Technically this post title should be “currently RE-reading” because this is the second time I’ve read this magical book. As an ardent Francophile (a lover of all things French) my ears immediately perked up a few years back when I heard about a book called Bringing Up BéBé that compares popular Western (mainly American) parenting styles with the family life of Parisian parents. Completely intrigued I first got the book on CD out of the library to listen to on the drive up to Pennsylvania a few Christmases ago and it’s still one of my favorite books I’ve ever gotten into. First of all, let me highly suggest listening to this book being read aloud because if it’s the same reader that was on my book, all the french words and French-to-English accents are simply delightful to listen to and make it an even more enjoyable experience in my opinion.
This book basically follows a new American mother in Paris (her British husband moved them there for work) as she compares and contrasts her own parenting journey so far with the French mothers around her and the other Americans, Canadians, or simply non-French families she meets or knows from back home. She wonders why she doesn’t see French kids throwing tantrums in stores, how they are able to sit quietly and calmly in restaurants while they wait for food (the same kind of food the parents are eating), and how babies are expected to sleep through the night at just a few months old. The Parisian parents didn’t seem as frazzled as she felt either and she wanted to find out why…
I have to admit that more than anything I’ve ever read or any Mom I’ve ever talked to, it was this book that allayed most of my fears about parenting. I think we’ve all seen and interacted with other people’s kids over the years (starting with those early teenage babysitting jobs for me!) and have a collection of scenarios that you see so often you just assume they are par for the course with parenting and there’s no way around them. “Kids will be kids” sort of a thing. But what I love about Bringing Up BéBé is that the things that I dreaded the most about parenting (never getting any sleep, making separate food for kids for every meal when you hate to cook anyways, not a moment to yourself, giant tantrums, over-scheduling their (and subsequently your) life…) are simply not a part of Parisian parent’s lives. They do certain things on purpose to make it that way. And oh sure, she’s very clear in the book that kids sleeping through the night, learning patience, experimenting with lots of different foods, being able to play by themselves, not interrupting others who are talking are all learned skills and it’s not always going to be a totally perfect system for every child. They are kids after all! They are slowly learning those behaviors the parents see as most important.
I realize now that so many of things I’ve admired in other parenting styles (including my own parents and how they raised us) are pretty much all in this book to some degree. One criticism of the Parisian method is that some feel it’s too “harsh” or “critical” on kids, and while I do see that point at times, I think it’s more the difference between the “everyone gets a 1st place trophy” or the “you’ll get 1st place if you’re in 1st place” mentality. They don’t see it helpful to tell their kids they are over-the-top-amazing at every single thing they do because it’s ultimately not helping the child figure out what their actual talents are. To them, that’s how the real world is so they want their kids to have an accurate assessment of their skills.
One of my favorite parts of the book is how the Parisian women never see themselves as only being “Mom” once they have kids. It’s another hat they wear, an important one absolument, but certainly not the only one. It’s still crucial to them to feel like a sexy, badass woman as much of the time as possible and keep their relationship with their partner as a giant priority. They don’t even have a term for “date night” in French (they even had to change the name of the Tina Fey/Steve Carrel movie of that moniker when it premiered in France). The term implies that you switch out of Mom-mode into Sex-Kitten mode for a few hours a month and they just don’t get the concept. To them, they may have children, but they never mentally switched out of that mode to begin with. It’s also basically the trickle-down belief that a happy and healthy relationship between the parents (and scheduled time away from the kids to keep that connection strong) will ultimately benefit everyone in the family.
It’s true that the French have some unfair advantages (their government-subsidized creche daycare menu for infants-toddlers sound like the menu to the fanciest restaurant I’ve ever been to). While free daycare makes it that make it much easier for them to either choose go back to work (which most women do) or at least get some free babysitting while they run errands or make a café date, most of the things they value and teach don’t rely on such potential perks that they may have over their American counterparts. All in all, I think I loved this book because it made me feel like I have more choices for a parenting style that seems to fit our personality better than other philosophies we have seen. Of course, any parenting style you haven’t used with your actual kid yet is to be considered with a grain of salt for sure, but it is comforting to think of all the Pierres and Madelines halfway across the world that are using their manners and patiently waiting to devour their vegetables as I type this post…À bientôt mes amis!!
(See our dream-come-true trip to Paris last year, here, here, and here!)
Interesting….. I may have to get this book with my next Audible credit.
I’m definitely on board with the whole “mom” being one of the hats I wear, not the ONLY hat. I still enjoy working, spending time with my husband and friends, having adult conversations, and most importantly, having time to myself to do the things I love that make me *me* like seeing, crafting, painting, and photography related things like shooting, editing or making photo albums. I’m not ever going to stop doing those things, because as much as I love my son, I need to feel like and be myself to be happy and those things are a huge part of who I am.
