being a young mother in Paris is like.  I highly enjoyed it, and took notes on a few things I plan to try on my children (poor guinea pigs that they are).  I had been thinking of starting the kids in French next fall, and now I really think I will, if only so that I can incorporate terms like sois sage and c’est moi qui decide into my parlance!

If you’re a parent or considering becoming one, or if you enjoy cross-cultural narratives and sociology topics, you’d probably really like Bringing Up Bebe.  Let me know what you think if you read it!


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

11 thoughts on “Bringing Up Bebe

  1. I read the original article as well, and it did make me interested in reading the book (I’m on hold at the library for it.)

    Your review makes me think I’ve got some French parent in me. I have no interest in bragging about how little sleep I get (I mourn the sleep I’m not getting, and am trying to do everything I can to get more.) I also have no interest in giving up every shred of a personal life. I *need* to read books that don’t have pictures splashed on every page, or I would not be a very good mother for long.

    1. There were over 1K responses to the wsj article. I read a few and found a wide range of feelings- I guess all parents are passionate about it, one way or another. Teachers are even talking about the book here at school. But then, we blame everything on the parents 🙂 so it’s good to find a book that seems to agree with us!

  2. I’m glad that you reviewed this. I was wanting to read it after I read the wsj article. I look forward to reading it now.

  3. Thanks for your review. (I came here via Keren Threlfall). I am going to be checking your blog often now!

    I have not read the book yet, but I have been hoping to get my hands on it soon. I am looking forward to reading it. I grew up in France so I look forward to reading it. I’m sure, as in most cases like these, there are many generalizations. But one thing I do know is that there are certain expectations (mostly because of culture) and children do rise up and meet those. Americans could stand to learn that. When it is “expected” the parent is so confident that there is no room for discussion. It does not have to be a confrontation/discipline scenario because “that is just how it is done.”

    I do hope you teach your children French! I am teaching my kids French!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Johanna! I hope you visit again. You make a good point about cultural expectations – I think it would be easier for American parents to be confident if we didn’t feel like we were always going against the flow when we require our children to show respect to adults, have good manners, eat all foods, and so on. Do you have any recommendations for teaching children French? I assume you’re probably teaching yours by simply speaking French to them, but my French consists of a fuzzy remembrance of one year in middle school!

  4. After reading your review I went on to Amazon and read the extract for the UK version of the book. I can’t wait to read the whole book now and am adding it to my birthday wish list. My birthday is in April, so I won’t have long to wait!

    My French isn’t up to much (I haven’t used it since I left school), but my husband lived and studied in France for a while and is a fluent French speaker. I’d love for him to teach the children French, but we don’t really know how to go about it. I think languages are fascinating, don’t you?

    Thanks for bringing the book to my attention.

  5. One of my most vivid memories as an American mother living in France is of bringing my younger daughter, Gabriela, to a hospital emergency room on a Saturday night. Gabriela was 14 at the time. She’d arrived home from a school soccer match in Brussels with what looked like a broken wrist. The attending doctor was young and efficient. She manipulated and twisted Gabriela’s right arm with such intensity that my daughter — a gut-it-out player who didn’t cry easily — could not hold back the tears. The doctor pointed to a boy of about 4 lying on a gurney close by. “He’s a little boy and you’re a big girl, and he’s not crying,” she said. “Why can’t you be like him?”

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