Being opinionated and belligerent as I am, I read most how-to parenting instruction and think one of two things, “Yes! That’s right! That’s how I do it and it works so they’re right!” or “That’s not how I do it, so they’re clearly wrong.” Not always. But usually. And that’s only when I feel as though I’m being told what to do with my own kid. Not when someone is sharing stories about their own methods for raising their littles. Then I’m usually thinking, “Hooray for them for finding something that works for their little family!” and sometimes, “Maybe I’ll try that.” Perhaps it’s the rebel in me, but I chafe at being told what to do.
When it came to Bringing Up Bebe, everyone told me, “But it isn’t a parenting how-to! It’s a MEMOIR!” But, I’ll be honest. I found it hard to read the book as an objective comparison, and instead felt it was didactic. “The French do it this way,” came across as “You should do it this way.” Was that my experience with parenting how-to books bleeding into my reading? Or maybe it was the author’s inability to remove the awe from her tone.
The spots in the book wherein I most agreed all seemed to be variations on a theme: keep a life apart from your child. Eat grown up food (and allow him to do the same). Don’t allow your house to be cluttered with toys. Maintain other interests, rather than hovering as he plays or explores. It all seemed to be hinting at what I think outright: don’t allow yourself to be defined by your motherhood. Bring your child into your life, rather than forcing your life to revolve around him. Basically, continue to live as an adult and allow your kid the room to begin to do the same. He’s like the intern at the office or the freshman at high school. He’s new, sure. But that doesn’t mean he gets to come in and change all the rules.
The places where I “disagreed”? (read: “figured out she was describing something I wasn’t doing myself”)
Food related (mostly). Who knew I’d disagree with the French about food? Food for baby and food for mama. While Little J eats three meals a day- basically what I eat, when I eat- I also am the kind of mom who has at least three varieties of snack in my purse when we’re out. Whining in the supermarket? Quick, put this grape in your mouth! Bored in the car? HERE! Graham cracker! Unlike the other areas of disagreement, I could feel this one flush my face with the heat of embarrassment. Yep. I’m probably spoiling him by plying him with snacks to keep him quiet. Something worth considering in my eagerness to avoid passing on my own neuroses about food. Luckily, thus far, I’ve avoided food as a reward. But I had completely overlooked food-as-a-mouth-stopper in my zeal to quash unhealthy perceptions of eating.
Similarly, French mamas eat less (and lose weight faster). Again, flush. Heat. Embarrassment. But, while feeling ashamed of my own little tummy (a result of baby? I don’t know. It’s been a rough year), I also felt a little miffed that again, women are being told that they can lose pregnancy weight faster if they just try harder. Leave a girl alone. She just made a person. Druckerman suggests that this enables a woman to be multifaceted- not just mother, but also hotty. I think it’s probably the opposite. Women are supposed to be nice to look at. Period. Rushing them to fit back into that mold after they’ve completed their secondary purpose (Babymaking. Cooking/cleaning comes in at third, naturally) is supporting one-dimensional womanhood, just in a different direction. Also, though I have no medical research to back my claims, I insist on continuing to believe that it’s unhealthy to ask our bodies to remove nine months worth of weight gain while healing from the trauma of birth. I can multitask, sure. But that seems a tall order.
Beyond that, it was a very interesting read. I stand by my original, uninformed opinion that most of it was just common sense. But as many others have suggested, perhaps in parenting (as with all things), common sense isn’t all that common. And sometimes I like my common sense read in a funny French accent in my head and paired with descriptions of cheese courses. Besides all that, if you try try try to not read it as “advice” or “to-do,” I think it could be really encouraging for the baby ambivalent. This woman meets a ton of awesome parents whose lives aren’t ruled by their kids’ every whim, tantrum and preference.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the book was not the parenting advice (or memoir, depending on interpretation), nor even the cheese, but the way it made me think about the different value systems of different cultures. If we’re to believe that most of France parents this way and most of America does not, what does that show about the differing values? Interesting to think about.
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