Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Bringing Up Bébé: Book Review

So my husband purchased a Harper’s magazine for his beach reading a few weeks ago.  And there was the author of Bringing Up Bébé, Pamela Druckerman, reflecting on her book.  I had forgotten about her book – I had never read it, although I read the other Frenchy books: French Kids Eat Everything and French Women Don’t Get Fat.  I found value in both those books, although it’s extremely tempting to lump the trio together for scorn and jokes and pro-American sentiment.

Then, two of the beach girls mentioned how much they wished they had read Bringing Up Bebe when they had their own small babies.  I looked at my small baby and read the book.  

The immediate effect on me was liberation.  I loved the idea of a patient, happy baby and a sane life not dictated by boring baby needs (note: this is not exactly what Druckerman claims, but rather the conclusion that I drew).  A fellow blogger pointed out a few weeks ago that days with an infant can be long and boring; I instantly felt relief and recognition when she described that feeling I was trying not to feel.  I am a homebody homemaker and I love being a mother, but yes, heaven help me, I need some stimulation besides baby life all day!

But, back to Bringing Up Bébé: I reviewed my nighttimes with Phoebe – we weren’t doing too badly and I had assumed in the American way that I had gotten a “good sleeper.”  She had slept from 9pm to 6am a few times since she was 3 months old, thus proving to me that she could go without milk at night.  So since then, if she fussed in the middle of the night, I would comfort her without offering to nurse her.  Younger babies usually do need milk around the clock, but by 3 months, Druckerman says, babies can sustain their sleep at night without milk, even if they feel a little hungry, just like kids and adults. In fact, parents should first watch the baby (La Pause, Druckerman jokes) when she starts fussing to see if she’s trying to go back to sleep or what; apparently, kids and adults wake up between sleep cycles and put themselves right back to sleep without even remembering it; that’s the goal for the babies, to learn that automatic self-soothing right back to sleep.

I found this perspective incredibly helpful.  It also rings true with my previous babies.  And further chapters had more sensible advice on manners, sensory exploration, eating, vacationing, and adult life.

Towards the end of the book, I began to try to read between the lines to see what the downfalls of French parenting might be.  Breastfeeding is actively discouraged (mothers can return to “normal” faster). Children seem to spend almost as much time away from their parents as with their parents.  From a young age, sometimes less than a year old, they go to nursery schools and childcare; the care is excellent and personal, but the pattern continues of French children essentially outsourced to other caregivers, taking week-long field trips in kindergarten and so on.  I’m guessing this makes for rather distant, formal relationships between parents and children.  The French government also pays for much of the schooling, medical care, maternal care, and extras; there are very few stay-at-home parents in France because the childcare is so easily available.

I’m still ruminating on this book, so we’ll see what stays with me long-term.  For now, here are my take-aways:

1. Give Phoebe some time when she starts fussing so she and I can figure out what’s needed.  Develops patience in her.  La Pause.
2. Encourage her to amuse herself with very little, to let her explore her world on her own terms.  This is the opposite of Baby Einstein and constant stimulation to speed up development.
3. Tell Phoebe what is going on and my reasons for what I’m doing with her (the French really believe that babies can understand such talk on an intuitive level – it sure makes me feel better about driving the last 10 minutes when she’s screaming if I’ve first explained to her that I will nurse her when we get home).
4. Give serious attention to my marriage as the primary relationship in our family.  Feel and feed my status as a beloved wife and lover.  My parents were an excellent example of this and their love made for a secure family life.  I’ve been guilty of attending to the urgent, noisy needs of the kids and feeling grateful if my husband doesn’t appear to need me so I can creep away for silence.  Can I be a good mother, partner, and introvert?  We’ll see!


  1. Love it! Glad to hear your thoughts and take-aways. xxoo

  2. I just read All Joy and No Fun, which was was all about the problems in American parenting. It seems like it sort of pairs well with Bringing up Bebe, but I had a similar problem with the book, insofar as I want to raise my own children. Although I often look to Europe for better systems (hello, Finland), in the end, I think I'm a little too cynical to leave the most important bits and pieces to government run anything. Anyhow... I am certainly at fault for not pausing at night. That needs to change.

  3. I've been thinking about Druckerman's French Yogurt Cake, and now your post on her book! The cake, I think, would be wonderful with sugared nectarines and whipped cream. Today, maybe...

  4. I picked up "Bringing Up Bebe" anticipating that I would feel very grumpy and defensive about it (as an American), but like you, found many useful ideas and perspectives. I loved the reminder that "it's good to be bored" and that it's ok for kids to play alone or even work out their own squabbles (easier said than done at the playground when I'm self-conscious of other parents). Any opportunity to self-reflect about my parenting (which is often too reactionary or habitual) and consider other approaches is appreciated.

    * That said, I lived in France and Belgium for a few years and didn't always see what she described in practice. She does note that her experiences were shaped by her upper-middle class, urban, highly educated circle of friends.

  5. I've always explained to my daughter what's going on and why and it's worked out beautifully for us. It probably helps that from the very beginning she showed little tolerance for baby talk but I agree with the French on this.
    Staying home with babies is hard. I found I preferred the toddler years far more.

  6. My daughter has talked to her two, 1 and 3, about everything that is going on since the day they were born and I think it has made a difference. She puts them in the van after a morning and lunch at my house and says, 'Okay, you both need to stay awake until we get home and then you can take a nap.' And they stay awake! This is how she does everything through out the day and it seems to work well.

    #4 is so hard, especially when you are nursing and just feel like you don't want any more skin touching you for the rest of the day. I remember and have no solution for you but in the long run every sacrifice made for your marriage is worth it. I recall too many of our five coming home for college breaks and telling us that the parents of their friends were getting a divorce. They had nothing in common after the kids were gone. we took that to heart and it worked to keep us best friends long after all of ours were gone and it was certainly worth the effort.

  7. Very interesting - I'm glad for this review. Probably could have used it when mine were little! But there is always the next generation ...

  8. And those pictures of big brother and baby sister are oh so sweet!

  9. Fascinating.

    I have the exact same questions about whether I can be a good mother, wife and introvert (and homeschooling at that). It's a tricky balance.


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