Last year, all of the parenting world was in a huff over Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua’s controversial book where she put forth the notion that Chinese methods of parenting were far superior to Western methods, particularly in the realm of the talents and achievements of kids. This year we’re all getting the opportunity to be in a huff about Bringing Up Bebe (also known in the UK as French Children Don’t Throw Food), Pamela Druckerman’s book about the superiority of French parenting methods.
Where Chua’s stance was kind of a mother-as-unflinching-drill-instructor, Druckerman heads to the other end of the spectrum and argues that the main priority of French parenting is basically the need for “me time“. French children are taught the importance of patience, of not getting anything they want immediately, even if it’s the attention of their parents. French children are taught to play on their own, eat only at scheduled times, and to respect the personal boundaries of their parents. French parents stress the importance of the word “No” and can’t imagine rushing to cater to the needs of a demanding little Napoleon. Which is weird, since I would have assumed French parenting would involve a lot of surrendering.
Now, I’m new to the parenting game. My son, Max, is exactly 12 weeks old today, so he hasn’t had the chance to throw a tantrum, disobey, or JUST RIP THE HEARTS OUT OF HIS PARENTS’ CHESTS! Here he is now:
So, I can’t really speak from the point of view of an exasperated parent—only a very sleepy parent. But as someone who is preparing himself for the trials of parenting that are yet to come, I have to ask, are parenting books like these really helping anyone? After pondering this very question myself, I’ve come to this highly scientific and absolutely infallible answer: yes and no. First let’s look at how I came to “yes.”
I think books like these are helpful ONLY when taken as piecemeal and not as an entire system. If one nationality had completely mastered the art of parenting, I think it would have been discovered and agreed upon a long time ago. We need to believe that there’s one perfect system out there that works, even if that’s pretty much impossible. There is no “perfect” method of parenting, but that’s not to say we can’t keep our minds open and learn new tricks from all across the board. Books like these can offer helpful tips for working on the problem parts of your kid’s life. There’s a lot to be said for things like set dinner times, as put forward in Druckerman’s book. And while I would have probably thrown myself into an idling woodchipper a long time ago if Amy Chua were my Mom, I think there’s a lot to be said for pushing your kids to succeed—even if you don’t agree with her specific methods.
But here’s where I start to meander towards “no.” First, parenting in different countries is just that: different. The circumstances of families in France are very different from those of families in the United States. In France and other European countries, families are afforded more time off to be together and education is provided for kids as early as preschool, which certainly takes certain stresses off French families. But as we all know, in the US, having federally provided health care, education, and assistance would only send us into a Socialist hellscape that would cause Hitler to rise from the grave and we’d all have to report to a reeducation camp where we’d all be forcibly gay-married.
Also, systems like these don’t take into account one important thing: children are still individuals. There are still bratty French kids and kids that don’t have any desire to become masters at the piano. Kids are people with their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and dreams that will not fit into the parameters that any parenting book is trying to point you to. Kids can’t be sculpted. They can be guided and nudged, but there’s so much that goes into the parenting of a unique individual that one parent’s perfect method could prove to be an absolute disaster for another. Also, these books have another purpose. They want you to BUY THEM. They want to appeal to people who are near the ends of their ropes as a potential solution to all of their woes, and while it’s fine to look to them for guidance, just remember that any style of parenting can highlight only their good points in order to convince you that they’re right. For example, here’s some other parenting books I’ve found:
Title: Inuit? More like Inu-US!
Blurb on the back of the book: The secret for raising a perfect child/hunter can be found right under the Northern Lights. Join Aga and Adlartok in the journey to raise, Tookeet.
Key Points: Family togetherness is heightened when every day is a struggle for survival. Kids learn to save and share when every part of the seal is harvested. ”Eskimo Kisses” prevent teen pregnancy 97% of the time.
Title: Hergen Dergen!
Blurb on the back of the book: Heeble sheerble kiddies! Hergen merken cookin dubin! Kiddie rasin fluerkie!
Key Points: Cooking together as a family unit toughens children who are tasked with attacking chickens with a meat cleaver. Kids have to build their own furniture with an Allen wrench.
Title: My Favorite Klingon
Blurb on the back of the book: When one finds oneself in charge of idiot humans, the Klingon method of parenting offers advantages that are both great and numerous. BAK TCHAAA!!!
Key Points: Combat as form of conflict resolution. Emphasis on learning a new language. Not all that different from Tiger Moms.
Title: Bear Parent
Blurb on the back of the book: Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. ROARRRRRRR!!!!!!!
Key Points: Children are taught to catch their own food in their teeth. Children have to accept potentially being eaten during the winter. May have been written by a lunatic as opposed to an actual bear.
I think it’s important to remember when either accepting or criticizing a book about parenting that none of them should be taken as a comprehensive system. We should either glean from them what we can or realize it’s not for us and our little screaming offspring. There is no one perfect system, so we should stop trying to find it and work more on developing our own.
Though Bear Parent makes a lot of valid and terrifying points.
So what do you think, Moms and Dads? Do parenting books like these help you in your day-to-day lives? Or are they better used for mopping up whatever it was that Billy spilled on the living room rug? Ever had any success with books like these? Failures? Now if you excuse me, I’m going to start highlighting passages from Hergen Dergen…