Book Club & Mother’s Day

I’m pretty much going to gloss right over it being Mother’s Day.  We did celebrate, but I admit that it feels somewhat like counting a pre-hatched chicken.  I will say it’s been a great day, full of lovely things including (but not limited to) donuts, moules-frites at brunch with my parents, a bit more progress on the nursery (glider!  We did the changing table yesterday, so all furniture is now assembled, woohoo!), and even some rug-doctoring on the only remaining carpet in the house and the couch.  Feeling very lucky, but still thinking of those for whom today may have been quite miserable.  I’ve not forgotten what it’s like to aim for survival rather than enjoyment when it comes to Mother’s Day – and Father’s Day too, for that matter.  We typically have not made huge deals out of those days in my family, not so much gift-y as a meal, a card, some flowers or a smallish gift, but the simple stuff is sometimes the most poignant, you know?  Last year especially it was so hard to not feel gutted on both of those days, hanging out with my parents and not knowing if we’d ever get the chance to make them grandparents.  They’re so happy for us, as are Mike’s parents.

I did manage to finish Bringing Up Bebe, a couple weeks ago.  I should have written about it then, but clearly I’ve waited until the last brilliant minute.  Thankfully, people did send some questions and quotes to Esperanza, so…I’ll use them.  Brilliant!  The quotes not associated with questions really sort of speak for themselves.

“I hear other American moms say ‘I’m a bad mother,’ too. The phrase has become a kind of verbal tic. Emily says ‘I’m a bad mother’ so often that, though it sounds negative, I realize she must find the phrase soothing. For American mothers, guilt is an emotional tax we pay for going to work, not buying organic vegetables, or plopping our kids in front of the television so we can surf the Internet or make dinner. If we feel guilty, then it’s easier to do these things. We’re not just selfish. We’ve ‘paid’ for our lapses.” 

* * *
“There are no fixed rules…You have to keep changing what you do”
* * *
Quote from a French parent: “In the US, sometimes I have the feeling that if it’s not difficult for you, you have to feel bad about it.”

There definitely are some things described in the book that I think will be worth trying.  The author makes it sound like a fairly great system, if you can call it that, helping to create a much calmer household and lifestyle than what most American families would probably say is typical.  I think my problem is what seems like the impossibility of trying to implement it all here.  Parts of it could probably be done, like “the pause,” which apparently allows babies (and therefore parents as well) to start sleeping through the night as early as six to eight weeks in.  But I think it would be extremely frustrating to expect the same overall results when applying some of these ideas in the context of a parenting culture that is hardly conducive on all fronts.  For instance, it’s also noted that French toddlers are not necessarily always accompanied by baggies of Cheerios or the like, that parents and caregivers are not constantly soothing with snacks like American parents tend to do.  I think it might be rather hard, but perhaps not impossible, to stick to that very strictly here when we have such a drastically different food culture.  

Another thing that struck me as a dramatic difference in culture is that in general, these lovely French children are taught self-soothing, self-amusement, and patience at such a young age that they often don’t throw tantrums, or at least they don’t throw them at the same scale or frequency as we expect here. Sounds great, right?  Of course!  It sounds almost too good to be true.  I think that a lot of this French parenting philosophy is clearly made possible by the great benefits provided to parents:  paid (at least in part) parental leave, excellent neighborhood daycare that won’t cost you most of your salary, and perhaps best of all – no Are You Mom Enough crap.  TIME magazine really jumped the shark this week, if you happen to have missed it.  I won’t even link to it – not because of the image, but because it’s just bait and I don’t need to take it.  But it is a great example of what French women are not subjected to – this competitive thing, where mother becomes martyr and everything is the most important thing you can do for your kids: the way you give birth, how long you breastfeed, whether you go back to work, and on and on and on.

“College-educated mothers rarely ditch their careers, temporarily or permanently, after having kids. When I tell Americans that I have a child, they usually ask, ‘Are you working?’ Whereas French people just ask, ‘What do you do?’”

I do like that a lot of what is described is basically free range parenting, letting kids have their own existences – not helicoptering and giving as much freedom as possible within a certain framework.  The most important rules (safety, basic manners, respect and consideration for others, for example), are never broken without consequence.  It is not a bargaining match; it is simply, firmly, you must always or you must never for the most important parts – teaching kids not to be “good” so much as to be sage, all the while realizing that children are children, and will of course be naughty and silly.  I like the concept of bêtises, small infractions that are not ignored, but are not punishable offenses.  The caca boudin thing cracks me up.

