As soon as I learned I was expecting, I set out to do pregnancy, childbirth, and of course (one day) parenting PERFECTLY. It was obviously my job to become the best mother my unborn child could possibly have, so I did what many American mothers do – I avoided my caffeine, chugged green smoothies, took natural childbirth classes, and turned the natural act of childbirth into a project to be studied, understood and executed with utmost care. Even after my baby was born, I made sure not to leave her understimulated (or overstimulated), too cold or too hot, and to me, letting her cry for more than a few minutes was almost an act of cruelty. After all, she is a pure, angelic child – a kind of clean slate; and I have to construct her from scratch to be the best human being she can possibly be…right?
Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Woman Discovers The Wisdom Of French Parenting gave me a reality check. In her book, Druckerman recounts her experiences in Paris, noting that children were less picky eaters, better behaved and quite autonomous, all while their mothers had a much more relaxed attitude toward childbearing and rearing.
It got me thinking: there are several similarities between French and Pakistani parenting as compared to American.
Here are the top things I noticed:
- American parents are all about advancing their children’s development, while Pakistani and French parents let children explore at their own pace.
I grew up in America with traditional Pakistani parents. I never took piano lessons, played any sports or participated in any kind of organized activity outside of school. This is the norm for many Pakistani and French children. Termed ‘Slow Parenting’ in America, this is when parents don’t turn their cars into taxis, driving their children from one activity to the next. French parents are more into “awakening” and letting children “discover” things at their own pace.
- French and Pakistani parents are firm about respect for others, especially in dealings with adults.
Learning tameez, or respect and manners, are an essential part of a child’s development in Pakistan. Similarly, French parents are strict about a cadre, a framework in which a child must remain. In the cadre, respect for elders is of highest priority. American society is a bit more youth-centric, meaning parents cater to their children a little more than they do in other cultures.
- American women are all about natural childbirth and breastfeeding their infants, while Pakistani and French mothers are more relaxed about both.
Natural childbirth to French and Pakistani women just means ‘not a c-section’. I don’t know many Pakistani women who attempted to endure natural labor the way I did. Similarly, according to Druckerman, in Paris’s top maternity hospitals and clinics, “about 87% of women have epidurals on average (not counting c-sections)”. They just don’t understand the point of “toughing it out” when you have the availability of ease.
Also, I noticed immediately that my passion for breastfeeding was not mirrored nor encouraged by most Pakistani women I knew (including my mother – thanks for robbing me of antibodies, mom!). Yet all my American friends were pro-breastfeeding and treated formula as if the best thing about it was that it helped babies survive. According to Druckerman, there’s a similar situation in France. It is rare for french women to breastfeed her child, especially past a few months. Maybe it’s not chic?
This book is bait for anyone who loves culture, food and has any remote interest in babies and children. Though I don’t agree with everything she endorses, I do think it is worthwhile (and fun!) read. It taught me one thing that I most certainly needed while beginning my journey to parenthood – to learn to relax a little.
On that note, here is a basic recipe for Chai, the Pakistani way: