Monsters of entitlement

Hello, friends. I’ve been reading a light, slick, funny book of cultural observation and enjoying it very much. And it’s a – gasp! – parenting book. Doesn’t that seem like a contradiction in terms?

It’s Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman (in the UK, it’s called French Children Don’t Throw Food). It was published earlier this year, to a predictable squawk of gossip, defensiveness, and some reluctant concessions that Anglo-American parenting is imperfect. (This review is somewhat typical – much more about the reviewer’s own experience than about the book.) It seems that we don’t like to think about a parenting culture that’s not “child-centred”.

What I loved about this book (and which I haven’t yet seen mentioned in a review) is Druckerman’s distillation of what seems to underlie what she calls French parenting. It is the assumption that babies are small people with an immense capacity to learn, right from the beginning. Amazing! Druckerman traces this attitude all the way back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1762 book Emile, or On Education.

In practice, this means that instead of reorganizing their lives around children’s desires, French parents start to teach children how to be rational members of a society from a very early age. Instead of “discipline”, they talk about “education”; instead of “development”, they use the term “awakening”. They take pride in being strict. They allow children immense freedom within a strong framework of rules. They speak politely to babies, because babies are individuals, too.

To me, this doesn’t sound uniquely French. As my friend S at Waldorf Yarns observes, it’s familiar to Waldorf parents (S gives a sample list). S also theorizes, “I can’t help but wonder if some of what is presented as ‘the French’ way of parenting may be European and may have infused into Waldorf education before it was transplanted into our corner of North America.” I’d just add that Druckerman’s “French” parenting also sounds a lot like Maria Montessori’s philosophy of education. It’s no accident: both Waldorf and Montessori education  are founded upon the idea of respect for the child.

As you can tell, I’m a believer. Do I think French parenting (or any single method or ideal) is perfect? Mais non, pas du tout! But it’s a beautiful, rational, and sane starting position that gives me hope that we can raise thoughtful, compassionate citizens, not monsters of entitlement.

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4 Responses to “Monsters of entitlement”

  1. GEW says:

    I read that book, and afterwards I felt less guilty about working outside the home and going to an occasional conference (even though my daughter wishes I were always home). I was very interested in her discussion of food, too. We have’t done a great job with food. But we DID do a great job with sleeping! Maybe that indicates our priorities.

  2. Faith says:

    I’ll have to add this to my TBR pile (mountain?) as those are some things I try to do with my children. Everyone was shocked when we said “no baby talk” when my daughter was born. Now when they hear her speak they kinda understand why. Thanks for posting about it!

  3. Ying says:

    I thought you may have read this, GEW, because Druckerman’s observations always seem to come back to being competent, rather than perfect. And I don’t think we need to compare ourselves to her individual categories so much as ask: are we teaching a child to be a citizen, or an enfant-roi? I thought the language of rights (“you don’t have the right to hit Jules”) was super-interesting, too. And Faith, you’re welcome! If your TBR mountain is anything like mine, it’s about to collapse under its own weight, but this one’s a swift, entertaining read.

  4. Ying says:

    P.S. We’re good at feeding, terrible at sleep! That reflects our priorities, too. :)

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