Monday, January 14, 2013

Bringing Up Bébé

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Bringing Up Bébé (Penguin, 2012).

I have the habit of reading the one-star reviews at Amazon for any book that I'd like to mention here. Usually, you can set your watch by them. A book by Al Franken will be given one-star reviews by Rush Limbaugh fans who don't like Franken's politics, and a book by Limbaugh will be given one-star reviews by Franken followers who don't like Limbaugh's politics. And so the merry dance goes on. This tendency doesn't actually tell me anything whatever about the book; I just enjoy having my suspicions about people's motives confirmed.

Bringing Up Bébé is the American edition of a book by Pamela Druckerman that was released as French Children Don't Throw Food in Europe. A journalist who has lived for many years in Paris with a British-born husband, Druckerman is raising three children and, as parents of a twenty month-old, my wife and I are happy to read well-written stories about parenting, particularly from new perspectives.

It's Druckerman's position that, in France, parents are not in the service of their children, and kids know this. Because, in my real-world job, I regularly observe kids who are completely in charge, and I notice the "don't touch anything" admonitions peter out and fizzle after mere minutes since the kids are going to do whatever they wish, I wondered how it is possible that parents in France set these expectations and enforce them. The result, according to Druckerman, is a culture where kids are just plain better behaved.

Certainly, a radically different approach to child care is part of it. There, parents compete for daycare spots as soon as they learn they're pregnant, whereas here, parents like me who desire the socialization and group learning in daycare - we call it school - seem to be outnumbered by people - usually ones without kids - who've decided that the practice is unsafe or downright dangerous. But it's more than that. There's a mindset that parents are in charge, and need to communicate that to their children from a very early age. Getting into that mindset, enforcing it, and not spending every minute on the playground "narrating" a child's exploration of it (guilty) as though "playing" (from an entirely different position) is what might work.

So I have been completely sold on the book, am rereading it, and trying to rework some of our home life, naps, meals, and solo time for the baby. I wondered what the one-star reviews on Amazon might say. I envisioned patriotic screeds against day care, but what I found instead were baseless attacks on the author for her sometimes outre sex life and previous books, as though anybody who writes about parenting is obliged to maintain a lifestyle compatible with every other parent on the planet, especially the 2point5 kids ones who do everything for the kid, with murky results that usually end in excuses and outright calamity. This is the sort of complaint that, as with the Franken-Limbaugh reviewer wars, leads me to think that people just don't read. Defining yourself exclusively as a parent and shutting down anything you were before or ever will be again, that's kind of the problem. They don't, after all, have helicopter parents in France. And their schoolkids are doing fine. Recommended.

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