The author of the newly released Bébé Day By Day: 100 Keys o French Parenting (The Penguin Press, $19.95), Druckerman is both a mother and journalist. She is a former staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where she covered foreign affairs, and has also written for The New York Times and The Washington Post, among other publications. Media appearances have included the Today show and NPR’s Morning Edition. Druckerman holds a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia. Her first book, Lust in Translation, was translated into eight languages, and her second, Bringing Up Bébé, was an international bestseller. She lives in Paris with her husband and children.
Bébé Day By Day is a slender but sophisticated follow-up to Bringing Up Bébé, and has been met with early favorable response. Barnes & Noble noted, “Neither fawning nor sarcastic, Bébé Day by Day offers refreshing (yet traditional) methods of bringing up your own bébé,” while NPR praised, “…Like Julia Child, who translated the secrets of French cooking, Druckerman has investigated and distilled the essentials of French child-rearing…”
From the publisher:
À la carte wisdom from the international bestseller Bringing up Bébé
In BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, journalist and mother Pamela Druckerman investigated a society of good sleepers, gourmet eaters, and mostly calm parents. She set out to learn how the French achieve all this, while telling the story of her own young family in Paris.
BÉBÉ DAY BY DAY distills the lessons of BRINGING UP BÉBÉ into an easy-to-read guide for parents and caregivers. How do you teach your child patience? How do you get him to like broccoli? How do you encourage your baby to sleep through the night? How can you have a child and still have a life?
Alongside these time-tested lessons of French parenting are favorite recipes straight from the menus of the Parisian crèche and winsome drawings by acclaimed French illustrator Margaux Motin.
Witty, pithy and brimming with common sense, BÉBÉ DAY BY DAY offers a mix of practical tips and guiding principles, to help parents find their own way.
Now, Ms. Druckerman shares her insights and observations with readers…
You’ve written a new book. Why? What’s in it?
Bébé Day By Day is the offspring (the bébé, if you will) of my previous book, Bringing Up Bébé. The first was a journalistic memoir describing how I stumbled upon French parenting, then attempted to apply some of its ideas in my own family. In the new book, I’ve distilled what I hope are the 100 smartest and sanest principles and tips I’ve learned from the French. Alongside the 100 keys are drawings (by the fabulous French illustrator Margaux Motin) and delicious recipes from Parisian daycares. Even I can make the from-scratch chocolate cake.
I decided to write the new book because, after Bringing Up Bébé was published, I received many letters from readers asking for more specifics, or for a kind of manual that they could give to spouses, grandparents and babysitters. Some told that me they’d dog-eared and highlighted BUB, and that they’d like to have all the main points in one place. What they were very politely saying was: with all due respect to your personal journey, we’d like to know what to do!
What’s the best way to read the new book?
I hope that readers will have a look at the introduction (an author can dream). But really, Bébé Day By Day can be read in any order. It’s mean to be a book that readers will keep dipping back into. Certain keys might resonate more or less at different times, based on what’s happening in your life. Some are probably things that readers already do; they’re more like common-sense reminders. When it comes to raising kids, the French don’t always reinvent the wheel. They’re pragmatists. They tend to stick with what works.
What are the most important tips that parents should follow from French Parents?
I wouldn’t say that parents should follow any of them. They’re not rules. They’re more like a framework to put parents more in the “French” mindset, and arm them to make decisions for themselves.
One of the book’s overarching ideas is that a household centered entirely on a child is no fun for parents, but it’s probably not even good for the child. One of the keys is: Don’t let your child interrupt you. When this happens in France (and of course it does), parents try to politely say, “I’m in the middle of speaking to someone, I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Notably, this is followed by an equally important key: Don’t interrupt your child (for instance, when he’s happily playing). In other words, the respect should be mutual. French parents believe that being able to cope with boredom and be absorbed in an activity and play is a valuable life skill, which strengthens with practice.
Which key is the most difficult in the book for you?
One of the principles in the section on authority is: “Sometimes your child will hate you.” The French believe that it’s your job as a parent is to sometimes say “no” and really mean it. When you do this, the child may get angry. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should concede, or that you’re doing something wrong. French parents try to be sympathetic to the child’s anger, without giving in. They don’t want to fall into a cycle of perpetual negotiations with a five-year-old.
Of course, the French approach isn’t just about saying “no.” French experts say that kids need to learn to cope with frustration, but of course they also need lots of love and attention. And they need respect. Another equally important principle in the book is, “Say ‘yes’ as often as you can.” (I sometimes have trouble with this one too, but everything tends to flow better when I apply it).
So French kids are perfect?
Of course not! And French parents themselves don’t follow all the principles in the book. But it’s what they aim for. The 100 keys do sum up the middle-class conventional wisdom in France. It’s what parents generally aim to do, and what parenting magazines, psychologists, day-care works and experts generally say they should do. There are households in France where kids really rule the roost, but the French consider this a big problem. They call these children “child kings.”
What about French mothers? Are they all impossibly chic?
Well they do tend to be skinnier, especially in Paris. There’s a lot of social pressure to lose the baby weight by three months post-partum. But what impresses me about French moms is that they manage to reclaim their pre-baby identities. My French girlfriends think the expressions “Milf” and “yummy mummy” are hilarious. In France there’s no reason why a woman wouldn’t be sexy, just because she happens to have kids. And they believe that after the hectic first few months, the mother and father should “find their couple” again. Another of the keys in the new book is, “Your baby doesn’t replace your husband.” I quote a French psychologist who says, “The family is based on the couple. If it exists only through the children, it withers.”
Talk to us about cooking with your children. Do you create weekly menus?
Gosh no. I tend to improvise. I usually dash to the supermarket or a food shop at the end of the day, looking for inspiration. But my guiding principle is a French one: variety; i.e., not falling into a pasta-and-red-sauce rut. French parents believe that if a child is used to eating all kinds of foods, she’ll be more likely to eat a balanced diet. They also think it’s more social: you can take her anywhere, and she’ll find something she likes. Above all, they’re convinced that a child’s world expands as she discovers different tastes, and that it’s their role as parents to lead her on this journey. You’ve got to admit it’s a nice idea.
The French way of parenting does seem to produce a calmer, higher quality of life for the parents. But what about the children? Well behaved doesn’t necessarily mean well-adjusted and happy, right?
I would never have written either Bébé book if I thought the French way of parenting made children joyless and obedient. French kids are just as boisterous and playful as the Anglophone kids I know. But in my experience, they’re generally more even-keeled. They can hear “no” without collapsing. In the many dozens of hours I’ve clocked at French playgrounds, I’ve rarely seen a child except my own throw a temper tantrum.
What is the wisdom of French parenting?
The French believe that it’s important to be very strict about a few key things, but then to give kids as much freedom as possible about the rest. You can really see this at bedtime. Many French parents tell me that at bedtime, their children must stay in their rooms. But within their rooms, they can do what they want.
I introduced this concept to my daughter, and she really liked it. She didn’t focus on the fact that she’s confined to her room. Instead she kept saying, proudly, “I can do whatever I want.” She usually plays or reads for a while, then puts herself to bed. The French don’t try to micromanage their children’s lives, and they aren’t scheming from the crib to get the baby into Harvard one day. They give children a lot of autonomy; but what rules there are, the child has to obey. In my own experience, this fosters self-reliance and mindful behavior that I might never have imagined in such young children.
The other big lesson that French parents have taught me is that, sometimes, there’s nothing you can do. The perfect mother doesn’t exist. And that’s okay.
With special thanks to Laura Rossi Totten of Laura Rossi Public Relations for providing this Q&A opportunity.