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Do French parents have a certain je ne sais quoi?
Children seen as polite, behaved
NEW YORK — So you’re visiting someone’s home with your child and hot chocolate is served. As the hostess’ children sip the delicious concoction politely and silently, your own little dear takes a gulp and promptly spits it back into the mug.
Admit it, parents: Something similar has happened to you.
But for Pamela Druckerman, an American mother in Paris, it wasn’t just an isolated incident. That embarrassing moment with her daughter, Bean — she would have kicked her under the table, but couldn’t be sure which pair of legs was hers — was one of many during her early years as a mother in France. There were years of fearing her children would act up, melt down or otherwise commit a serious faux pas at any moment.
Because, as Ms. Druckerman explains in her new book, “Bringing Up Bebe,” French children don’t spit into their mugs. They don’t have tantrums in the park, they don’t shun their vegetables, they don’t forget to say “bonjour” or “au revoir,” and they most certainly don’t throw food (in fact, “French Children Don’t Throw Food” is the book’s title in Britain.)
Are children in France born polite? Do they come out of the birth canal saying, “Bonjour, Maman,” and apologizing for the discomfort they just caused?
Clearly not, but Ms. Druckerman, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, set out to determine just what French parents are doing right. Boosted by the fact that France and parenting are both subjects people love to talk about, “Bringing Up Bebe,” written in a winningly chatty style, debuted at No. 8 on the New York Times best-seller list earlier this month and hit No. 1 on the Sunday Times hardback nonfiction list in Britain.
The book also has drawn attention through comparison to Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” last year’s provocative account of Eastern-style parenting. Mrs. Chua’s book was excerpted in the Wall Street Journal under the title, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” and Ms. Druckerman’s under the headline “Why French Parents Are Superior” — a phrase that doesn’t sit well with everyone.
“First Tiger Mom. Now, I dunno, Fromage Mom?” Jen Singer wrote recently on her mommy blog, Mommasaid.net. “Nowadays, it appears that everyone is better at parenting than Americans are.”
She added: “Here’s the dirty little secret about their ‘superior’ parenting philosophies: They’re not about the kids. The so-called French parenting method seems to make life easier for parents who want to socialize.”
In a recent interview at a Manhattan restaurant, Ms. Druckerman stressed that she isn’t trying to present the French style as perfection.
“I don’t have any magic bullets,” she said. “I was just trying to tell my story.”
Her story is, though, overwhelmingly favorable to the stricter French parenting style, and judging by comments on the Internet, not all American moms disagree.
Kat Gordon, a mother of two sons in Palo Alto, Calif., read the excerpted article and immediately wrote on Facebook, “I smell a best-seller.” She meant it as a compliment.
“It sounds like French mothers are experiencing more joy and feeling less frazzled by parenthood,” Ms. Gordon explained in a telephone interview. “That’s something all mothers should want — if we can get over our defensiveness.”
Ms. Gordon recalled an incident when her older son, Henry, was 2 1/2 years old. Her in-laws were over for dinner, but Ms. Gordon, who’d worked all day, was being pulled away constantly by Henry, and she felt conflicted and guilty. Her mother-in-law set her straight.
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