cover image Bringing Up Bébé: 
One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

Pamela Druckerman. Penguin Press, $25.95 (300p) ISBN 978-1-59420-333-6

Living in Paris has allowed American journalist Druckerman (Lust in Translation) a riveting glimpse into a calmer, rational, sage way of raising children. With three children of her own, all born in Paris and happily bilingual, Druckerman wanted to find the key to forging the well-behaved youngsters she witnessed in parks and restaurants—infants who sleep through the night at two months, children with table manners, who don’t interrupt adults or eat between meals. It starts, apparently, with calm, sensible French mothers, who don’t become enormously self-indulgent during pregnancy, but quickly lose the baby fat after birth and rarely breast feed. The French health system helps by its generous maternal and child-care policies. Babies are treated as rational creatures, expected to “self-distract” in order to fall asleep (Druckerman calls the essential lapse in response time “La Pause”), and wait to eat when everybody else has their meals, four times a day, including the 4 p.m. sweet time called le gouter. Instead of rushing to satisfy or stimulate a child à la Americain, the French are keen on aiding kids to discover on their own, developing autonomy with the help of a cadre, or frame, which is firm but flexible. Citing Rousseau, Piaget, and Françoise Dolto, as well as scores of other parents, Anglophone or French, Druckerman draws compelling social comparisons, some dubious (e.g., Frenchwomen, unlike Americans, don’t expect their husbands to help much with housework, thus eliminating “tension and resentment”), others helpful (insisting that children try new foods at each meal to broaden their palates), but she is ever engaging and lively to read. (Feb.)