Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Bringing Up Bebe
Oh dear! I was at a gathering and made a faux pas. The gentleman seated next to me was sitting next to a young woman and, next to her, was another woman who looked to be around his age -- who, I assumed, was his wife. He was speaking to me about his 20-something daughter and his 16-year-old son. So I just assumed that the young woman in their midst was their daughter.
Well, he, much chagrined, then introduced me to the older woman -- who, he said, was his sister, and then to the young woman seated between them -- who, he said, was his wife.
I had misinterpreted the situation completely. Or would it not have seemed a bit unusual to anyone? It follows that I was embarrassed. The last thing I would ever have wanted to do would have been to make anyone feel uncomfortable....
I guess the situation I found myself in was as embarrassing as if I had met Callista, Newt Gingrich's third wife, and referred to her, in front of Newt as his daughter. I imagine that the old Newt would have been upset with me. But, Callista is, after all, three years younger than one of Newt's daughters from his first marriage and about the exact age of his other daughter. And then, I must add, in public, at least, his daughters do not seem all too uncomfortable with that.
The man sitting next to me went on to say that the 16-year-old son was acting out.
"The is a difficult age," I said, diplomatically, not quote knowing how to respond to this new confidence. I began to try to imagine about how a teen-ager might feel when his father marries a woman not much older than he is, and when that woman becomes his step-mother.
Next, he continued our increasingly awkward conversation by referring, in glowing terms, to a recently published book about rearing children in France, that is, to Pamela Druckerman's "Bringing Up Bebe."
I knew about the book and had read the reviews. It is common to make polite conversation about books in social situations, but I was puzzled by the choice of a book on this particular topic. Parenting and babies?
He then went on to add that -- in addition to his 20-something daughter and 16-year-old son, he had a two-year-old son with his young wife, and that they were always up on the latest child rearing trends.
"I have two grandsons," I said in return, trying to find some common ground. I elaborated that my thirty-something daughter now has two sons, ages four and two.
He looked at me in surprise. "You have two grandsons?" he said.
Relationships that once seemed simple suddenly began to seem more complicated to me than I could ever imagine.
"I know that book you mentioned," I said, changing the topic. To me, Druckerman's discoveries about French parenting, were nothing novel or unusual. "That's how I was raised," I said, referring to my European parents.
In her book, Druckerman observed that the French were not obsessive about child-rearing, but were far more relaxed than Americans. As a result of her stay in France, Druckerman became a convert to what seemed a different way of life to her: In France, there was no emphasis on the newest toy or newest child-rearing method. Babies slept through the night. Children ate adult foods. Children had time to play freely and to discover the world at their leisure. Parents behaved like adults and let their children simply be children.
To me, her observations seemed like common sense.
I guess it followed that I raised my daughter according to the European model, along with some wisdom gleaned from Dr. Spock, who was very much in vogue at the time.
I then thought back to the era when my daughter was growing up, when women my age were opting out of -- or postponing -- parenthood to pursue careers, and when the birth rate had hit an all time low. And then I thought about how my generation had gone full circle with mothers my age having children and even fertility treatment later in life.
I suppose it's all for the good that our world has become more child-centered. And over the years, attitudes toward having children and how to raise them do change, as is even evident when one compares the old Dr. Spock book that was my Bible with the current one for new parents, "What to Expect When You're Expecting."
But in this very competitive city, I do think that parents do go overboard in obsessing about their children, in arranging playdates, and rushing around scheduling lessons for toddlers and even babies, and hyper-ventilating about getting their children into the right preschool. New books about trends, such Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," about Chinese parenting, become a sensation and the talk of the city, only to be now displaced by newer ones, such as Druckerman's take on the French version of raising "bebes." Why, I wonder, are American parents so insecure?
It does seem to me that somewhere there must always be a saner, more sensible, middle ground.
It also does seem to me that relationships these days have become so very complex that one must be very cautious and never assume anything.