By Dhara Thakar Meghani
As if the daily trials and tribulations of being a parent don’t test your confidence enough, leave it to the occasional bestseller on ‘superior’ parenting styles to bring your insecurities to the surface. It’s particularly hard to mind your own business when parenting blogs across the World Wide Web are saturated with reactionary comments about the developmental outcomes related to cultural differences in parenting. You’re thinking of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother¹ ? Oh, please; that was so 2011. This season, it’s Bringing up Bébé² , which emphasizes the advantages of French parenting as chronicled by an American (raising her children) in Paris.
Author Pamela Druckerman observes that French children sleep through the night sooner, have a more daring palate, and are better behaved, than say, their American counterparts. Who’s to thank? Their parents, of course, who tend to favor a no-nonsense approach for everything from teaching table manners to playground etiquette.
For some parents, this idea is far from novel; but here’s the punchline that seems to be responsible for the fact that Bringing up Bébé is on several best-seller lists: French parents strongly believe that “even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children.”
Dare we ask: how does the French laissez-faire parenting philosophy compare to traditional South Asian parenting attitudes? In the parenting research, South Asian parents have often been described as authoritarian³ , or using a style that is over-involved, demanding without necessarily spelling out the reasons, and skilled at using guilt or shame to familiarize their children with the social code of behavior4;. Sound familiar? Although some view this parenting style as less than ideal, many South Asian parents will stand by it with hearty conviction. In fact, they will likely assure you this parenting style really is in the service of raising socially, academically, and morally successful (read: marriageable) children, and that they’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.
You might identify with having a parent who stayed up late to help with a science project until you had it “just right,” or being humiliated, disciplined, and reminded of your conservative cultural values by the parent who stayed up late until you came home from a night out with your friends. Or, you might be a parent who moved across oceans to ensure a better life for your child no matter what you had to sacrifice, so it is indeed difficult to imagine that ‘superior’ parenting means less involvement.
The message of Bringing up Bébé might be hard to stomach for parents who firmly believe that their life’s work is to raise their children, whereas for others, it is an incredibly forgiving one that relieves their guilt for feeling the intermittent exasperation that accompanies parenting. Which camp do you fall into? What really works for you and your child, and would changes in your parenting style influence a healthier relationship with your child?
It’s not an easy answer, and don’t forget that Druckerman’s analysis is incredibly focused on the French culture without taking into account several other factors that contribute to a child’s development, including the child’s temperament, the parents’ relationship and prior experience, the family’s resources and support, and the specific cultural nuances about parenting. So while you may experience anxiety about your parenting more often than you’d like, it’s important to know that parenting is a layered and dynamic journey, and that the best kept secrets are the ones that you’ve already discovered.
Dhara Thakar Meghani reminds you that you’re certainly not alone in being lured by parenting books that promise secrets to good parenting: while researching this article, she quickly learned that Bringing up Bébé was checked out from every single library branch and on back order at several bookstores in her large, urban city.
¹Chua, A. (2011). Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. New York: Penguin Press
²Druckerman, P. (2012). Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. New York: Penguin Press.
³Ho, C., Bluestein, D, Jenkins, J.M. (2008). Cultural differences in the relationship between parenting and children’s behavior. Developmental Psychology, 44, 507-522
4Baumrind, D. (1971). Current patterns of parental authority. Developmental Psychology Monograph, 4, 1 -103.