Monday, January 30, 2012

Bringing up Bébé

The whole question of children and child rearing has been very much on the agenda in the past weeks. Firstly, the press has leaped on the new book 'French Children Don't Throw Food' by Pamela Druckerman, a middle class American living in a middle class suburb of Paris, whose limited experience of French children seems to have made her some sort of childcare expert.  Of course, anyone who has actually brought their children up in France, i.e. outside Paris, knows that French children do throw food, and quite regularly, as long as maman isn't looking.

The pertinent points of the book are don't breastfeed as formula will help bébé sleep through the night, ignore your children and let them amuse themselves, that way they learn to be patient, don't bother to teach them to read, that's what school is for, stick them in a creche from birth and give them a good slap if they misbehave. There, I've saved you £15!  For a very amusing précis of the book read this. Of course, it all sounds deliciously 1950s but then, that's what most British expats say they love about the country. It's like Britain in the 1950s - racist, intolerant, sexist, polio-ridden? Oh, apparently that's not what they mean.

Strangely enough, Ms Druckerman chose a different title for the book in the US. It's called Bringing Up Bébé probably because The Satanic Seed of Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys Don't Throw Food wouldn't fit on the front cover. And strangely enough, the book doesn't seem to have been released in French. I wonder why?  It's interesting how book titles get changed. That other tome which has been widely used to batter British women over the head, French Women Don't Get Fat, is actually called Those French Women Who Don't Get Fat. Puts a slightly different angle on the whole premise doesn't it.

To be honest, having lived in France for 5 years, and seen that French children are, sadly, exactly the same as any other and they do throw food, I'd say don't waste your money on Ms Druckerman or her book. There's a reason why on Air France flights, the seats around people with babies and toddlers are designated 'low comfort' and are allocated last. And as someone wryly observed, 'the only trouble with French children is that they grow up into French adults'.

Earlier on in the week, ex-Apprentice, Katie Hopkins, caused outrage among the mummy mafia in a debate with Katie O'Donovan from Mumsnet on BBC breakfast. The subject was whether or not babies should have to pay for tickets to the Olympics.  What they were saying aside, it was hilarious. Katie Hopkins is always controversial, it's how she's made her name, and, although I don't often agree with her, she does make me laugh. She argued that babies shouldn't be at the Olympics anyway and that why should her Olympic experience be ruined by someone else's screaming baby? Sadly for Mumsnet, I can't actually remember what the other Katie did - or said. So does Katie Hopkins have a point?

To me, the idea of sitting in a crowded stadium somewhere in the a**e end of Old London town would be as much pleasure as a root canal filling without anaesthetic.  I hate crowds, hate public transport and have a very low tolerance threshold for the public in general so the whole discussion was a bit moot anyway. Looking at what was being said on Twitter, people were generally split 50:50 between those who felt that babies, and indeed small children, shouldn't be allowed at the Olympics anyway and those who encouraged every mother and breastfeeding mother in particular to go and grab the seat next to Katie Hopkins.  An athlete made an interesting point. Some of the events rely on complete silence for the start and a crying baby or stroppy toddler could be very distracting. As this athlete said, when they've trained for years to get to the Olympics, should they have to risk all their hard work because someone's child misbehaves.

Very few made the point that perhaps an Olympic event is not the best place for a baby or a toddler anyway. I would certainly never have taken mine. They'd have been bored rigid sitting watching people swim up and down a pool or run round and round a track and I would enjoy it far more without constantly fretting over a cranky child.

I don't subscribe to the idea that children should be seen and not heard but I do believe they should know how to behave in public. It's not society's job to fit round my children, it's my children's job to fit into society, to know what is and isn't acceptable and to understand that the world doesn't revolve around them and they must respect other people's feelings. I never subscribed to the 'enfant roi' school of child-rearing and I think, by and large, mine have turned out pretty well. They never had tantrums, were never allowed to scream and carry on in supermarkets, had to sit at the table at restaurants and went to bed at set times so that my evening was child-free. I'm not saying it's the right way, just that it was the right way for me. I'm not particularly maternal and have a very low threshold for misbehaving children, my own included, so if the whole motherhood thing was going to work for me and they were going to make their next birthdays, then they had to learn to fit into my life rather than the other way round.

A café in North London, fed up with the poor behaviour of some children while the mothers and nannies sat around swigging on their lattes, recently told them that they would be banned if their offsprings' behaviour didn't improve. They were incensed. But why should other patrons have their quiet enjoyment spoiled by misbehaving children climbing all over the furniture. Why should they have to listen to cranky children whining?  Why do some mothers think it's acceptable to let their child's whining continue unabated just because they are immune to it?  I've even seen women changing babies on the tables of cafés. They may think that little Daisy's s**t doesn't stink, but I can assure you it does! And it's unhygienic to boot. There are baby coupons available for changing pads suited for public restrooms---not public tables

When we moved to France we soon realised what a poor image British children have in France. It was immediately assumed that ours would have no table manners, would expect to be waited on hand and foot and entertained continuously. I'd like to think we put them right a little bit on that.  I don't think their reputation is really deserved but so often I'd see British families on holiday with their children running riot and the parents too lazy to do anything. 

