10 Reasons It’s Easier to Be a Working Mom in France

by Katrina on January 26, 2011

I’m pleased to announce Working Moms Break has its first foreign correspondent! Also known as my friend, former coworker, and fellow working mom, Lucie Moses.

Years ago, while I was quietly descending into full-time job madness, Lucie seemed to have arranged the perfect life as a part-time freelance designer. Now I have that part-time freelance life, she’s one-upped me by moving to FRANCE.

I was thrilled when she offered to write about what it’s like being a working mom in France. Some of her descriptions were surprising, (What’s up with the French and breastfeeding?). As you’ll see, even Lucie has mixed feelings about some of the “benefits” of being a mom in France. But most of it had me drooling with envy.

Lucie with her husband, Dean, and sons Felix (left) and Milo (right)

Guest post by Lucie Moses

Here is me in a nutshell: I was born and raised in France. I moved to America when I was 21 years old. I’m a freelance web designer. After 16 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m spending a year in Paris with my American husband and our two children, age 9 and 6. Below are some of my observations about the differences between being a working mother in France versus in California.

Warning: I have only been here a few months and my experiences are mostly anecdotal. Still, I hope you will find it interesting.

1. The 35-hour work week + 5 weeks of vacation

The French work fewer hours than Americans. The official work week in France is 35 hours. In practice, a lot of companies have stayed on a 39 hours/week schedule. Instead, the 4 hours/week that they owe you are bundled into extra days off that you can take whenever, or a Friday off every other week.

The French also work fewer days. Workers get 5 weeks of paid vacation. Plus sick days, which are not counted as vacation days. Bonus: France is a Catholic country, so that means holidays every time Jesus goes up, down or sideways.

Almost all French people take several weeks off in the summer. A working mother’s dream!

2. Motherhood-friendly labor laws

Women get paid maternity leave during the last month of pregnancy + the first two months of motherhood. You get an extra month off if you breastfeed. By paid leave, I mean 100% of your salary. Working until you due date is simply not done in France.

A friend of mine is a teacher in Paris. She has young children and works part time. Her school is required by law to allow her to work part time until her youngest child is 3 years old. After that, she gets her old full-time job back. I believe all government employees can choose this path.

3. Work-friendly kid schedule

When I called the dentist to schedule visits for my sons, I was surprised that the time slot the receptionist suggested was 6:00 pm. I’m used to skipping work to take my kids to the doctor or the dentist. I consider myself lucky if I can get an appointment outside of school hours.

Same thing at school: The bi-yearly parent-teacher conferences happen in the evening, between 6:30 and 8:30 pm.

My kids’ karate class? From 6:30 to 7:30 pm on Wednesdays; all the other classes were just as late.

To tell the truth, I find the karate class to be too late for my kids. They should be home eating dinner at that time, not practicing kicks. I guess I’m holding on to the American early supper. Still, I appreciate the effort to make such activities compatible with being a working parent.

4. Good health coverage

Remember that visit to the dentist I just mentioned? Free, as part of a program that provides a free dental care to all children, once every three years. I’m not sure how much a dental visit usually costs, but I bet it’s a fraction of what we would pay in the U.S.

My youngest son broke his arm soon after we moved to France. All in all, the visit to the ER and the follow up visits and X-rays set us back about $200. That’s without insurance.

The previous year, our oldest son broke his arm while we lived in America. All in all, the visit to the ER and the follow up visits and X-rays set us back about $2,000. That’s with insurance. We had a supposedly high-end PPO, but there were all sort of co-pays and deductibles. Being a parent in America is a pricey endeavor.

5. Free school from age 3, cheap before that

In France, free public school starts at age 3 (or 2.9 if you have a January baby). Childcare for younger children is also heavily subsidized. If you don’t make a lot of money, it’s very cheap.

When my niece was a baby, my sister was between jobs. Part of her unemployment benefit was nearly-free childcare three mornings a week to allow her the time and energy to find a new job.

6. School within a few blocks from your house

I don’t know about you, but picking a preschool for my kid in the U.S. was an agonizing process. I researched, I visited, I weighted the pros and cons. Three years later, I went through it all over again to pick an elementary school. When I got to France, there was no choice to be made. I got assigned a school. End of story.

As far as I can tell, the vast majority of French kids simply go to the school closest to them. That’s where you get assigned. It’s very hard to get a transfer to another school so most parents don’t even consider the other schools. What you lose in choice, you gain in reduced stress and improved daily commute. The vast majority of kids go to a school within walking distance of their house. Our school is three blocks away.

Bonus: all my kids’ friends live within a 8 block radius of our house. I certainly don’t miss driving them to playdates.

