Bringing Up Bebe: A Cultural Comparison of Parenting Styles As Reported On By a Non-Parent

In The Art of Travel, 6. First Book, Paris, Places by Zoe1 Comment

Ever since I was little, if someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always would, and still do, say “a mom.” I’m not sure where this fascination with children came from but I’ve always been enchanted by them – they’re tiny humans, for crying out loud! How cool is that?

My parents raised me as a tiny human, not a baby. I was pretty autonomous even from a very young age. At no older than one, my mom would ask me to choose peas versus carrots by just pointing at them. When I was in preschool and too young to fully dress myself, she’d lay out three outfits on my bed each morning and let me choose one.

A lot of children in the United States, though, aren’t necessarily raised that way. They’re raised as children, as beings that are like small, malleable blobs. There are baby foods, baby manuals, baby… everything. There’s an inherent desire to protect children and their innocence that came out of increased news reporting on crimes in the 1980’s and 1990’s that created an impression that children were under a bigger threat than ever. Were they, actually? Probably not. But it scared a lot of people and it scared them badly. It scared parents.

Children aren’t necessarily blobs that require helicopter parenting, though. Pamela Druckerman, through her analysis of the general French parenting style in Bringing Up Bebe, comes to the conclusion that French children are pretty darn well-behaved because they’re allowed to just be (autonomous) kids. She’s an American woman that moves to Paris with her boyfriend and is quite baffled by their parenting style. From what I’ve observed both here in Paris and in the United States, I can understand why – albeit not being a parent.

Without going into too much detail about the book, the other conclusions Druckerman  comes to about French parenting styles through observing her friend’s child-rearing habits in addition to her own, include:

  1. Babies are, in fact, listening to you and can learn a lot from speech patterns and manners even at a young age. The French don’t use a condescending voice towards their infants, Druckerman observes, in order to model positive mannerisms and self-control.
  2. The French allow babies to “do their nights,” meaning they’ll wake up and cry but you have to learn “the pause” (five minutes in which you take when a sleeping baby starts crying to get themselves back to sleep). No idea how this works in actuality because again, no baby.
  3. There is no such thing as a “kid food” in France. Kids generally eat the same things as their parents, which normally creates rather adventurous eaters. That is in stark contrast to my (American) cousin Joel who only ate Goldfish crackers and creamed corn for five years – true story.
  4. The French don’t really believe in breastfeeding. Odd.
  5. Teaching patience to small children is super important.
  6. French parents do in fact have lives outside of their children and do not feel guilty about doing so.

A lot of this seems like common sense to me. Maybe that’s because most of this was how I was raised and maybe all of this is easier to agree with on paper than in practice.  In theory, it’s easy to let a child “cry it out” but what happens when it’s your own? It’s probably not as easy. Love and nurture are awfully important, too, or so I assume. There should be a balance, as is the case with just about everything else in the world. No parenting style is inherently “right” or “wrong,” but one should simply do what feels best and most natural in their own circumstance.

I bet you’re wondering, “alright. You, a 20-year-old, non-mother just read this book about babies… What the heck does this have to do with you?” Well, as an anxiety-riddled young woman possessing some of the same traits as new parents albeit in very different contexts, (a compulsivity to Google *everything*, constant worrying about *everything*, and putting practically *everyone* else’s needs above my own) I learned I need to relax and be a bit more relaxed sometimes, I suppose, in the style of a lot of French parents.

(Image: Bringing Up Bebe ; Source: The Fitnessita)


  1. Zoe, I also relate to constantly saying I have always “wanted to be a mom.” I’ve babysat for six years and LOVE being around kids. It’s hard not to watch parents here in Florence as well. The kids here similarly tend to be given more autonomy and independence than my friends and I were given growing up in America. Why do you think this is? Do you think that there are any cons to parenting this way?

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