Bringing Up Bébé

French Children Like Pizza and French Fries Just as Much as Americans Do
What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
Feb. 14 2012 5:02 PM

Bringing Up Bébé


A French dad responds to an American mom on Pamela Druckerman’s controversial parenting book.

Book 'Bringing Up Bébé.'
Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman

Dear Rachael,

Like you, I read Pamela Druckerman’s book with a keen interest, and now I have a lot of questions. I have four children ranging from 6 to 20 years old. Like all parents, I’m convinced I succeeded in raising them, until the inevitable time when they will come see me, one after the other, to say that I didn’t. I’ve read a few parenting books, or to be more precise, I’ve leafed through a few of them, largely focusing on what seemed really important to me: health.

As far as the rest of parenting is concerned, I had strong convictions about developing their autonomy, preserving my relationship with my wife, and managing the difficult harmony between family life and social life. Maybe that’s the “French parenting” Druckerman speaks of with admiration.

Druckerman’s book does show some realistic scenes, but only from a specific, wealthy category of Parisians. Here we call them “bobos,” a mix of the words bourgeois and bohemian: They are rich, cultured, and can afford to pay a baby-sitter on a Saturday to take their kids to sports classes or cultural activities while the parents have tea with friends.

But for most French people, Saturday leisure activities are watching television or going to the supermarket—often both. So we should be careful to take Druckerman’s book as a fun read and not as a scientific study, which doesn’t mean there aren’t things to learn from it.

I noticed that she often wrote about government-sponsored services: Both crèches (where babies go before kindergarten) and school cafeterias do make a special effort to provide a balanced diet to children in France. But that doesn’t mean French children don’t still prefer fries and pizza if given the choice! So Druckerman should not be worried when her children refuse to eat vegetables or cheese when they reach 5 or 6 years old, and ask for only coquillettes instead.


Are French children calmer than American ones? Honestly I don’t know! But it seems to me that many parents here have been influenced by superficial readings of famed French psychologist Françoise Dolto. Which is to say, a lot of French moms and dads treat their children like adults, with whom they should always have grown-up talks, and they forget all about being firm and standing their ground.

For example, I remember a child of friends who was especially restless. Before he came to your house, you basically had to hide everything, because after he’d have broken two glasses, knocked over his organic mashed spinach on the floor, and written on the walls, his parents would put him to bed without disciplining him. There he would shout and cry for an hour or two with his father next to him saying over and over again in a sententious tone: “Sébastien, it is important to sleep. Sleep allows you to rest. It is not a punishment, Sébastien, it is important for your biological rhythm …” and so on. The child would exhaustedly fall asleep around midnight, when our adult evening could finally begin.

Something that struck me in Druckerman’s book, and maybe that’s my feminist education speaking, is that mothers are at the center of parenting, and fathers seem secondary. “Maybe because French women don’t expect men to be their equals,” she writes. I think she may be quite right about that as far as housework is concerned. But when it comes to childcare among my bobo friends, fathers have become real mother hens, often balking at the idea of exerting any kind of authority. In his book Big Mother, the French psychoanalyst Michel Schneider laments this phenomenon, since he believes that a woman’s role is to give life and man’s is to take it away (in a symbolic sense, meaning a father’s role is to help the child grow up and become independent). I see more and more “mothering” men, who see authority as violence against their child. Is it the same in the United States?

Oh, and about the image she gives of the French woman who does it all, perfectly combining office life and family life and looking so sexy while dropping off her kids at kindergarten in the morning, well … it depends. They do what they can :).



P.S.: To make children eat their haricots verts, I hide them (in a pizza, in a plate of coquillettes …). You can also sneak endives into a tartiflette.

Translated by Cécile Dehesdin.


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

There Are New Abuse Allegations Against Adrian Peterson

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter


Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.