The pride mothers seem to feel at their lack of showers, lack of clean clothes, and lack of meals that didn’t consist of cold chicken nuggets or other child-centered leftovers was (and still is) baffling to me. Even if it wasn’t pride, this defeatist attitude, this reveling in mediocrity or the lowest common denominator was not a phenomenon I looked forward to.
I dreaded the days of becoming a mother and was embarrassed for the people who seemed literally to lose who they were after procreating.
The post was met with strong, furious reactions. People were offended, to say the least. Even the most measured replies were foreboding comments of, “Just you wait.” There was even the suggestion that I’d change my mind if I had any hope of becoming a good mother.
As the article stated,
“‘So what if you only put mascara on one eye before leaving the house, and have spit up down the back of your black shirt?’ That effluvium is worn as a badge of honor by some: I’m such a wonderful, selfless mom, the spit-up says, I don’t take any time to care for myself at all.”
Since announcing my pregnancy, those gleeful and almost arrogant refrains have resurfaced.
“Just you wait.”
For some reason, having a child is not only an understandable reason to lose your marbles, but children are expected to ruin your life.
This is unacceptable to me.
But the only people who ever seemed to sympathize with my frustration were my childless friends and my own mother (who has accomplished some apparently miraculous child-rearing feats including showering and putting on makeup every day or her life and having four children who never threw public tantrums).
I don’t say these things out of pride, but I have expectations regarding children that were formed by my own upbringing. I have continued to wonder why I am the only one who thinks it is possible to raise a child who doesn’t consume your very self or ruin any hope at an adult life.
I should add right now that I understand extenuating circumstances. For the first 16 weeks of my pregnancy, I barely got out of bed thanks to the constant vomiting brought on by hyperemesis gravidarum. Obviously showers were few and far between.
But the mere fact of having a child is not an extenuating circumstance.
I do not understand why having a baby means you don’t have time to shower, do laundry, or eat a nutritious, delicious meal. Nor do I accept the assumption that a child will never behave, sleep, or eat like a rational human being until some miraculous time in their later childhood after all of my patience is spent and my life is unrecoverable.
No amount of angry, self-important, or rude comments from current mothers have convinced me otherwise.
There has to be a better way.
Enter Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovering the Wisdom of French Parenting (by Pamela Druckerman).
Druckerman is an American expatriate living in Paris, and her research begins by observing French parents in everyday life, raising children alongside of her.
This book has been a breath of fresh air in my months of pregnancy, and a refreshing formulation of parenting “tricks” I knew could be true all along.
It has actually made me look forward to raising my little bebe.
Honestly nothing Druckerman says of the French way of parenting is truly groundbreaking; rather, she explains how the French have adopted common sense principles as their national wisdom of child-rearing.
Fundamentally, children are tiny little humans and it is the role of the parent to teach them (in French, one’s upbringing is literally called education) to be mature, competent humans.
How else does a tiny human learn these things, Druckerman asks, if not by the intentional education from the parent or caregiver? Le duh.
It is with similar blase that French parents assume a mother’s responsibility to remain a woman, despite having given birth. French society places much pressure on postpartum women to lose their baby weight, and one can imagine, the refusal to shower and wear clean clothes would be seen as downright barbaric.
Their logic is as follows: Losing herself to a child would make a woman unsatisfied. Therefore, it makes sense that a woman ought to preserve her womanness despite her motherhood. She is a woman who happens to be a mother, not a mother first and only.
Her sense of style, her romance with her husband, her sense of fulfillment by work or hobbies all must remain intact.
Similarly, sleepless nights, finicky eaters, and constant misbehavior would make a home discordant and unhappy. Therefore, they just must not be so. A child must be taught to sleep through the night, eat a wide variety of healthy food, and behave respectfully towards others. And these things must be taught early.
For the French, this is not just wishful thinking. To them, they are literally impossible not to be. A life would be unsustainable were it any other way.
Children are part of a family. They are not the center of the universe. It is when parents make them the center of the universe, according to French conventional wisdom, that their own lives are ruined and their children are spoiled.
Operating under the assumption that children are a welcome part of a whole naturally leads to such things as teaching them to eat with the family, respecting bedtime and sleeping well, conversing intelligently with adults, and coexisting with family schedules and in the family home (Druckerman was particularly impressed that French homes aren’t overtaken by toddler toys the way American homes are).
However, inside this framework, or cadre as the French call it, children are expected to be children. They are expected to play, laugh, skin their knees, discover the world around them, and even say and do little naughty things (called betise – by labeling small acts of naughtiness, French parents are more measured in their reactions when compared to much larger infractions). But the French believe the strictness of the cadre allows for the full freedom of childhood to take place.
A good example of this is bedtime. As a child grows, he may not fall asleep right away when you put him to bed. The cadre maintains that bedtime is 8pm. But, if the child is not sleepy, he can lay in his bed and read or play with small, quiet toys. However, the child may never leave his room under the pretense of needing a snack or water to delay bedtime. The routine is sacrosanct. And he respects it.
But you cannot expect a 7 year old to suddenly follow these rules. Teaching a child to respect the family schedule and cadre starts in infancy.
Reading this book, I felt for the first time that my dream of a harmonious household where I didn’t refuse to shower and could actually expect my children to behave was validated. Not only was it validated in theory, it was shown to be very achievable (and based on the scientific studies cited, perhaps even preferable).
I do not assume this book review has convinced any of the mothers who have previously scoffed at my “ignorance” that my ideas of parenthood are valid. But I hope to have at least encouraged someone who might have been like me – panicking at that big fat positive pregnancy test because no one seemed to enjoy being a mother.
I could write volumes on the wisdom Druckerman shared, but if this piques your interest in the slightest, I think you should just read the book. I recommend very few books wholeheartedly, and this one definitely makes the cut.
I should note also that Druckerman makes an interesting case for the importance of paid maternity leave, government subsidized childcare, and a strong public school system as invaluable supports for motherhood in the modern world, but that is a discussion for another time.
Bringing up Bebe is written like a memoir of Druckerman’s parenting journey and contains much more detailed explanations of her discoveries, but if you would prefer a list of French parenting wisdom, Bebe Day by Day is just that.
And this post on Fatherly gives you more of a taste of the advice offered by Druckerman, if you’re still hesitant.