French women aren't just thinner, healthier and more stylish than the rest of us.
They are also better mothers.
That's the argument -- in capsule form -- made in a new book by Pamela Druckerman, an American who used to work as a newspaper journalist, but who now lives in Paris with her English husband and their three children.
Druckerman's book, "Bringing Up Bebe," sings the praises of the French mothering she sees around her -- and yes, fathering too, although her book is largely aimed at women -- and contrasts it with the unruliness, helplessness and self-centeredness she often observes or hears of among American kids.
Her book has already won comparison with the "Tiger Mother" argument made last year by Amy Chua, in both a book and a controversial story in the Wall Street Journal. (Chua, you'll recall, said Chinese-American parents emphasized academics and music lessons, denied sleepovers, and stressed achievement over socialization.)
Chua's book touched off a firestorm of debate. Druckerman's book is being talked about, too -- but likely won't have the same afterburn as "Tiger Mother," simply because Druckerman is so gentle, funny and self-deprecating in these pages. We get the feeling that she doesn't think she knows all the answers about motherhood, but that she's always interested in other people's experiences.
Druckerman's book begins at the beginning, with an analysis of the different ways that French and American cultures treat pregnancy.
In the United States, the author writes, pregnancy seems to have turned into a fear-fostering period in which information and statistics -- on every possible "What if?" scenario -- are blasted at the expectant mother as if out of a circus cannon. In France, by comparison, pregnancy is treated as a special time during which the woman is filled with happiness, and feted by those around her. She is not warned off cheese and cold cuts and wine; she is told to use the sense God gave her to manage her growing body.
The two cultures even differ in describing the condition. In America, one is the unflattering "pregnant." In France, the phrase used to describe pregnancy translates roughly to "waiting for a child." As in, "Madam, congratulations, are you waiting for a child?"
That's far from all. Druckerman, who gave birth to her three kids in Paris hospitals, renders an absorbing blow-by-blow -- and truly, honestly funny, at least for women readers -- account of what it is like to deliver a baby in France. (No faux concern over epidurals here, ladies; the presumption is that you will have one, and why not?)
After the baby is born, French mamas slide back into their prepregnancy clothes with minimal fuss, for reasons Druckerman intriguingly outlines. They also do not obsess as much as American women about breast-feeding, the author writes.
Her chapter on why French babies tend to sleep through the night better than American babies is worth the price of admission alone. Two words -- "The Pause" -- explain a lot here. French parents don't do as many newbie American parents, Druckerman argues, in running to little Mimi's cradle every time the baby squeaks.
Rather, they give their children some practice in waiting early in life, by delaying their response time to middle-of-the-night requests. The result is not sad and frightened children but, intriguingly, small children who are quite capable of waiting for an adult's attention. What a concept.
Some parents will read "Bringing Up Bebe" and learn a useful thing or two to apply to their own families.
Some will read it and scoff.
Others, parents of children who mind quite admirably well and know they are not the be-all, end-all of the universe, will read it in quiet understanding, and smile.
Or maybe just something that smart parents everywhere have been doing for a long, long time.
BRINGING UP BEBE: ONE AMERICAN MOTHER DISCOVERS THE WISDOM OF FRENCH PARENTING
By Pamela Druckerman
The Penguin Press
284 pages, $26