I also think it’s really great for kids to lose, learn to play by themselves, and realize that the world does not involve around them while still letting them be kids. I’m sure at times it will be a fine line, but hopefully I will be able to walk it fairly well.
One thing we still struggle with is sleep. It was always one of my biggest fears about having kids as well because I looooove my sleep. My 10 month old goes to sleep around 7pm, usually wakes up twice a night but goes right back to sleep after a bottle, and wakes up for the day around 6am. We aren’t completely exhausted- we could definitely use more sleep, but we are managing. My pediatrician has actually told me that right now is the best time to sleep train, but I just don’t know if I can do it. I’ve read a lot about it- all the pros and cons and how tos and the “gentle methods”, but no matter how much I read…… it just feels wrong to me to let my baby cry himself to sleep alone. So we just keep on trucking, hoping he’ll sleep through the night soon. 🙂
I started “Whole Brain Child” a few months back and really enjoyed what I read, but I decided to hold off on finishing it because it really becomes more helpful once they become toddlers and children. It’s not really that relevant to babies, but definitely something I want to read.
Another book I really enjoyed when I was pregnant was “Brain Rules For Baby”. I actually listened to it. It was a little dry at times but I love that it included results from so many studies, stuff that I just found fascinating. It mentioned how much a baby can hear and understand when in the womb so I played the Harry Potter audiobooks a LOT and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that one day he will love those books as much as I do.
Anyways, I’ll stop rambling now. 🙂
Aw, I have heard of other parents I know reading adult books like “The Lord Of The Rings” to their tiny babies and now they have amazing vocabulary as toddlers so there may totally be something to that! And yes, I love sleep too so that’s going to be a tough transition for sure! I hope we find a sleep routine that works for us!
I was in the same boat as you – I read Bringing Up Bebe before having my own and thought, “well that doesn’t seem so bad” with a lots of judgment thrown toward all the moms I knew feeding their children chicken nuggets and hot dogs every other night. Then I had my baby, and I’ve learned raising a child in the U.S. is different than France for a lot of reasons — and those reasons have nothing to do with the mom or child. This article from NY mag sums it up perfectly: http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/06/french-parenting-government.html
Yeah, like I said, they do definitely have some advantages overall (like the free top notch childcare) that we don’t have, but I do still see all those things I loved about the book as possible because I’ve seen them exist in American families as well too (just maybe not as often). My parents made a lot of those choices for us which I didn’t totally realize until I read that book (probably another reason they resonated with me so well since I loved my childhood experience). I certainly don’t think a lot of the choices are easy, but I’ve seen them in action and personally I’m glad that I was the product of a lot of that worldview as well 🙂
Yes, thanks for the article. Very true. As American mothers, though, doesn’t that make you want to organise and demand better societal support? So that the burden of unpaid maintenance and reproductive tasks is shared more equally? I guess American mothers have limited time to begin with, for this very reason. Not easy… :-/
Thanks for sharing, Laura. 🙂
French-Canadian exiled in Sweden here. I’ve been giving this some thought too. I’ve observed French-French parenting style over the years, and have these discussions with Swedish parents as well. I definitely agree that many Western cultures (Swedes and Canadians, for sure) would benefit from some French parenting techniques. However, the French philosophy is sometimes taken too far. Walking through Paris and seeing parents slapping their kids because their are being “casse-pieds” really scars children for life, I believe. I’m happy that this is illegal in both Canada and Sweden.
Yes, I definitely don’t think slapping kids is ok either! To be fair, the book never advocates for that (in fact, it doesn’t even mention it at all). Of course I’ve seen that sort of behavior in America too unfortunately so it’s not just limited to any country in particular…
Oh dear! If only child care was free!!! It is for a portion of the day when they enter preschool at 3 years old (which is great! Do not misjudge me! 🙂 But otherwise this really is a myth. Trust me.
Really? I’ve read that it’s government subsidized in several places…Well, “government subsidized” doesn’t necessarily mean “free”, but it may at least be a cheaper option. Thanks for the inside scoop!
Ive just read your recommendations fir best parenting and mumbeing books from your insta post and followed the link here.
While we have significant benefit in France like proper maternity leave and very subsidised healthcare (baby delivery in hospital, 3 days stays in maternity unit and private room were all free which still leaves me grateful), I.confirm what Geraldine told, chilcare is not free. Far from it. The cost is scaled on your income and for it to be free or cheap, you have to be on the lower end of revenue like both unemployed with very limited unemployement benefit. Any other middle class people with average revenue pay for it.
That being said we have a reliable option and still cheaper than many other european countries like U.K. or Germany or Switzerland.
As to parenting method, I feel there are great thing to use both sides of the atlantic. I’m definitely a parisian mother in many regards but love the americas view on positive parenting, encouraging more and many othwr stuffs… thanks for your blog and insta in many regards