In defense of horrible, terrible, no good, very bad American parents
February 15, 2012
by Shawn Bean
When I heard about the new book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, I did a very American thing: I didn’t read it. I’m hoping they make it into a film so I can skip all those long, sentence-y pages. Someone cast that girl from Full House in this Lifetime original movie and let’s get on with it.
Then I did another very American thing: I read a review of the book so I can act like I read it. In this particular review, I learned that author Pamela Druckerman raised her two young daughters in Paris. The byproduct is Bringing Up Bébé, which details how French moms and dads are savvier, more effective parents than we are. Their children are better behaved. The babies sleep through the night. The foods their children eat don’t all rhyme with ficken fuggets and trench tries. (Or is it treedom tries?)
I started work on my uninformed criticism of Druckerman’s book yesterday. (Making decisions based on limited information is very American. See: weddings, Kardashian; Awards, Academy; elections, presidential). My plan was to fillet Druckerman like a mignon. (Errant use of French words and phrases: le American.) I was going to defend American parents, and tell Druckerman that just because we don’t wear berets and eat stinky cheeses doesn’t make us any less capable of raising great children. (Gratuitous stereotyping: majorly American.)
There was only one problem: I started work on this blog yesterday at JFK International Airport in New York City. I couldn’t focus on writing because, sadly, the American parents and children nearby were so terrible.
Between getting through security at JFK and landing in Orlando, the following things happened to me:
- My suitcase was knocked over by a young girl playing tag in the terminal’s dining area.
- A brother and sister got into a relentless “no you shut up” battle that resembled a Federer-Nadal rally.
- A toddler sitting behind me on the plane spit water on the back of my head.
- A child in the row across from me asked his father “When do we get to Dizaneywhirl” an estimated 12 to 14 times in a row. And he did so loud enough to drown out a f$#%ing jumbo jet turbine engine.
Wow. We are terrible parents. We have terrible children. There goes my uninformed critique. But perhaps there’s something unique to the American experience that’s distracting us from raising good kids. The French aren’t losing their homes. They don’t have to worry about finding health care. They get paid maternity leave and subsidies for hiring nannies. They don’t have to pay for preschool. Americans don’t have these luxuries. If we didn’t have to worry about paying for that broken arm, or making ends meet while out on maternity leave, could we focus more on being better parents?
But then something hit me like a two-ton truck (made in Detroit, of course): What am I apologizing for? Actually, if you look at my experience traveling yesterday, you’ll see that those incidents demonstrate exactly why American kids are so special.
- My suitcase getting knocked over: Americans are energetic, athletic, and chronically competitive.
- The “no you shut up” battle: Americans are relentless. The pursuit of happiness is no leisurely stroll. It’s a climb up a steep hill. It requires an uncompromising, unbending spirit.
- Toddler spitting water: Americans know what we don’t like. We aren’t scared to speak our minds, for better or worse.
- The boy asking about Dizaneywhirl: Americans are negotiators. We are businesspeople who created an economy that’s the engine of the world. We didn’t get there by taking no for an answer. We don’t accept “soon” or “in a little while.” America is a nation of now.
We are not polished. We are not politically correct. We are not always reasonable. But we create leaders, thinkers, competitors, winners, in our own messy way. That persistent boy inquiring about Disneyworld will one day run PepsiCo. When that girl who knocked over my suitcase wins the 400-meter at the 2032 Olympics, the mom will say she was always running when she was little.
Our parenting style isn’t pretty, but it works. (Patriotism: like totally American.)