Which brings me back to the Olympics. Should it be a baby-free/toddler-free zone? Is it a suitable environment to take a baby or a toddler to? Should some sports be child-free because of the risk of distracting the athletes who've trained for years to get there? If you had tickets and a baby or toddler would you take them?  What say you?


Sarah said...

I wouldn't dream of taking a baby or toddler to the Olympics. What an unsuitable place. You have to sit in a sit among hundreds unable to move if you want to see the action and watch what's going on. That is exactly what babies and toddlers cannot do.

It's also very selfish to expect other people to be tolerant when your offspring starts wailing. They have paid for tickets to see the event, not endure someone else's childcare problem.

I hate it when babies are brought into restaurants and start wailing too and their French parents don't whisk them out instantly. I go out to pay to eat in child-free peace.

Mac n' Janet said...

There are appropriate places for babies and young children, the Olympics, restaurants after 7 in the evening, theaters at night, bars, yes I've seen them there, and in shared hospital rooms. I'm not entertained by your child, been there, done that and don't want to do it again. I'm an an older adult and quite frankly the fewer children I'm around the happier I am, could this be caused by the number of years I taught school? Don't know, I enjoy children in the appropriate setting, but at this time of my life there are fewer places I'm willing to share with children.
Hope I didn't sound like a crotchety old lady, I'm really not.

auntiegwen said...

I wonder why Katie Hopkins is so down on mumsnet???? says auntie taking her tongue out of her cheek :) Loved KH rant about squaking 8 year old babes in arms!!!!

Croixblanches said...

Snarf! My French neighbours gaze open-mouthed as my boy-children have often (when present) part-cooked the meal, cleared away the plates between courses so I can stay at the table to chat-translate-referee, washed up where necessary..all without being asked. OK they're now grown up, but the idea of adult males (let alone anyone's children) doing any of the above appears foreign to the majority of my French friends and acquaintances. If I let on that they can also do ironing and a little light D.I.Y, Gawd knows what might happen....

Perpetua said...

Wylye Girl, you and I seem to have much the same ideas on child-rearing, and mine haven't turned out badly either. As for the Olympics and children, given the price of the tickets, anyone who wastes that amount of money on a child to young to appreciate the experience has too much money.

Mother Hen said...

I saw the two Katie's the other morning and got a real kick out of it.
My opinion? No, littles should not be taken to the Olympics. Too crowded, possibly too hot, too loud and too quiet like you say at the beginning of an event, too many seats taken up by ungrateful bodies. There are families with older children who would pay double for a babies' seat.
There if a time and place for babies. If the Olympics were in France, babies would be part of the package. I just don't think it's the English way.

Wylye Girl said...

Sarah, agreed

Mac n'Janet, I commented to a friend the other day that the older I get, the lower my threshold of tolerance for crying babies and whinging toddlers

Croixblanches, hello and welcome. I have to say I can't think of many French children who's manners mirrored the ones that Ms Druckerman knows. On the other hand, I know lots of very well behaved British children

Wylye Girl said...

Perpetua, for mine it was a question of survival. I have so little tolerance for misbehaving children that I probably would have done away with them. I count myself lucky that all my friends with young children have lovely ones. It seems the further I got from the South East, the better behaved the children became

MH, it's just a shame that the only clip I can find is the later discussion. The earlier one was much funnier. I think if the Olympics was in France all the children would be in the creche

Auntie, I can't imagine!

hausfrau said...

I don't want to go to the Olympics not being a sports fan. Husband plans to watch on the telly so he gets the best possible view without the inconvenience of other people! Well behaved children should be welcomed everywhere, but there are limits to what can be expected of them - I know I couldn't behave appropriately at a sports event!

Iota said...

I have a suggestion. Why don't they introduce food-slinging as an Olympic sport? I mean, those athletes throw the discus and the javelin, and put the shot. Why not have toss the toast, or lob the loaf? Then they could have a junior Olympics, and children could compete. Solved.

Iota said...

Alternatively, they could invent sports to involve the babies. You could have an event where the athletes had to grab a baby from the crowd, and throw it over the pole vault bar, catch it the other side, and then return it to its parents. Fun for all the family. It's high time the Olympics thought seriously about audience participation.

Steve said...

"The Satanic Seed of Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys Don't Throw Food" - is that available on Kindle?

Wylye Girl said...

Hausfrau, me neither. Although The Boy has been asked to try out for a team GB rowing programme. If he was in the Olympics that would be a different matter altogether

Iota, the French kids at my childrens' college in France would win that hands down! And yes, baby slinging as an Olympic sport. I like the sound of that

Steve, I think you can download it as an e-book on Amazon ;-)

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