French Children Don't Throw Food - Book Review

by - Sunday, February 10, 2013

French Children Don't Throw Food is an account of the parenting experiences of an Anglophone raising a family in Paris: Druckerman herself is an American former journalist married to an Englishman; their children a daughter and twin boys.

Initially, Druckerman assumes her life as a parent will reflect much of what she refers to as "Anglophone", though she soon discovers that her Parisian peers are not so keen to form friendships among other mothers, let alone choose to be stay-at-home parents who frequent local playgroups and gossip while "over-parenting" their children!

Instead, she discovers that French mothers are equally more strict and relaxed, well groomed women in their own right whose children seem incredibly well behaved and almost never throw food at the tables of the haughty restaurants they frequent.

Her journalist background combined with the experience of motherhood aroused her curiosity as to what creates the "invisible, civilising force" enabling French mothers to seem as though they can have it all. French Children Don't Throw Food is an account of her discoveries and experiences in finding out.

This is not a parenting "manual"

Through research and notations of her own experience, Druckerman seeks to answer how French mothers appear to have it all in this honest (and often witty) account of life as an Anglophone parent in Paris.

Many French parenting tactics she discovers are almost completely at odds with the way Anglophone parents choose to raise their children. Breastfeeding (or the lack thereof) seems particularly troublesome for Druckerman who finds many eyebrows are raised when she chooses to continue well after the few weeks most Parisians consider enough.

While she decides not to adopt the formula-feeding approach, she does experiment with other practises which if back at home in the States, she may well not have even considered. Enrolling her daughter in a local creche aged just nine months was considered perfectly normal by her French friends, though she recounts her mother's horror at leaving her baby in a relative stranger's hands so young.

Circumstantially, it seems, there are many aspects of French parenting which are of particular benefit to children as she soon learns Bebe is more than happy to eat the four-course lunches offered at the establishment, and that the ladies operating the creche are considered respectable professionals, the "Rhodes scholars of baby care".

Rhythm and Pause

Druckerman notes that an important aspect of French parenting is the establishment of the cadre: the framework in which the family live. Rules and limits are set early on to ensure children understand their place in the family home, and what is expected of them.

Similarly, children are allowed to develop a sense of independence far earlier than Anglophone parents feel ready to loosen the reins. She describes an encounter at a French friend's house whose young daughter is preparing the mix for a cake without her mother's intervention - and quite capably at that! In contrast, British mums may find themselves hovering over their children in such a situation; completely frazzled by the prospect of mess we may even take over the task completely thus preventing our children from learning such skills when they are more than mature enough to do so.

Le pause is a wonderful lesson of parenting which most readers of the book revere (and wish they had discovered for themselves while baby was young enough to do so). French parents understand (almost innately) that a moment of pause and observation when their young baby cries allows the infant to settle themselves back to sleep if they don't require feeding or another form of intervention. Babies' sleep cycles last around two hours, and it's perfectly normal for them to wake between then until they learn to connect these cycles as adults do. This explains perfectly why so many French babies are "having their nights" by around two months of age, while Anglophones may suffer sleepless nights for many,many months more.

Raising middle class children in Paris

Though I found French Children Don't Throw Food to be a thoroughly enjoyable read, I can't help feeling that many of the techniques which worked for Druckerman and her family won't adapt so well in a non-middle class, non-Parisian environment.

Aside from the fact that no nurseries I've ever heard of serve four course meals to infants, the care and advice offered to us as parents differs vastly. As do our in-built expectations of what motherhood is all about.

France is famed for the excellent, supported childcare system which simply does not operate in the UK. At least, not as well (or with as much consideration for training and professionalism as it does in Paris). Breastfeeding is promoted rather than shunned, and mothers who let their kids run free in the park would undoubtedly receive disapproving glares from the majority of parents carefully guarding their children's safety.

There are some gems of parenting advice to be gleamed from this witty and humorous book, though personally I consider it an account rather than a guide.

What do you think?

Have you read French Children Don't Throw Food? What are your personal opinions on the methods suggested and integrated into Pamela Druckerman's own family life?

Please feel free to leave your own comments and opinions below.

Review Details:

Title: French Children Don't Throw Food
Reviewer: Amanda Kennedy
Review Date: February 7th 2012

Rating: 3.5/5

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