Stars: 4/6 (good book, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone)

Pamela Druckerman, an American woman living in France goes to a restaurant one day and notices that all the French children are contentedly eating or amusing themselves and their parents actually look relaxed enough to enjoy their meal. Her child, on the other hand, is fussing and making a huge mess, causing her and her husband to try and finish up as soon as possible and get out of everyone’s hair- leaving a large tip as an apology. Druckerman sought to discover what it was that French parents were doing differently which allowed them to have children and still go to restaurants…. and participate normally in the civilized world.

All of my friends who have children are incredibly nervous going to restaurants. They’re continually putting things in front of their child to amuse him- usually food brought from home, but sometimes toys too. The entire meal is unfolds under the looming cloud of an inevitable tantrum- the release of a pressure that builds from the moment they sit down, to the moment they apologetically put their money on the table and run out of the restaurant with the squealing, squirming child in tow- their own meals half-eaten.

This isn’t a judgment of my friends. This is something I’ve seen happen to literally every friend I have with children and I have always assumed it was something that just happens when you have kids. The idea that children in France don’t do this to their parents was mind-blowing to me. I’m about to have one of those squirmy, squealing children myself so I was immediately intrigued by Druckerman’s observation and subsequent investigation.

Druckerman finds that French children can tolerate other amazing things as well such as sleeping through the night, accepting “no” as an answer, politely greeting adults, playing quietly by themselves and eating the same food as their parents. They have a self-regulation which, I think, American parents don’t believe children are capable of. What is it French parents are doing that cultivates this self-regulation?

The answer to that question, as Druckerman presents it, is nebulous, complicated and generally unknowable for American parents, unfortunately. My husband kept asking me what kinds of things I was learning which we could apply to our own parenting style and I had a lot of difficulty answering him. Druckerman offers lots of observations of French parents, observations of French children and insights she gains from interviews with French pediatricians and childcare workers, but she fails to lay down any concrete strategies or suggestions that her readers can actually take away and use.

Perhaps my problem with this book is my own need to know the “secret” of this excellent parenting. Druckerman would characterize this need itself as something quite “American.” She’d tell me it’s not any one thing that causes French parents to be different and it would be unreasonable for me to expect an organized flow chart or bullet points which would one could follow easily in order to lead to the perfectly-behaved child. Her observations are less structured and more philosophical in nature. For my own American-neurotic self, though I feel the need to pull out some bullet points. Even if it’s just to prove to myself that I Learned Something.

3 Reasons why French parents produce self-regulated children:

1. They expect their children to behave as adult members of society.

2. They believe, without a doubt, that children are capable of self-regulation.

3. They expect to enjoy life and do not see merit in over-extending oneself or sacrificing one’s own basic needs for the sake of fulfilling their child’s wishes.

Those bullet points make me feel a little better.

I did not get the organized plan for making a better child. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy this book. It was a combination of memoir, self-help, and parenting philosophy. It offered me a window into another culture, which is something I always appreciate. It also made me reconsider, quite a few times, aspects of my own culture which I would have otherwise taken for granted. I’d recommend this book to any parent or parent-to-be. I’ll check back when I have a child to actually try some of these things out on though.