02 June 2012


I don’t remember if I was in high school or college when my mom decided that I was Italian. I have no Italian blood flowing through my veins and no Italians have influenced my family in anyway that I am aware of; I have pale skin, blondeish hair and blue eyes so I certainly do not look like a typical Italian. There seems to be only one explanation: my eating habits.

I could eat pasta and pizza and bread and drink wine for days.  I would eat pasta two meals a day and have absolutely no problem. I have, on occasion, declared a pizza break but I do not believe I have ever muttered the words, “I cannot bear to eat any more pasta!” And hello, gelato!

Though I love my fake Italian heritage and cannot wait for the day I arrive in Italy for a cooking course that spans no less than one week, I have to admit that I might have a desire to cheat on Italy with my new-found love, France

It all started a week ago when I purchased a book by an American woman who moved to France to be with her British boyfriend. The two married and, while raising their first of three children in Paris, author Pamela Druckerman realized that her child was a bit different from the other children she observed.

While taking a vacation, Druckerman says, “We quickly discover that two restaurant meals a day, with a toddler, deserve to be their own circle of hell.” I am sure all American mothers can relate to this statement. In fact, while drafting this I read a Facebook post from a friend’s husband stating that he and his wife, “actually got to have an actual conversation over dinner.”

“After a few more restaurant meals,” Drukerman writes, “I notice that French families all around us don’t look like they’re in hell. Weirdly, they look like they’re on vacation. French children the same age as [her child] are sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There’s no shrieking or whining. Everyone is having one course at a time. And there’s no debris around their tables. Though I’ve lived in France for a few years, I can’t explain this.”

Bringing Up Bébé is a story of one woman’s realization that American children are spoiled, uncontrollable and the center of every mother’s life. I paraphrase but the last part is true – in America, the baby is the center of one family’s whole universe. When a baby enters the room, even as a fetus inside someone’s belly, the whole room stops, and everyone focuses their attention on the baby…or the stomach. Older siblings have issues coping with another baby in the house because all of the attention goes to the baby, leaving the older child to either fight for attention or hide sulking, thinking that no one cares for him anymore. I do not support this.

When an American woman has a child, she drops everything to make the child’s life an improvement on her own. She loses sleep and stops taking care of herself in order to take care of the child. An American mother must be in the child’s presence at all times. Some mothers have toddlers who have never stayed with a baby-sitter because the mothers do not trust anyone else to care for their children, even for a few hours. I do not support this. These women are crazy and are in serious need of a break.

I have heard so many stories of moms who spend uncountable hours in a vehicle everyday because they need to drop the kids at school, run to the grocery store while they have time, rush home only to run back to pick up the younger child in half-day school, running the child to some lesson, rushing back to pick up the older one(s) from school, then off to some sort of practice, hitting up a drive-thru so that everyone can eat in the car on the way to the next activity….Why do moms put themselves through this torture?

One French mom featured in the book advised the author that she took her kids out of activities because the schedule was too constraining for her. She thought all of the carting around and waiting around was a complete waste of her time. And, in her opinion, the kids did not really need that additional stimulation. This woman is my hero.

I have never been shy about my views on parenthood or my thoughts on child rearing, even though I have no kids. One of the main reasons I do not yet have children is that I feel I am not ready based on American standards. What do I mean? In my mind, whenever I have children, I should not have to change my life just because a baby enters my presence. Why should I have to give up my life, my plans and my goals just because I have a baby? Most people I know would call me selfish. Maybe I am, but don’t I have a right to be? I may be criticized for wanting to hire some help, leaving my child in a crib while I take a shower or letting my child cry instead of risking my sanity to give the screaming child whatever he wants at the time, but these are my preferences.

Until this week, I felt like an awful person who should never have kids because I want my kids to fit into my life, not the other way around. However, after reading this book, it seems the French agree with me.

According to Druckerman, the French have a view on parenting that is completely unlike our American culture and, it all starts with the trying.

In France, if a couple is having trouble conceiving, the government will pay for infertility treatments. Meanwhile, my friend in America is struggling to conceive, worried that if she cannot afford IVF, she may lose her chance at ever being pregnant. Fertility treatments in the U.S. are not covered but welfare for moms of 14 children with 16 different fathers who are all on unemployment and who live in government housing is. I’m just sayin’.

France even steps in to help mothers once the babies are born. They offer:
  • In-home visits and post-partum support
  • Subsidized help (nannies and housekeepers)
  • Childcare from qualified professionals from infancy to preschool (because all French women go back to work after two months), where they potty train and educate your children’s palates
  • Free healthcare from birth to age 6

In France, when a woman conceives, she is not given a list of things she cannot do and cannot consume. I rue the day when someone tells me I cannot have wine or coffee or beef carpaccio!! The French do it anyway, but they are smart about it. Pregnant women eat sushi at nice restaurants where they know the quality of the food is high. They have a glass of wine if they want one. They drink coffee confidently. And, amazingly, French children are healthier than American children across the board.

French women don’t get fat – or so I hear. That book is number three on my list right now. The French eat balanced meals four times a day, including an afternoon coffee and pastry. I like this coffee and pastry idea. And, to top it all off, it’s France. Who wouldn’t want to live in France?

While American women read books and online forums about everything related to pregnancy and labor, French women enjoy the experience of being pregnant and they do it in a healthy manner. I fully support this policy. They eat what they want to eat; they live life like they did before they were pregnant – worry free. They are not consumed by all of the what ifs and all of the possibilities that something might go wrong.

When their child cries, French parents give the child some time before they approach. By not immediately responding to a child’s cry, parents teach their child patience. Instead of feeding a baby every two hours because the mom just assumes a cry means hunger, parents allow their child to squirm and whimper in order to teach the child about sleep cycles. In France, a mother goes nuts if her child is not sleeping through the night in the first two months.

French parents do not scold their children, they educate their children. Even from infancy, parents inform their children what they are doing and why because the babies can understand. When French children develop a vocabulary, there are four magic words they learn early on and are expected to use every day: hello, good-bye, please and thank you. These words are non-negotiable. I fully support this policy.

Maybe I’m not ready to have kids, but at least I feel better about my parenting style when Paul and I are ready. I’m not crazy, I just have a different view. Maybe I am selfish, but isn’t my life supposed to be about me? 

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