As North Americans we seem to struggle with parenting comparisons. Look at the infinite blogs, websites, chat groups and books that explain to us how it should be done, whilst also giving all of us the opportunity to comment, wisely or otherwise, about what parenting tactics and philosophies work, what don’t and why.
A few months ago this column addressed Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and how Amy Chua speaks to micro-managing children’s upbringing in favour of academia so as to ensure excellence in the adult arena.
Now there’s a new best seller, Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing up Bébé, interestingly endorsed by Chua, that champions the routine driven, albeit often laissez faire, parenting style of the French.
I admit, I had to read the book once I heard Druckerman interviewed. It tells of infants who sleep through the night, toddlers who don’t negotiate through mealtimes, and children who address adults with eye contact and a polite “hello.” Sounds delightful, and that’s the author’s punch line.
The French, Druckerman reports, can’t explain their parenting philosophy because they just do what they do. As a culture they know that children must say bonjour to familiar adults, always try what’s on their plate, and endure the pause when they cry at night. The result of these strategies, the author affirms, are courteous kids, explorative diners, and independent sleepers. The consequence for parents is independent kids who aren’t taxing or embarrassing to spend time with.
Although her book doesn’t stall in the kitchen, Druckerman’s exploration of children’s eating habits resonates with the popularity of both sneaky and flashy kid cuisine.
Annabel Karmel was a forerunner in jazzing up meals to appeal to kids, as per her bagel snakes, baked potato mice and sausage hedgehogs. More recently Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook Deceptively Delicious, and Missy Chase Lapine’s The Sneaky Chef started me wondering if Druckerman’s French colleagues weren’t onto something by simply requesting their children eat regular food. Seinfeld and Lapine endorse hiding vegetables and beans, and anything else that’s healthy, in the foods a child already favours rather than regularly encouraging them to try the less desired foods.
One problem with this tactic is that children who aren’t taught to try new things, won’t try new things. Another problem is that the dinner chef will be acting as a short order cook, preparing specific meals for each head at the table.
And then, amidst considering all the best practices proclaimed of these authors, I received an e-mail encouraging me to Google “hot dog octopuses.”
Google them for yourself; it’s baffling. Are these dinner plate entertainers intended to liven up a meal, or an attempt to make the hot dog more appealing. Frankly, if your kid doesn’t like hot dogs, count that as a culinary victory, and move on.
In the end, all of the authors mentioned above have some diamonds in their philosophies. If we scoop a good idea here, and blend it with another from there, we’ll have the ingredients needed to get through not only the meals, but other facets of parenting life too. Just don’t be swayed by one size fits all solutions, or the dubious allure of hot dog octopi.