I Felt Like a Good Mom Until I Read This

After reading “Bringing Up Bebe”  by Pamela Druckerman, I tried to do everything the French way.  I was optimistic that I could parent more like a French person, which was the goal, because the French way is obviously the best way. “One best way? What kind of horseshit did this book sell you?” you might be wondering. Certainly there cannot be one way for each parent to guide their precious, perfectly, uniquely made offspring. We each must forge our own path in this beautiful journey of parenting, no? No.
Definitely non.

Image courtesy of Target.com

French children eat vegetables, and they sleep through the night by 2-3 months of age.  French mothers are serene as pregnant women, they get skinny very shortly after childbirth, and they are granted free, government funded post-partum coochie therapy to ensure the timely return of a vigorous sex life. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You really need to read this book. The French, in many regards, have a cultural bias that lends itself to parenting methods that have enviable results.  This is why I tried the SuperMaman approach.

At first I felt so Euro, so cosmopolitan, so… French. Then I started to feel like a posieur.  SuperMaman lasted about two weeks. I quit the charade when my failings made me feel like a total losieur. According to the book, as a French wannabe, I’d been messing things up since day one.

The French  are not scared of what they can and can’t eat or what they can and can’t do during pregnancy. They just stay chill. I was totally on board with this during my pregnancy. Until about 25 weeks, which was the week I taught a spin class, swam with Masters, mulched and watered the entire front yard, and ended up in the hospital, praying I would not have to spend the remainder of my pregnancy on bedrest (I did not have to, thankfully). My upcoming trip to Mexico was cancelled, (pre-term labor in a third world country, anyone?), and I was careful from that point on, to avoid overdoing it. And when I forgot to take it easy, my hemhorroids reminded me. No one could tell me what I had done wrong, but I suspect I was guilty of not being sufficiently anxious about the pregnancy. One thing the book didn’t mention was what the heck do French pregnant women do at night if they aren’t scouring Baby Center for medical information to ease their worries.
Fail #1: Pregnancy Problems

I had failed my child (and myself) during the newborn months because I didn’t straight up tell her I was putting her down for the night and she better not expect to see my face until the morning. The French tell their babies everything, assuming they can understand. I am on board with this, but when Sweet Pea was a newborn I would say things like “I love you” and “I’m changing your diaper now.” I never thought to say, “See you in eight hours.”

Also, I didn’t know about “The Pause” which is apparently de rigueur among the French. When bebe begins to cry, French parents wait about five minutes before going to check on him. Because the parents do not rush in, the baby learns to self-soothe very quickly.  In no time, they learn to put themselves back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night. I could totally tune out the sound of a baby crying for five minutes.  Someone else’s baby, that is.  Listen to my own baby cry for five minutes? I’d rather peel my fingernails off.
Fail #2: Sleep problems

So I couldn’t undo the damage I had already done in the sleep department, but at least I could work on developing my toddler’s palette. The French expose their children to all kinds of vegetables multiple times. If the kid doesn’t like broccoli the first time, or the fifth time, or the fifteenth time, there’s always the thirtieth time. French restaurants don’t have kids menus because French kids eat everything. I am all for exposing Sweet Pea to different foods as many times as it takes for her to acquire the taste for them. But I also want her to eat a solid meal.  Since I already messed up the sleep thing, if I give her a lot of vegetables for which her desire is questionable, I can be reasonably sure that she will wake up hungry in the middle of the night, which is fun for nobody.  So if she wants two scrambled eggs, that’s what this American mom is cooking.
Fail #3: Food problems

I would have loved to be back at my pre-pregnancy weight within three months. I would also love a pet unicorn. Losing weight fast is hard. It takes work. You have to be committed. You know what else is hard, takes work, and requires an assload of commitment? Mothering a newborn.  I didn’t have the energy to watch my diet in the first few months. Also, I was scared that if I dropped too much weight, my milk would dry up. Not that this was a huge risk, but I ate plenty of ice cream just to be on the safe side.
Fail #4:Baby Weight Problems

