Friday, August 31, 2012

Bringing up Bebe

Has anyone read this book?

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French ParentingMy friend Lydia was telling me about it the other morning over breakfast... or while we tried to drink a cup of coffee still hot and her babe Gabriel slept in the bouncy seat, Knox ate an entire box of Cheerios and Pursy ate all the butter off her waffle... twice. I love having Lydia around because she is so seemingly unphased by chaos. Even before she had Gabriel and she was just a gorgeous Australian pregnant woman spending time with the three of us, she never looked scared of what was coming. Even when I answered the door while nursing Knox and Pursy was wrapped around my leg.

I haven't read this book yet, but she was telling me that the premise is that American mothering is much more individualistic then European, particularly French parenting. I remember reading an article about this book in the WSJ a few months ago and being intrigued. Once I got over my resistance to learning anything from the French. (note: I have never met a French person I didn't like, but I was raised Republican and voted for GW Bush BOTH times, once obviously being post 9/11 where good conservatives boycotted French Fries- some things are hard to shake). But Lydia, who has read the book said that she has been thinking about why American mothers seem to be so resistant to help or the opinions of others. And why they get so bent out of shape when another mother offers to help or even (gasp) steps in and just DOES something with their children. We seem to be okay with school teachers and gymnastic instructors giving them knowledge about their areas of specialty but when it comes to moral lessons or behavior modification, mothers tend to think that they are the only ones who can teach their children.

My theory is that American mothers have learned, either from experience or supposition, that we are supposed to be able to do it all. Overcome sleep deprivation to cook a nutritious, seasonal breakfast for our children. Get to the gym and work off post baby weight somewhere in a day that still only has 24 hours. Read books, blogs, magazines- or somehow just KNOW- how to correct, discipline and instruct our particular child. And then there is the list of Caldecutt winning children's books they need to read before age 3, the number of play dates they need to attend to socialize and become the world leader in sharing toys, and the bedtime routine that will make them WANT to go to bed.

Mothers are supposed to know all of this.

And don't get me wrong- I think I am great. Collapsing on the couch with a glass of wine at the end of the day is not a sign of failure or inadequacy for me- it is a big high five. I wore myself out being a Mom. That must mean I am doing something right. And the fact that Grant is collapsing next to me means that we are still connected- even if the only thing we are sharing is the bottle of wine.

So we look at mothers who look like they have it all together- and I know some who do. But from what I have learned in 3 years of being a Mama, something always gives. And the women who really are getting everything done and enjoying it, have prioritized. I know this because I like the days when I let go of trying to get up at 530 to go for a run, get a shower, make breakfast from scratch out of good ingredients, pack Grant's lunch, color or read books with Pursy, crawl around with Knox, take them to the Museum or the Library or the Park, do a few loads of laundry, make a lunch from scratch out of good ingredients, get both babes down for naps with reading and rocking, spend nap time cleaning the house and reading stimulating books about things that interest me, remember the water the grass seeds Grant laid out last week, take babes for an afternoon walk, make a dinner from scratch out of good ingredients, bathe kids in a sparkling tub I cleaned during nap time, family time with award winning children's books, cuddles and goodnight, wine and dessert with husband on couch, mind blowing sex and in bed by 10p to get up in the morning at 530 to run.....

Mamas need a village. Because no matter how great your life experience was before you became a Mother, you will never know everything you need to raise little humans. But the things I don't know, Lydia might know. Or Mari might know. Or Chrissie might know. Or Jonathan might know. The trouble comes when we don't ask. Or don't feel like we should ask. I remember the day I called Grant at work and told him that I couldn't remember why we had kids in the first place. I was so tired and that night we were having a dinner party for 8 people we really liked and were hoping to be friends with. But I couldn't get anything done- Knox was refusing to be put down without that wailing that makes the arms of mothers everywhere ache. I begged him to come home. He told me to call Tanya, one of our new friends in Pittsburgh and ask her to come over and hold Knox for an hour while I cooked dinner. I had not known Tanya for very long and I wanted to keep up the facade that I was THAT mother- the one that everyone thinks "how does she do it all?".

But I called her. And 20 minutes later she was in my living room, took Knox from me and he fell asleep in her arms. And when she left two hours later, with dinner in the oven and at least the downstairs of our house clean, she thanked me for calling her. It made her feel loved.

So maybe this book is on to something. I am going to the library today and will let you know more once I read it. All I know is that sitting at the kitchen table Wednesday morning and watching Lydia gently but firmly remind Purslane that she was not to get down from her chair until she had eaten her waffle, and watching P respond to her- maybe I could be more French.


  1. I love this one. I think the facade some moms have turn potential mothers off (like me!) who know we can't do all of that. I helped out a friend with some child care recently and even though her son totally peed all over the floor as I tried to change his diaper (I kept putting it on backwards) she said she learned something from me. That's funny to me since I literally know 3 things about kids. They eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. But it reminded me that you don't have to be an expert in things to show a new perspective. Anyways, you're a fantastic mom and your kids are beyond lucky to have you!

  2. I loved this book. I may not do half of what it says but it was a cool way to look at raising kids. I have recommended it on several other moms as well.