Sunday, May 6, 2012

french parenting is not for me

Pamela Druckerman: wannabe French
I got interested in Pamela Druckerman's memoir Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting based on a couple of reviews that suggested I had some things in common with French moms. As it turns out, we got just about nothing in common. Nor do I care much for their approach to parenting.

Druckerman, on the other hand, does. Druckerman is practically drooling in awe over French moms' approach to parenting, from how they get their kids to sleep, eat, and behave so well, to their attention to adult time and sassy looks.

Of course, all these things sound great. But then take a minute to pause as Druckerman learns to do the French way with her children and consider this: practicing the pause in terms of (not) checking on their babies when they are learning to "do their nights" when only a few days or weeks old (and at least by three months) is the same as Ferberizing or even crying it out at a very young age. It only has a different name and since "everyone" in France practices it, nobody worries about it either.

Everybody knows that having children changes one life. But not so in France. In France, the goal is for the children to interfere as little as possible with the lives of the adults. This laissez-faire approach appealed to me in only one instance: encouraging children to play independently at the playground. This is what I had picked up on from one of the reviews I had read. However, within the context of the entire book, even this became a troublesome indicator of French parents' preference for playpens and pacifiers. Plop them down and prop it in. Leaving the latter in there often till the kids are three or four.

And lest you think the goal of having children interfere as little as possible with the adults' lives is an indicator of gender equality in France, think twice. French moms have the benefit of paid maternity leave, subsidized full-time daycare, and free preschool supporting women in their return to work, which they do: France has more working women than any other country in the European Union. French moms also take on the parental and domestic responsibilities, and don't even expect "help" from their husbands (forget about gender equal parenting) for whom they cook and clean and still make sure to dress up for.

For French moms it is crucial to get their thin bodies back within a maximum of three months. The focus is on ensuring monsieur is happy, including in bed. Doctors even prescribe reeducation of the abdominal and perineal areas that involves exercises and even some nip and tuck. Breastfeeding is not encouraged and apparently many find the sight disturbing. Instead babies are formula fed four times a day to match adults' mealtimes.

There was one section of the book I enjoyed, and it was the one in which Druckerman finds out she's pregnant with twins. When shifting her focus away from the French model of parenting, or the American moms she thinks she's got pigeonholed, to document her own marriage and parenting, Druckerman shows that she has exceptional talent for hilarity and wit.

Her biased comparison of French vs. American parenting, on the other hand, is downright offensive, reflecting that same kind of prejudice against attachment parenting that Elisabeth Badinter perpetuates in her new controversial book Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. Gradually Druckerman takes on the traditional French parenting model with its big eye disciplining and sleep training and meal scheduling, also adopting the French four course meal — a working mom cooking four course dinners. That's not modern motherhood to me at all.
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