7. No lunchbox to pack

I am still giddy every morning: no lunchboxes to pack! Oh, how I used to hate making lunches every morning for my picky eaters. Will they eat it? Is it nutritious? Why did I forget to buy grapes again? This used to be a major stress in my mornings.

In their French public school, my kids get hot sit-down nutritious meals. Eating well is a big deal in France. School cafeterias reflect that; the menus are varied and appetizing. My oldest son has become more adventurous with food. He eats all sort of new things at school, including rabbit meat.

My little one is still as much of a picky eater as he ever was but I don’t worry about it because there is nothing I can do about it. He doesn’t nag me about me getting a packed lunch instead because packed lunch simply aren’t allowed (except for kids with severe food allergies). He always eats at least a piece of a fruit, a yogurt and some bread. The bread is hand-delivered every morning from a real bakery. Good stuff.

8. No volunteering at school

Perhaps the biggest culture shock for me this year is my relationship with my kids’ school. I am used to spending a lot of my time volunteering in the classroom, chaperoning field trips, attending school plays, taking photos for the yearbook, socializing with other parents during pick-up and drop-off, discussing my children’s progress with the teachers, baking cookies for birthdays and generally being involved in myriad little ways.

This year, none of that is happening. I’m not allowed on school grounds. I don’t know the names or faces of my children’s classmates. I have barely met the teachers. There was no school show during the holidays.

Honestly, I miss volunteering in the schools terribly and so do my kids. My children’s school life used to be a big part of my social life. But in other ways, it’s liberating. I never have to juggle rescheduling a work meeting to attend my son’s recital for the simple reason that there is no recital to attend. I didn’t feel any pressure to bring a cake to school for his birthday. No other mom does it. Working parents in France don’t have to think too much about school. Less is expected of them.

9. Le Breast is not Le Best

Yes, breast milk is best for baby and it’s a wonderful bonding experience for mother and child. Still, you’ve got to admit it can be very demanding, especially when the mother is working.

French women have the worst breastfeeding record of any civilized country. The majority of French babies are weaned by 3 months of age. Pumping milk while at work? Unheard of. Breastfeeding past the infant months is considered almost selfish because it prevents other members (dad, siblings, grandparents, nannies) from taking a full role.

I have mixed feeling about this one. I am definitely pro-breastfeeding. When my son was a baby, I felt self-conscious breastfeeding in France. Family and friends were incredulous.

“Is he really still nursing, at this age?” they would ask. “Is it even possible to have milk a year after birth?”

But at the same time, breastfeeding is often a source of stress for American mothers. There is a huge social pressure to nurse at all costs and for as long as possible. Perhaps there is a happy middle between those two?

10. Distance between kids and parents is considered healthy

When my oldest son was born, attachment parenting was all the rage in San Francisco. Following the advices of Dr Sears, we gave an earnest try to the family bed (didn’t work out for us), I “wore” my baby often (we liked that), and we acted as human pacifiers to put him to sleep.

My sister eyed me with suspicion, like I’d been brainwashed by a cult. Her baby was bottle-fed, pushed around in a stroller and relied on a stuffed rabbit and her thumb to soothe herself to sleep. During a vacation in France, my mom handed me an article about how allowing your children into your bed would scar them later in life (something about mixed messages confusing their sexuality).

Beyond the baby years, I get the message that it’s considered bad for parents to interfere too much in their childrens’ lives. On French school yards, kids handle their own conflicts. My soft-skinned California kids are still adjusting. When I’m with French parents, I don’t feel the need to constantly interact with their children. In fact, that’s considered counter-productive. Sure, you are here to provide some structure (and good nutrition!) but the rest unfolds by itself. The French are careful not to smother their children and not to let their children take over their lives.

Can you imagine what your life would be like if we had even one of the perks French parents get? Which would be the biggest improvement on your life now? The shorter work week? Free preschool? No lunches to pack?

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Logan

This article strikes me as far more appalling than “Chinese Mothers are Superior.” It reads: children are such an drag, the government should regulate how much we feel obligated to them so we can get on with our self-fulfilling lives. Again I have to point out, if having children were so easy and great for the French why are we hearing so much about the crisis of population decline in France. I think that there has to be more to this discussion. I liked this report http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/popdecline/Chesnais.pdf by Jean-Claude Chesnais which explores both the pros and cons of France’s child support policies. He writes:

“The French population policy is commonly viewed as “pro-natalist”. This was
true for the first decades 1938-1962 ; this is not the case any more ; only rhetorics have
subsisted. The social expenditures devoted to family welfare are now n° 4, after
pensions, health care and unemployment benefits (their share in the social security
budget is 9 %) ; they ranked n° 1 until the 1960s ; other countries of the EU (Scandinavia,
UK) spend more on children. The population policy did not changes in accordance with
deep social change such as : the end of the predominance of agriculture, the priority of
the career in women’s status, the explosion of the cost of children, etc.”

