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Bringing Up Bebe: French Vs. US Parenting Explored

By Ncrimaldi @MsCareerGirl
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I kept hearing about the book Bringing Up Bebe and finally found some time to read it on my honeymoon (is that weird?!).  Bringing Up Bebe is written by an American mother who lives in Paris and discovers the wisdom of French parenting as she becomes a new mother to one (then eventually three) kids. For a quick recap of the book, check out this New York Times article written by the author.

As many women joke, “I was a better Mom before I had kids.”  This suggests that women who haven’t had children just don’t understand how it “really” is. Therefore, in honor of this mantra, I will put out a disclaimer: I do not have any children.  The following post is merely my review of the book and I am not at all claiming to understand what works and what doesn’t for parents.

At the same time, I must admit that author Pamela Druckerman wrote about so many things I had been thinking but never said out loud.  From my outsider’s view point, American parents can be totally insane and overbearing with their children and I don’t think it does anyone any good.

Pamela Druckerman

Author Pamela Druckerman with her daughter and twin boys.

There’s a reason “Gen Y” is often associated with “Helicopter Parents.”  So many Americans were shielded from anything slightly uncomfortable, leading them to believe they are the only ones with feelings and needs.  The only thing this causes is difficulties in adulthood including the inability to cope with conflict and disappointment.

But why did so many American parents and critics absolutely HATE this book?

For example, check Forbes’ response to Bringing Up Bebe in an article titled “Bringing Up Bebe: No Thanks, I’d rather Raise a Billioniare!”  (umm how American to want to raise a Billionaire…is that really a better dream than raising a well behaved child?)

Perhaps critics weren’t keen on some of the more controversial questions the book raised about American parenting.  

For example, the book asks:

  • Is it THAT big of a deal if a woman doesn’t want to breast feed?  Why do women think it’s OK to judge other women if they choose not to (or CAN’T) breast feed? (Side note: I just saw this photographer’s blog post of women breast feeding come up on my Facebook feed while writing this post. Am I being too sensitive or is that a bit much?)
  • Why do so many American Moms (or Moms-to-be) struggle with constant guilt and paranoia?
  • How come American babies rarely sleep through the night while French babies do?
  • Why do most American children only eat macaroni, grilled cheese and chicken fingers while French children eat the same food as their parents?  
  • Why are working mothers sometimes looked down upon in America yet praised in France?
  • How come French women don’t get huge and unstylish while pregnant then stay huge and unstylish after delivery? Ok this is probably THE most controversial point in the book, but I do think they made an interesting point about “Martyr Mom syndrome.”  Does this really does exist in American Mom Culture? Again, I’m not sure because I am not a Mom yet.
  • How come French children sit through dinner (at the same table and with the same food as adults!) while American children “just can’t wait” and “just won’t eat adult food?” hmmm…good observation.

If there’s one thing I really learned from this book, though, it was about how the French government values women & children’s rights. The French government provides phenomenal prenatal care, medical care for children, day care services and pre-school at no cost (outside of paying your taxes of course!).

As far as work goes, new and expectant mothers have a number of legal rights in the workplace. Under the current system, France offers employed mothers 16 weeks of paid “congé maternité” (3-6 weeks before the expected date of birth and 10-13 weeks after). The total allowance increases to 34 weeks for twins and 46 weeks for triplets – WOW!  Moms can choose to return to work sooner, but must take a minimum of eight weeks, including six after the birth, to receive pay.  The leave is paid at 100 per cent of salary but with a weekly cap.

Other countries throughout the EU are paying close attention to France’s polices.  In fact, some women feel French maternity leave laws hold women back from making it to the boardroom.  The law in England and Wales provides additional rights for new mothers who decide to take maternity leave.  Employers who are concerned about losing important members of staff to maternity leave do have the right to secure comprehensive business insurance though.

I wonder if these types of perks will ever hit American soil. I also wonder if French parenting will ever hit American soil. Thoughts??

The reviews of this book were largely negative, accusing the author of having little facts to back up her observations and French parenting methods.  The author was also criticized for only observing wealthy educated Parisian rather than the average French person.

So now for your thoughts…

What do you think about these parenting observations?  Are they outrageous or unfortunately true?

Are you happy with maternity leave and Mothers’ rights in the US?  What would you change?


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