Dispatch: Bordeaux, France
Young mothers in my circle admire the French parenting model described by Pamela Duckerman in her 2012 book Bringing up Bebe. Duckerman writes about an idyllic French mom-life where babies eat anything, sleep through the night at two months and busy themselves independently with their toddler agenda. Moms have svelt figures, a life of their own and brilliant well-behaved children.
Duckerman’s book provides anecdotes from her expat Mom life in Paris. I decided to compile a few of my own, write something about Bordeaux that didn’t involve wine. Duckerman describes a type of authoritative French parenting that resembles my own upbringing and perhaps the style I used with my own two children.
Here are some examples of what I found when observing French parenting:
1) Family time
French families stick together and make their Sunday outings a pleasure. The surprise is that some of these “children” are fourteen, fifteen years old. In the US, I suspect there would be a family rout initiated by teens that prefer (perhaps, should prefer) to spend time with their age peers rather than their siblings and their parents. Maybe if all their friends are with their families there is no one left to skateboard or go to the movies and mom and dad are better than staying home.
Elaborate strollers are stuffed with toys to distract and entertain bebe, just like Moms in the US with their shoulder-disabling diaper bags, packed for any emergency.
French children have their faces plugged with these plastic surrogates. American children do too but most Yankee moms discourage their use, yank them out, hide them, limit to bedtime by age two or three or face a large orthodontia bill. Children in these photos are four even five years old. Perhaps French moms don’t care about overbites or are surprisingly laisse faire about saying “non” to the plastic plug as long as bebe stays quiet.
Moms spoon food out of little glass jars, the same ones that sit on the shelves in US grocery stores. Perhaps an eighteen month old has leeks covered in truffle oil or a big bowl of onion soup, but I did not observe any. Didn’t see any child sipping Haute-Brion out of Dad’s glass either. If French toddlers eat whatever the family does, what is the market for the baby food in stores? Nota Bene: I did not see any children throwing food in restaurants but I didn’t see any children in restaurants. What child could resist poking a finger into this spun honey? I wanted to do it myself. Maybe to protect the artful food for the adults, the restaurants are sending a message—bebe pas le bienvenue.
4) Mom time
In Bordeaux and Honfleur I saw moms with moms, something Duckerman said didn’t happen. They meet in the park, push their strollers, sit in cafes with other moms as long as bebe remains occupied. Yes, they have those jogging strollers too.
5) Helicopter – ing
French parents described being intense about monitoring their children. Angelique who had never heard of Bringing Up Bebe responded to the assertion that French parents give their children more freedom with a quick, “Not me. I keep them close.” Her bebes are six and nine. She described spending time at the same sports and extracurricular activities that absorb American moms and dads.
Eric and his wife, both professionals, who raised their two lovely, adult children in Paris had the perspective of time. “We didn’t watch them so closely, not like Americans, but that is changing in France.” The reasons relate not to a parental preference to have a life of one’s own, but to the same things that influence parents throughout the world—fear.
The world seems a more dangerous place than the one where my brothers and I ran free, wandered on our bikes and never saw Mama until she called us for lunch. Gary and his wife moved to Bordeaux, a metropolitan area of over one million, in order to take their children away from Paris and have a simple life in the South. The terrorists’ attacks affirmed they had made the right choice. But Paris has seen violence in its city for hundreds of years. Can you imagine telling bebe to run out to play among the partisans’ barricades in 1789? There is a different vibe in the city vs. rural life, just as there is in the US. American kids in NYC tend to jump on and off the subway at age 12 just like they might in Paris.
Does the bebe vs. baby debate center around the dream that parenting might not involve as much sacrifice as it does? The French parents talked of their worries, their hopes, and their hand-wringing over providing a good life for their offspring and yes, the fatigue. Perhaps we may have more in common with the French than the book suggests.