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.