I’m past the deadline for sending this link, and it’s way past my beditme, so I’m going to wrap up as usual with little in the way of a final judgment or conclusion.  I liked it, overall.  I am far from ready to say, I’m going to do it this way, or that way, or, I’ll never do this or that.  I plan to take it as it comes, and this book provided a glimpse into a culture that seems to be doing very well at that, so I will definitely be keeping it on the Kindle, letting Mike read it, and probably rereading at some point when I need a reminder that it’s okay to chill out, let the little things go, and that there are no actual trophies for being a “super mom.”

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9 thoughts on “Book Club & Mother’s Day

  1. jjiraffe says:

    Oh, I couldn't agree with you more about the whole "mom enough" thing."But it is a great example of what French women are not subjected to – this competitive thing, where mother becomes martyr and everything is the most important thing you can do for your kids: the way you give birth, how long you breastfeed, whether you go back to work, and on and on and on."Exactly. There seems to be little to no judgement on these things in France, at least according to Druckerman. Wouldn't that be nice? Sigh :)Great review.

  2. It would be soooooo nice. Maybe we'll get there someday – but it doesn't seem like it's going to be soon, does it?

  3. missohkay says:

    Great review! I like that you, me, and jjiraffe (and maybe others – you're the only two I've read so far) picked up on many of the same points, including that Time Magazine nonsense 🙂

  4. Thanks! I still need to make my rounds to read everyone else's reviews, but I'm so glad to hear that I'm not being overly sensitive to this whole judgmental atmosphere of motherhood. I'm not even there yet but I find it sort of both hilarious and tragic that I find the idea of other parents' judgments more intimidating than the though of parenting itself!

  5. Geochick says:

    Great review! The timing of the magazine cover was auspicious. It perfectly illustrated all that is wrong in our society/media when it comes to parenting.

  6. Gemini Momma says:

    Haha, we all seemed to tie this into the TIME article. "Perfect" timing, I guess. One of your points that I noticed as well is that we don't have the same infrastructure or culture here, so trying to implement a lot of these wouldn't be that simple. Some daycare providers might refuse to feed or respond to the kids a certain way, which means we'd be inconsistent at best with it all. The food thing was probably the point I disagreed with most since I believe kids can and should learn to follow their hunger patterns instead of eating by a clock (and that a stick of string cheese or an orange are perfectly worthwhile snacks).And "free range parenting"? Bravo! 😉

  7. Thanks, GeoChick – will be over to read yours soon! Yes, TIME can bite me – that was awful, and feel totally comfortable making that assessment having not even read the article itself!Thanks, Gemini – will be over to read your take soon, too. I agree on the food part. I was never made to clean my plate for the sake of cleaning a plate – if you're full, you're full. Overriding that very simple biological cue can easily lead to chronic overeating. I didn't always get snacks when I wanted them or dessert even if I did clean my plate, but eating when hungry and not eating when not hungry seems to be the logical thing to me, too!

  8. Esperanza says:

    I think you're right, that many of their "tenants" would be hard to enforce here. Surely the food thing would be (the coaxing with snacks). I try not to do it with my daughter but it's true, the kids see other kids getting snacks out in public ALL THE TIME. It's constant and it would be harder to not provide them for your own kids if they were seeing that. Plus other people would use that with your kids too. My FIL watches my daughter and uses snacks to get her ANYWHERE. It's his go to for any transition. So now when I'm out with her she expects it from me too.I doubt that even with careful and consistent use of all of the systems laid out in the book would lead to few tantrums. Kids that age will have tantrums, they just will, it's how they process their anger. But I do think they would have fewer, and less intense tantrums. I've seen some kids at the park have incredible shit-fits for the smallest of grievances, screaming for upwards of five minutes because a sand toy was returned to its owner and I've seen other kids accept that their ice cream fell on the ground and they are not getting another in a matter of seconds. I think that could be the difference though I guess I'll never know… Thanks for participating! I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

  9. Thanks for hosting, Esperanza! I'd never have bought it had it not been for this group activity – so glad I did!

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