A Step Back


I read Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting when Jack was an infant.

Then if I ever saw Pam on the streets I probably would have walked up to her and gave her a great big hug. 

Druckerman talks about over-parenting Americans, or helicopter parents, who are so involved with their children’s lives yet have little control over their behavior and yet have very little time for themselves.

She compares that to the French way of child-rearing. And that includes teaching our children to be responsible and self-sufficient at an early age. Caring for them, but often letting them discover, play and learn on their own. In short, not letting our entire world gravitate around our children. And also, providing barriers and space for them to learn. 

I read her book twice.

And I probably will pick it up again when I need a reminder of how my life with my children is leaning towards the American style.

I got this reminder recently when I read Power Moms and the Power of Overparenting by Joan K. Peters.

“The standards of motherhood seem to have changed dramatically since we were kids,” Eden Steinberg writes in the forward to Peter’s piece.

These days a ‘good mother’ is expected to know just about everything: the latest in child psychology, safety equipment, nutrition, education…. My own mother looks on all this with a kind of quiet amusement. ‘We just didn’t go to all this trouble.’
— Eden Steinberg

Fast forward almost four years since I first read Druckerman’s book. I now also have Audrey. My life has changed a lot.

Translation: conforming to American ways and the hustle and bustle of what a parent is pressured into.

A typical scenario in our household often looks like this: What’s the better solution (I say to myself) 1. Be persistent to create boundaries and rules, but have to listen to hours upon hours of tantrums all day or 2. Give in because I'm too busy and maybe a little preoccupied. 

Unfortunately the second choice has been used a little more than I’d like to admit.

 Another aspect to the American way is overparenting.

“Child-rearing is like another profession: knowing the right mobile to buy for the infant’s crib, the right music to play, which experts to read. The spontaneity of parenting is turned into a dreadful obligation,” states Gioconda Belli in Peter’s essay. “Such a preoccupation with children doesn’t seem to me to be good for the children either. It takes away from children’s self-importance, from their ability to take responsibility for their own happiness.”

Every single word of that essay, just like in Druckerman’s book, has me nodding yes and smiling with hope.

Yet I also feel this knot in my stomach as I know deep down my life is gravitating towards the American, hovering style these authors speak of.

I’ve recently gone through breakdowns and meltdowns wondering how I’m going to do it all, how I’m going to balance the heavy load of being a working mom as well as making sure I raise my children with all the influences found in the media.

And often when I find myself the busiest, that’s when I cave and give in to poor behavior.

It all boils down to the pressures of parenting and performing it perfectly.

But it’s tough to live the French model when pretty much everyone around us is parenting the American way because it’s all we know.

It’s the modern way.

We hear stories of how our parents grew up. My dad always tells us how when he and his siblings got rowdy during a gathering they were sent outside to play.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had to leave a party because the kids weren’t behaving.

Can we take a little trip back to the good ol’ days? Or maybe we need to take a Euro-vacation? Why have things changed so much?

Is it because of technology and programs? Are we lucky to live in a world that has so many extra-curricular activities children can participate in, classes available to parents, books to read on parenting, and articles available online?

Or is this overload of choices, information, opinions a bit of a burden?

I do think there is room to take a step back.

I think there’s room for us to all open our eyes a little and look at how we’re currently managing.

I do see parents living the French way. I hope one day we will see more. And if that's the case eventually less and less parents will feel that pressure melt away.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just an old soul. Why can’t I embrace the way things are now? Just live it?

I will leave you with this though: Do you embrace the American way? Would you rather the French way?

The day I read Peter’s essay I was at the beach with my kids. I read it while they played on their own.  

That’s my start. What’s yours?

Ash Degraaf