I think it’s awesome that the French culture values sex enough that they pay for postpartum pelvic floor therapy. I think sex is a vital part of a healthy marriage, and that sexuality is an important part of being human. I wish Americans, as a culture, were not so repressed.  But all the therapy in the world would not be able to return the natural lube that breastfeeding hormones stole from me. According to the book, breastfeeding is not very popular in France. I wonder if that’s partly because of the collateral damage it can do in the boudoir.
Fail #5: Sex problems

This was by no means a comprehensive review of the book, and you should know that even though it made me feel kind of bad, I couldn’t put it down. I’m not sure what that says about me.

I definitely recommend it. It was well-written, from the perspective of a funny, intelligent American journalist living and raising small children in Paris. “Bringing Up Bebe” exposed a lot of the cultural biases I wasn’t totally aware of (think fish in water). It also made me think about how a culture’s values permeate all aspects of that culture, including attitudes and practices regarding parenting.

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10 thoughts on “I Felt Like a Good Mom Until I Read This

  1. Linda Roy says:

    I’ve heard about this book. Wow – I wouldn’t be able to maintain the ideals…er…parenting methodology in it. 😉 The vegetable routine alone would just about kill me. That said, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m late for my pelvic floor therapy session. Loved this Pam!

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  2. The Girl Next Door Drinks and Swears says:

    I’ve heard of this, but never read it. Although I agree with the premise (mostly), I imagine I would fail. I’m not a helicopter parent, that’s for sure, but neither am I emotionally equipped to go all “tiger mom”. Oh. And call me crazy, but I didn’t mind a little 6 week reprieve in the bedroom department. Meeting yet another person’s needs was not something I had the energy to do right away. 😉

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  3. Pam Moore says:

    @Linda, Hurry up and go! That sh*t is important:) @The Girl Next Door- Don’t get me started on Amy Chua and the Tiger Mom book! Actually that is a great idea for another blog post…

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  4. The Shitastrophy says:

    Well, I am glad I never wasted my time on this book – not that I had time to read it when my kids were newborns or toddlers. I guess I should give this out as wedding presents instead. Oh and I too want a Unicorn:)

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  5. Joy Christi says:

    Interesting ideas, but I’m way too ‘Murican. You should write a parenting book about the “Ice Cream Method” I could get behind that.And after having ring-side seats to the bloodbath of children’s births? My husband wasn’t in a big hurry to get back to anything in the budoir either. Mon Dieu!

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  6. HerStories Project says:

    I love this! I could have basically written it. I devoured this book. Before I had kids, that is. I’m fascinated by cultural differences in parenting. Yet I have concluded over a year ago that I make a lousy French parent. My toddler is definitely American, through and through.

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  7. Natalie DeYoung says:

    I had heard of this book and planned on implementing some of its principles whenever I have kids – but I will do so with a large grain of salt. Culture has a way of steeping into every aspect of life, including parenting. Very funny anecdotes by the way! 🙂

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  8. Stephanie Sprenger says:

    Pam. This is hilarious, honest, perfection. I loved every word. I didn’t read the book- I was afraid to. Because, like you, I would have rather peeled off my own fingernails than listen to my baby cry for five minutes. Which is probably why she didn’t sleep through the night for fifteen months. One of my favorites of your posts- ever. Hey, did you get my email yet? 😉

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  9. Pam Moore says:

    @Shitastrophy- when you get your unicorn, please blog about it. Joy- I remember specifically requesting that my husband stand by my shoulders, not by the business end of things. I just couldn’t deal with the idea of him having that visual. I watched a birth once. It was AMAZING and I would do it again 100 times if given the chance but it was the birth of a dear friend, not someone I was ever going to have sex with!HerStories- Thanks!I feel like toddlers personify all the stereotypes of Americans:)Natalie- We’re talking sea salt, not table salt. Stephanie- HA! I hear you. Sweet Pea JUST stopped waking up at night (she used to do this twice a week or so) at 17 months. I pretty sure it’s because I weaned last month.

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