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Do French and Eskimo moms know better?

Parenting goes global as American readers devour books like 'Bringing Up Bebe' and 'How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm,' seeking international ideas on raising children.

By Husna Haq / February 8, 2012

The French turn their children into adventurous eaters and the Chinese excel at potty training. Should American parents be more global in their methods?

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Crisis of confidence in American parenting? Final reaches of globalization? Marketing gimmick? Whatever it is, in America, parenting has gone global.

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Just as we’ve extinguished the final flames from the firestorm that was Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” which extolled the virtues of high-expectation Asian parenting, comes another foreign parenting manual, this one from France.

It’s called “Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.” In it, author Pamela Druckerman, an American writer who moved to Paris with her British husband 10 years ago and has since had three children, describes the Gallic method of parenting, which she says may be “the perfect foil for the current problems in American parenting.”

“They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there’s no need to feel guilty about this,” Druckerman writes in her book, which hit shelves Tuesday. “While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are – by design – toddling around by themselves.”

According to Druckerman, la mère française preaches the importance of fixed meal times (complete with salad and cheese courses) and banishes snacks. They rarely breast-feed for more than a few weeks, happily put their children in state-run daycares while they resume normal routines, and typically let children cry themselves back to sleep at night.

It’s a method the Wall Street Journal calls “a combination of unyielding expectations and an insouciant, hands-off approach.” French parents, writes the WSJ, “are determined to counter the squalor and disorder of life with small children and preserve the ‘rights’ of parents to enjoy adult existence."

Of course, French women don’t get fat and they know how to raise good children, but if you’re not content to be a Tiger-Mère, there’s always “How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm.”

This delightful book by Mei-Ling Hopgood explores parenting customs from around the world, from allowing children to stay up late in Argentina to letting schoolkids “fight it out” in Japan to allowing children to play by themselves in Polynesia. Hopgood speaks with physicians and parenting professionals to back up the efficacy of the sometimes unexpected parenting customs, many of which run counter to traditional American parenting wisdom – and bring surprising results.

Tiger Mother and Chic Maman don’t know everything about parenting, but we’re thinking a little international influence can’t hurt. What’s next? We’re envisioning a new and revised “What to Expect When You’re Expecting – Global Edition.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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