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Docteur Spock

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Pamela Druckerman’s forthcoming Bringing Up Bébé is both the successor and antidote to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: In a nutshell, this year’s provocative parenting orthodoxy argues that less-neurotic child-rearing produces better-behaved kids. Here, three Carroll Gardens parents check the book against their own experiences raising bi-cultural families in New York.

1. French parents do manage to get their kids to sit still.

The book says:
French kids learn patience from traditional, deliberately paced, multicourse meals.

Alexandra, French Mother of Two: We show them you don’t get up from the table, you’re part of the group, so enjoy your time together.

Tanya, American Mother of Two: Table manners are an issue. I’ve had dinners with American friends, and her boys are just belching…

Alexandra: Do they say they’re sorry?

Tanya: They think it’s the funniest thing in the world!


2. French parents don’t negotiate.

The book says:
“French experts and parents believe that hearing ‘no’ rescues children from the tyranny of their own desires.”

Alexandra: One American couple we know, because they don’t want to raise their voice, every time something wrong happens, they talk to the child. Like if the child is on the beach and he’s sending sand to the eyes of his little sister, the mother comes to him and says, “You know what? We need to discuss this.” In France, you would never see such a thing.


3. French parents don’t lose sleep (at least not as much of it).

The book says:
French babies “do their nights” as early as 6 weeks old thanks to what she calls “La Pause,” a five-or-so-minute wait before attending to a crying baby. This teaches self-soothing, which staves off expectations of instant gratification.

Alexandra: The sleeping area is very big in terms of privacy. If you let the child intrude there, you don’t have a life.

Tanya: I have a different opinion. You [Alexandra] were mostly at home with your kids. I was working, so I was okay with them coming in at night and having that extra time. [But] if it was starting to disrupt our sleep—

Philippe, Tanya's French husband: Which it was.

Alexandra: “Don’t come to my bed,” but our kids would never come in our space. I guess it’s the way you raise them.


4. Most important: French parents don’t make their kids the center of their universe.

The book says:
The French “assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there’s no need to feel guilty about this.”

Philippe: French people are much more relaxed about being parents. You’re not, like, breeding a racehorse. In France, you don’t always talk about your kids. You don’t spend your weekends bringing them to sports things.

Alexandra: We make fun of this in France, the soccer mom.

Philippe: The typical weekend of an American kindergarten kid, is just crazy. I never went to this many birthdays. As a parent, and not even as a participant, I get overwhelmed. The cake, the food, the screams. I’m like, Oh my God.

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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