Or how in the world French parents convince their toddlers to eat ratatouille while yours ingests only chicken nuggets shaped like tiny dinosaurs?
I recently had the opportunity to interview Druckerman about her latest book, which shares the wisdom she’s learned from French parents, and about some of the criticism she received from American readers who bristled at the notion that the French model is superior. “I really was just drawing on a whole body of research that’s out there now that describes trends in middle class American parenting. There are all these statistics and happiness studies and all this evidence that parents themselves are not liking the way we’re parenting, so it surprised me in that respect,” she said.
“The point of [Bringing Up Bébé] was not to say that we should become exactly like the French. It was to say that the French offer solutions to a lot of the problems that we are grappling with.”
Some of those problems include picky eaters, stressed out parents, and issues of motherhood and identity. Unlike American parenting culture, where we’re quick to categorize each other according to parenting labels (raise your hand if you’re a helicopter mom!), the French approach is more unified. “Some parents are more strict than others but behind those differences there’s often quite a lot of agreement. There are shared ideals.”
In France, Druckerman explained, there’s agreement about the best way to handle many common parenting challenges, such as best practices for feeding kids or dealing with sleep issues. There’s also agreement about the fact that parents are entitled to time for themselves, something many American parents seem to struggle with.
While Druckerman drew on research she’d already done for Bringing Up Bébé, she also spent time interviewing and observing French parents for Bébé Day by Day. “It was really a fantastic experience to delve back into the research. One of the things that struck me was the depth of their conviction. The things they were doing with their kids sprung from very deep and in some ways notably French convictions about what’s best for children and what’s best for families.”
She described a conversation with a French mother over lunch who felt that providing children with a variety of foods was critical. Druckerman asked the mother why it was so important, and the mother’s response hinted at these deeply-held cultural parenting beliefs that many French have in common. “She told me that she’d never really asked herself why it was so important, but then proceeded to give me five or six incredibly solid and diverse fundamental reasons why feeding kids a variety of food is a really important principle for her. It struck me how rich a vein it was and how much conviction there was behind these practices.”
Bébé Day by Day is divided into 10 chapters that tackle common parenting themes, and each section contains specific principles that guide the French approach.
Many of these principles touch on things I struggle with in my own home, and that I know from writing about parenting that many others do as well (see #61: Cope Calmly with Tantrums, or #79: Don’t Become a “Taxi Mother.”).
There are great tips for a wide range of parenting stages, as well. Reading about the French approach to pregnancy and new motherhood was fascinating, but I found the chapters relating to older children to be more relevant to my life with a 3, 5, and 9 year old. I found Chapter 6: Wait a Minute to be especially helpful as an outline for how to teach kids the importance of patience. As Druckerman writes in the book, “French parents aim to teach their kids patience, the same way they will later teach them how to ride a bicycle.”
Reading Bébé Day by Day was like having a personal parenting refresher course for things I know I could improve upon as I raise my own kids.
And next time I hear a request for those dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets? I think I’ll just say non.