Apodaca: The French way to tame a Tiger Mom

Is anyone else getting tired of being told that American parents are doing it all wrong?

Last year it was Tiger Mom, and her somewhat enlightening but highly insulting opinions about lax, indulgent Western parents.

Now we're treated to the newest sensation, French-style parenting.

According to author Pamela Druckerman, Gallic parents — read: moms — could school us cloddish Yankees on getting our kids to sleep soundly and refrain from food-throwing tantrums, all while managing to stay sexy, fit and très chic.

Druckerman is a former Wall Street Journal writer who lives in Paris with her British husband and three young children. Like Amy Chua, the Yale professor and author of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," Druckerman has been blessed with great publicity; her book was excerpted in the Journal shortly before publication.

The book is called "Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting," but the Journal headline summed up the theme less subtly: "Why French Parents Are Superior." (Chua's headline was "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.")

Chua, you might recall, would have us browbeat our kids into submission with marathon piano practices without bathroom breaks, vacations filled with math drills, and a ban on TV and video games. She advocates strictly monitoring children's activities, including their social lives — or lack thereof because she disdains play dates and sleepovers.

This form of parenting, we are meant to believe, produces musical virtuosos with perfect SAT scores who are bound for Ivy League schools and future greatness.

Druckerman, by contrast, writes that French mothers tend to set a few rules, which are strictly enforced, but allow their children a good deal of freedom within those parameters.

Moreover, she contends, French moms are more relaxed than their frazzled American counterparts because they focus greatly on their own contentment and don't let their kids rule the roost.

This style supposedly results in happy, independent, secure kids who sleep through the night by three months of age and are polite during meals. Unlike Chua's intense micromanagement, French parents apparently don't slavishly follow the minutiae of how their kids are doing in school, figuring they'll hear about it if something needs to be fixed.

I found it rather humorous that the back cover of "Bringing Up Bébé" features a resounding endorsement from Chua. Effective parenting apparently doesn't include a strong sense of irony.

Despite all this procreation superiority going around, I can't help suspecting that these books promoting the wise and wonderful parenting styles of other cultures aren't really about them so much as the idea that Americans are lousy parents.

Criticizing parents has become a national pastime here; we eat up disapproval about how we're ruining our kids along with the trans-fat laden fast food we shove down their throats.

Are we really that bad?

Consider some of Druckerman's observations. At various times she writes that American parenting is "stressful and exhausting," and that "miserable, screaming toddlers demanding to get out of their strollers or pitching themselves onto the sidewalk are part of the scenery of daily life."

She further charges that American parents don't teach their kids patience as well as the French, we can't seem to say "no" to our offspring, and we rush our children to reach developmental milestones so we can feel good about ourselves.

Feeling inferior yet? Just wait. Druckerman also writes about French moms who fit back into their designer skinny jeans three months after giving birth, keep their husbands satisfied, and calmly sip café at the park while their kids contentedly play by themselves. Ouch.

Yet I noticed that Druckerman also glosses over some points. She mentions the abundant services, such as subsidized, high-quality day-care centers, that help reduce stress for French moms. But she positions the issue more in terms of American moms being weird for their concerns about such facilities.

And she seems to think that all Americans behave like her upper-middle-class New York friends. She doesn't refrain from wild generalizations and stereotypes, such as when she suggests many U.S. toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training.

I can't speak for everyone, but I don't know any toddlers taking Mandarin lessons. And I live in Newport Beach.

To be sure, both Druckerman and Chua make a good case for the argument that all parents could benefit from examining other cultures' techniques and attitudes. I'm certainly not above picking up tips that could help me become a better parent.

I'm not the only one who feels that way, and that's another reason why parenting manuals and memoirs are so popular. Call us bad parents, but we're always looking for ways to grow and improve.

Indeed, when I mentioned "Bringing Up Bébé" to a friend, whom I consider a terrific mom, she responded that the idea that less stressed-out parents produce calmer kids "makes sense."

If I got nothing else from "Bringing Up Bébé," it's that I need to stop second-guessing whether I'm doing all the right things for my kids. Like the French, I should have a glass of wine — but make it a California vintage, s'il vous plaît — and relax.

And maybe I'll write my own book. I'll call it, "Confessions of a Newport Beach Mom: How I Decided to Tune Out All the Noise and Trust Myself."

It probably wouldn't be a best-seller, though. Not enough America bashing.

PATRICE APODACA is a Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She is also a regular contributor to Orange Coast magazine. She lives in Newport Beach.

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