Why American Parents are . . . ?

I’ve been tearing through Bringing up Bebe like there’s no tomorrow–I even did that thing I haven’t done since The Hunger Games where I sit at my desk with my kindle surreptitiously on my lap (don’t tell!).  I have to say, Druckerman does a pretty bang-up job of describing the petty frustrations of une americaine a Paris: why is so strange that I want skim milk in my coffee, or that I sometimes want to eat only veggies?  Why are all Parisian men assholes?  How the hell do you begin negotiate the French psyche, or even the French social code?  Perhaps more to the point: what will all this mean for my child?

Now, before we begin, a few things to know: my husband is not Parisian–not by a long shot.  He grew up in rural farm country (with cows) in the French equivalent of the Midwest.  Because of this, his family and friends are comprised, basically, of French Midwesterners: jolly, gregarious, friendly and outgoing people who couldn’t be more welcoming or understanding toward an awkward American in their midst.

All that being said, many of Druckerman’s anecdotes about French children and French parenting ring true, even chez les ch’tis.  There are some things I don’t know, sure–the history of the creches, the ubiquitous French state-run daycare system, is news to me, and probably news to my husband as well–but the mother-comes-first philosophy is obvious to anyone who’s spent any time in France.  The parenting advice is not exactly rocket science, as has been pointed out by many a blogger/journalist/mother since the book first came on the scene: be assertive with your tykes, and don’t let them run wild.  Give them limits and they will respect them, and in turn respect you.  This is the way I was raised, certainly, and the way I expect I will raise my children.

I can’t quite swallow all the French habits without question: is the feminine mystic more important than the health benefits of breast-feeding?  Should the interest of the child always come secondary to the interest of the parent?  Does a strict French upbringing really teach children to be respectful and thoughtful?  (I would challenge anyone who’s been to France to argue that the French are more respectful and thoughtful than other people–I’d be happy to debate on the opposing team.)

All of this should be beside the point, considering I’m not planning to raise my children in France, at least not any time soon.  However, I married a smart young man with assertive tendencies and very real opinions about everything–including child rearing–and it’s just occurred to me that some of the key points Druckerman raises in her book may soon make an appearance in my own household.  I have never had any doubts that our styles would differ somewhat–at the very least, G will be constructing Lego tractors while I’ll be reading aloud from Girl of the Limberlost.  I thought I knew and understood how French parents work, but I’m not convinced the same is true of my husband, and it seems like an interesting thing to find out before the cultural sparks start flying.  If nothing else, Bringing up Bebe is a primer in the differences between the American and French systems of morals and expectations, and it is a useful read for the both of us.  What we take away from the experience remains to be seen.

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