Tonight, Go Mighty is hosting a book party in NYC for Pamela Druckerman, author of Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting. Druckerman is a former staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, who currently lives in Paris with her husband and children. You may remember her previous book, international bestseller Bringing Up Bébé, which had American parents asking, “How did you get your kid to eat that?” I asked her a few more questions about her new book.
When you moved to Paris, what aspect of family life gave you the greatest sense of culture shock?
It was the fact that worrying and anxiety weren’t encouraged, or seen as a sign that that you’re a good parent. In France, from the time you get pregnant, what’s valorized is calm. Of course all pregnant women worry, wherever they live. But French pregnancy magazines run articles about the importance of “serenity,” and how a pregnant “Zen maman” will give birth to a “bébé Zen.” For a neurotic New Yorker, all this talk of calm was unnerving.
You also say that French mothers have a different relationship toward guilt than their American counterparts. How does that manifest?
Guilt, like anxiety, is valorized in America. It’s viewed as a sign that you really care about your kids, and a check on becoming too selfish.
French moms do battle with guilt too. But they do it differently. They don’t valorize guilt. They think guilt is unhealthy and unpleasant, and they try to banish it. When French mothers get together, they say things like, “The perfect mother doesn’t exist.”
And the French let their children “curse?”
French preschoolers have their own curse word: caca boudin. This roughly translates as “poop sausage.” It’s an all-purpose bad word that can mean “no,” “I don’t care,” or “whatever.” My kids liked to shout it as a declaration of freedom.
When you return to The States, which accepted parenting practice surprises you now?
I’m sad when I see kids shunted into a kids’ food ghetto, where they’re fed grilled cheese and chicken nuggets. I also can’t get over all the snacking. I want to walk up to the moms who are handing out cookies in the park and say, “And you wonder why he doesn’t eat at lunch!” But I’m not the person who does that. I’m the person who goes home and writes a book about it.
How do the French address issues of sexuality in the face of a new baby, and the idea of being sexual as a mother in general?
Well for starters, calling it “the issue of sexuality” is not very sexy! Shall we just call it sex? The French believe that for about the first three months post-partum, it’s all hands on deck for the baby. Some call this, presidentially, the first hundred days. But after that, mom and dad are expected to start gradually “finding their couple” again. It’s a kind of rebalancing.
Which idea has transformed the way you parent most dramatically?
It’s a small thing, but I think the “no interrupting” principle makes a very big difference in daily life. The idea is that if a child interrupts you, you turn to him and politely say something to the effect of, “I’m speaking with someone else, I’ll be with you in a minute.” This respect is supposed to go both ways. If the child is absorbed and happily playing, the adult isn’t supposed to interrupt him either.
Which tip do you have the most trouble following yourself?
The no-snacking rule, especially when I’m working from home. Does tea count as a snack? Does an entire baguette?
Thanks Pamela, and since when did bread count as a “snack?” I’m pretty sure it’s just what you do with your hands before the entrée arrives. Remember your roots! And congrats on the new book.
11 thoughts on “Interview with Pamela Druckerman, author of Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting”
Thank you for posting this interview. I have seen/heard her interviewed elsewhere and often been confused–why does she consider certain habits American and certain habits French? The American moms I enjoy spending time with and raising my children with practice so-called French parenting. I think this stereotyping and generalization is too easy.
I can’t believe these ideas are considered “French” either. Good for her for monetizing the obvious, but all my friends parent this way and none of us are French. Maybe it’s also “Canadian.”
I reviewed her first book for the mama community I am involved with and I got a lot of criticism for it. Personally, I found the book to be eye-opening. The snacking is rampant around this community and it effects me in that I have a picky eater, so snacking truly was taking away from the meals. I believed that “re-balancing” was important before I ever read the book. The book even had me seeking out preschools for my daughter so i could reclaim some of my own life. I am really happy to see she has another book and am off to request it from the library.
Excited to meet Pamela later tonight and talk to her about her books!
I agree with and practice many of the ways of French parenting, from behavior to eating habits.
Lately I’ve seen this sentiment floating around facebook: “Behind every great kid is a Mom who thinks she is doing everything wrong.” I get the idea, that concerned parents are doing their best, but I think it just serves to encourage more guilt and anxiety in parents. Druckerman’s words about guilt really rang true…it doesn’t serve my kids to harbor a countenance of anxiety and guilt – it teaches them that I don’t know what I’m doing and that being a parent is all about self doubt.
Is it weird that I don’t have kids and yet I devoured her book in the aisle of a bookstore? probably…
I’m 5 1/2 months pregnant with my first and actually just finished reading “Bringing up Bebe”. For me, the book was refreshing in that it backed up a lot of my own plans for parenting and was very different from the parenting I see in friends, family members and my community. I have always planned to be a “strict” parent, viewing it as making things easier for years to come if you start young. I’m looking forward to reading her new book.
Very refreshing attitude! FYI, the title of the book is missing a word (Day) in the title of the post and in the first link.
@Alison UGH! Thank you so much. Cut and paste error when i realized I had to use markup for those accented Es. Worst.
I have not read her new book yet, but Bringing Up Bebe changed my life! I have a 3, 2 and 1-year-old, and I needed some serious help. Now instead of wanting to jump off the roof every night, I only want to escape through the first floor window every once in a while.
OMG, the food ghettos and the incessant snacking! My kids get two snacks a day at school, and I find it ridiculous. I need to have tea with Pamela. We’d have so much to talk about!