Monday, September 4, 2017

Expecting Better by Emily Oster and Bringing up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman

But, to put it mildly, I'm not crazy about the implication that pregnant women are incapable of deciding for themselves--that you have to manipulate our beliefs so we do the right thing. That feels, again, like pregnant women are not given any more credit than children would be in making important decisions. 

I'm pregnant (I'm pretty sure I've told the three people I know who read this...if not...surprise!), and I'm a planner, so my first move after my first doctor's appointment was ALL OF THE RESEARCH on what pregnancy books I needed to read. I feel incredibly lucky that this is the first book I stumbled on; it's basically the only book you need (although I also have the classic What to Expect for reference), and it is absolutely fabulous.

Oster is an economist and when she got pregnant, she was understandably overwhelmed by the volume of advice and rules surrounding her pregnancy. She set out to compile and analyze all the research that those restrictions came from and this book is a clear, cogent summary of her work. She divides it up into sections: conception, each semester, and delivery. In each, she provides a readable summary of the scientific research behind all the most common pieces of pregnancy advice, and then distills it down to clear recommendations. When there isn't a black and white rule, she explains her own logic and decision-making process and often gives a counterpoint to consider.

The book drew some controversy when it first came out, mostly because it argues that responsible drinking during pregnancy (roughly a drink a week in your first trimester and a drink a day in your second and third) will not destroy your unborn child, but I found it to be incredibly reassuring. There really is a completely ridiculous amount of rules to keep track of, and Oster helps you cut through to the small handful you really should follow. It made a very scary, foreign landscape much more manageable, and even though there are a few places where I have or will make decisions that deviate from Oster's, I found her insight invaluable in navigating these first few months of the process. She treats pregnant women like adults capable of rational thought (an underlying assumption that does not seem to permeate much of the advice given during pregnancy), and gives you the information you need to make educated, safe choices.

If you are pregnant (or planning on/trying to get pregnant), this is the first and arguably only book you should buy. The handful of questions I've had that haven't been answered here were very specific to my own pregnancy and required an email to my doctor. I haven't picked up What to Expect more than a couple of times, and the research behind this made it much more reassuring.

When I ask French parents what they most want for their children, they say things like "to feel comfortable in their own skin" and "to find their path in the world." They want their kids to develop their own tastes and opinions. In fact, French parents worry if their kids are too docile. They want them to have character.

But they believe that children can achieve these goals only if they respect boundaries and have self-control. So alongside character, there has to be
Druckerman's daughter, "Bean," was born in France, and as Druckerman began to navigate the world of parenting abroad, she noticed a stark difference between American and French children. French babies seemed to sleep through the night earlier, toddlers ate their vegetables younger, and children were independent sooner.

In Bringing up Bebe, Druckerman outlines the basics of "French" parenting. It can be boiled down to one overarching idea: boundaries. According to Druckerman, setting clear, firm boundaries, and then giving children freedom within them is the secret to well behaved children. On some level, it's the antidote to helicopter parenting: draw the frame and trust that your child can operate within it.

While my kid is still safely inside my uterus, this all seems great. I'm sure the reality of raising a child is infinitely more complicated than Druckerman admits here, and cultural context makes things like perfectly balanced French meals more than a little challenging, but I did really enjoy the premise: that it is possible to have children and an adult life simultaneously, that children benefit from boundaries, that toddlers can be expected to follow basic instructions. Check back with me when I have a screaming, terribly behaved two year old who only eats beige food.

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