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Katrina

I can see why you would find some of the French way of doing things appalling, Logan. Even though her life is easier in France, Lucie misses having more involvement in her kids’ schools and in their lives, so it’s not perfect.

But children aren’t a drag. The drag is trying to work and take care of children simultaneously, without any help.

But it’s certainly easier to work in France, because society makes so many accommodations for working parents that we don’t make here. In the U.S., working parents are expected to do most of the accommodating which creates untenable situations for so many of us.

About the population decline thing, I think it’s the other way around. Countries in Europe and Asia (90 I’ve read) have a negative population growth rate, which is a major problem. But what they’ve found is that when they offered social services like affordable childcare, the population rate goes up. The U.S. doesn’t have the growth problem (yet?). From what I’ve read, it seems like that’s a result of immigration and poor women having a lack of access to family planning services (including abortion). There’s a chapter on the international baby bust in “The War on Moms” which goes into this in detail.

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Eric

Replacement fertility rate is 2.1 children per woman. United States fertility rate in 2008 was 2.1 children per woman: http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=wb-wdi&met=sp_dyn_tfrt_in&idim=country:USA&dl=en&hl=en&q=united+states+fertility+rate

Looking at that data, there was a sharp drop in the Early 70’s below replacement, and then a slow and steady increase to where we are today. We’ve already had our fertility crisis and are recovering from it. It is difficult to ascertain what is causing that drop: certainly not legalized abortion, as the trend starts before Roe V Wade, but perhaps illegal abortions became more common? I don’t know, I’d like to find more stats to explain that drop.

The question that I haven’t seen adequately addressed on this blog is: Are working moms such a good thing? Taking out the issues of sex and gender roles, rephrase that as, is it a good thing to have two working parents?

We need to look at our lifestyles, and ask if having two parents working is sustainable in the long run, or if we are sacrificing the well-being of our children to do so. I am impressed and in awe of the efforts of some families to keep one parent at home (not always the mother). It almost always involves lowering the family’s standard of living. These families aren’t living in squalor, but they are making budget cuts by buying used cars, clothes, and furniture, buying food in bulk, etc. Cutting expenditures cuts the need for income, and one parent can stay at home (cutting childcare costs!) I know of one family with a clever way of keeping one child at home: both parents work part time, with opposite schedules. Both parents get the benefits of working, but their family gets the benefits of both parents.

The book Third Ways, by Allan Carlson, has a chapter on the living wage, where he examines the effect on society when both parents are in the workforce. With only one parent in the workforce, that parent is paid a living wage. As more and more families have two parents in the workforce, wage levels drop, and then all families need two parents in the workforce in order to sustain their lives. I don’t have the book in front of me, but will try to find the relevant data and post it here.

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Allie

With divorce at 50% having one working parent in a family seems financially risky, esp. When it’s usually the mother who stops working, and the mother who retains custody of children after divorce.
Mothers have been working since the dawn of time. Farming families were common up until the industrial revolution. Women were busy with livestock, planting, food prep, making and mending clothing; the mother’s five or six kids were either working with her or working with dad, or left to entertain themselves. Women were still working, even if it wasn’t in the “workforce”
I don’t know how much better off her kids were than the children who go to school and get picked up by a babysitter because mom doesn’t get home until 5:30.

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Elizabeth

I stayed home when my baby was born – it worked best for us – but as a societal thing, no, I don’t think it’s a great idea. It puts more stress on the relationship to have such separate lives, parenting fulltime is incredibly stressful, and the worst is the child and maternal poverty when a couple divorces and a mother who’s been out of the job market is thrown to the wolves.

I think the best is to make it easier to do what your friends did – two parents with half time jobs. That needs to be a societal change. Most good jobs aren’t easy to do half time.

I don’t buy the idea of a cause and effect relationship between the decline of the living wage and women working. I think lots of things contributed to that decline, especially globalization and the decline of unions. In the 19th century, before the big increase in unionization, loads of families lived in desperate poverty with one wage earner.

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Logan

Wait, I am saying that birthrate is related to appropriate social services for the family. However, the French have not been providing the needed benefits to working mothers and hence have not seen the needed levels of improvement in birthrate. Why should we look to people who haven’t got their problems under control for the solution to our problems?

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Logan

Perhaps too I am wary of the “grass is greener” lure after a conversation I had with a chatty expat while sitting in a park in Paris. Recess or something had just let out and we were suddenly surrounded by swarms of children. Beautiful children. I was struck by how attractively they were all dressed. However, this dude (who had lived in France for the last twelve or 15 years) had nothing but contempt for them. He rolled his eyes at the image conscious Parisian– “working hard to keep their children in Laura Ashley” he said. He thought many Parisians were vapid, caring only for wealth, he didn’t think these people had very good priorities and that the schools just turned out people who were programed to shop.

