I’ve been out of town and have managed to return from various nutty adventures to chaos and sadness. But, aw shucks, I’m always learning something new in the midst of life, even if it’s from an otherwise unmemorable memoir about an American and a Brit raising their children in France (Bringing Up Bebe). To be fair, I found the author’s willingness to reexamine the permissive parenting of American families in light of the more strict upbringing of French children to be refreshing. But, in general, it’s not the kind of memoir I’ll remember forever. I mean, is it really earth-shattering to realize that children are capable of eating fish and vegetables instead of chicken nuggets and French fries? Is it really so astonishing to realize even young children are capable of not acting like barbarians? The French may understand this, but they don’t have any secret weapon; they are simply parenting in the same way Americans used to parent. And of course, many Americans still do parent this way, but perhaps not in the author’s set. Conversely, there are almost certainly lax French parents who let their kids rule the roost and pig out on junk food whenever they want.
But that was simply to give you an idea about the memoir’s contents. Now I’d like to briefly discuss the new little tidbit I learned from the book (amidst the chaos, egad!). As most people know, France is a socialist country. The process of socialization begins at a very early age. That’s the choice of the French people; it’s their culture and their society. They may raise their children the way they choose. But I find the way the system was instituted to be alarming–if the memoir gives an accurate historical portrait (which you can find on pp 98-101 in my edition).
According to the book, by the 1840s, nursery schools were already provided free to poor working women. But they were only provided for children aged 2-6. This left poor working women having to keep their infants up to age 2 in dangerous conditions, or hiring even poorer women than they were to care for their infants. Along came Jean-Baptiste-Firmin Marbeau, who was simultaneously impressed by the free nursery schools and appalled that there wasn’t free daycare available for babies. With his passionate idealism, this forward-looking man managed to convince wealthy people that they should fund infant daycare centers: ‘”These children are your fellow citizens, your brothers. They are poor, unhappy and weak: you should rescue them,” he wrote in a creche manual published in 1845. Then he added, “If you can save the lives of 10,000 children, make haste: 20,000 extra arms a year are not to be disdained. Arms are work and work creates wealth”‘ (Druckerman, 100).
And thus the French daycare center, the creche, was born. Now that 80% of women work, they fight to get their children into the government subsidized creches. It’s part of their culture. They love their creches and believe they’re wonderful for children. The French creches may very well be good for children, but can we take a moment to analyze the mental shift that occurred between 1840 France and the France of today? The wealthy were convinced to fund these creches to propagate more generations of slaves to do their work for them. Do you think poor women in the 1840s wanted to toil away washing clothes or doing other unsatisfying, menial work? Do you think they wanted to spend hours and hours of time away from their children for this work? It’s highly unlikely that if given the choice, they would have chosen endless exhausting toil over caring for their offspring.
Fast-forward to today and the vast majority of French women have come to believe that being a wage slave is not only satisfying, but the best way to live. They fight to get their young infant children into creches so that they can be slaves like the drudges of the 1840s. It’s not that I believe daycare centers are inherently bad. Indeed, I have no opinion of them at all, except to acknowledge that they can meet needs, and that children are more adaptable than we give them credit for. However, I find it astonishing that human beings can be convinced that slavery is what we should clamor for. I shouldn’t be surprised after having studied as much history as I have. For heaven’s sake, I’ve even found this concept in the Bible. Didn’t the Israelites beg to return to slavery in Egypt so their slave masters might again meet their needs (and murder their children, but…)?
Ay-ay-ay!! Humans are fucked in the head. Not just the French. All of us. Sorry for being cynical. I also learned something pleasant from this book, that French food is really delicious. But I already knew that.