Bringing Up Bébé continues to be fascinating. I don’t know how accurate it is. The book doesn’t even pretend to be some comprehensive ethnographic study (although, actually…it uses pretty much the same methods as a participant-observer study…), but the ideas that it raises are thought-provoking. For instance, the book asserts that French moms have no idea what she’s talking about when she discusses “parenting styles” and “parenting philosophies.” French people don’t have a parenting style, they just parent the way that everyone does it (which consists of a particular sort of severity that I won’t get into).
In America, we don’t really have that kind of uniformity. Everyone has experience with they themselves were raised, but otherwise there’s no cultural uniformity. Television and movies don’t help, since they tend to be about families that are in some state of dysfunction and, thus, cannot give good advice on discipline and other assorted drama-reduction techniques. Obviously, an “American” parenting style has grown up in and it does have its own very particular character, but it didn’t arise very naturally: it’s mostly a product of the influence of charismatic personalities (like Dr. Spock) who rushed in to fill the void left by the absence of grandmothers, extended families, and traditional communities. In America, we have to think about the things that people in other countries take for granted. And there’s nothing wrong with that…except that we don’t actually think that hard about this stuff. Instead, we just let weird pseudoscience take the place of folk wisdom.