What do I think? Vacation time is indeed awesome, so is French food. Anecdotes need to be taken with a large grain of salt.

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heather

Eric,

I see what you are getting at here but there are other considerations.

Many people want to work part-time but for the math to work out for child-care, we have to work full-time. Working is a good thing for women and society at large. Reagan gets far too much credit for boosting the economy when it was women who went to work, doubling productivity. The system cut the value of workers in half essentially. Now, we are left with this problem: who raised the kids while we still need to work to cover the our own college loans, pay the mortgage, pay for a decent school, fund a decent retirement (granted some personal income money is wasted on unnecessary consumerism)?

It’s a system that has exploited women’s working productivity while simultaneously created a certain dependency. In spite of what we build within the economy, we are punished for the dependency.

It is not in the best interest of moms and kids to be only at home with a parent after a couple of years of age. Kids need to socialize — so do their mothers/fathers. Because you take parents out of the workforce does not mean we take away the need for kids to be in quality schools. It takes a village! If there’s money for war, there should be money for quality education in this country.

This all relates to your point about living wages. I agree! For me, that is the great solution. In the 1960’s, an educated man could find a job that provided enough for his family of five and sock away a nice retirement. That calls for a systematic overhaul. I like your example of the part-time parents but one problem: who pays for the health insurance?

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Eric

Heather,

If you think that stay-at-home parents and their children only stay home and have no outside socialization, you must know different parents than I do. I know many families with perfectly socialized parents and children with stay at home parents… even ones who (gasp!) homeschool! In fact, I dare say that the homeschoolers I know are better able to interact socially with a wider range of different ages, especially adults. It seems that many students who are always lumped together with their peer group (at public and most private schools) miss the opportunities and experiences available beyond their peer groups.

Additionally, a family is a society unto itself. Having brothers and sisters of various ages, children learn all they need to participate and engage society at large, including how to look beyond themselves to care for the needs of others.

It may take a village (to raise a child) but that means extended family, close friends, etc., not the state. Here are some easy numbers to help the math of childcare work out: one parent stays home, and childcare is free. Or Abuelo helps, or Aunty, or whoever.

You seemed to have missed my point about childcare: I know childcare is expensive, that’s why we need to reevaluate the need to have both parents working and see if we can build a better society by having one parent work full time for the family. We also need to reevaluate if the best thing for society is for families to be the basic unit of society, or the elementary school/neighborhood sports league.

Far too many families sacrifice their time together for their children to be involved in far too numerous activities and sports and clubs and… don’t get me wrong, I think those are all good things. Kids should keep participating in Karate, Soccer, Boy Scouts, etc. But family time is important, too. It’s not the best for my family when I have to work evenings and I come home either after or just at bedtime, and it’s not the best thing for families to run around town (or the county… or state!) getting susie to band, johnny to soccer, billy to debate, and janey to dance. Often the first casualty is the Family Dinner, which is linked to better grades, a better vocabulary, and more.

The point of these scribblings? the Family is the most important level of society, and we should focus on building up the family, not instilling some misguided sense of community, because proper family life leads to proper communal life.

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Katrina

Eric, excellent question:

“The question that I haven’t seen adequately addressed on this blog is: Are working moms such a good thing? Taking out the issues of sex and gender roles, rephrase that as, is it a good thing to have two working parents?”

I agree with Heather about the village. We don’t all have aunties and my family doesn’t go to church, but I think you raise some good points. I’m going to give this more thought and try to address it in a separate blog post. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what other people think.

If we were to take apart the economy and put it back together, would we want to structure it so that only one parent had to work?

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heather

Eric,

I agree with much of what you are saying. Especially with the aspect that alot of what we are working for is simply to fuel consumerism which ultimately takes away from the importance of family time. That’s quite true.

But we have to remember why women entered the workforce to begin with and why families became two income households. Women were left penniless, pregnant, unable to find work, childcare for a variety of reasons — death, war, abuse, divorce, general unhappiness. They have been down this road before and worked hard to create more options for themselves. To be fair — this situation could apply to either partner these days.

The ability of women to navigate in and out of the work force is essential so that they can continue to have access to resources and not become dependent on others. What about money-making skills once the children are grown up? “Just-a-mom/parent” is not considered a very valuable skill set on a professional resume when you are 45 looking for your first job.

You offer suggestions of family and community assisting with raising the kids. I think that is a great idea but in modern times and with the economic conditions and structure that we have all to live in, it is not practical. Auntie and even grandma may still have to work to survive these days.

I really love the idea of community as you present it. But we need to work out the flow of money. Capitalism does not have the solution to this.

I think your fertility rates are accounting for a large number of undereducated, immigrant mothers. Some of whom (certainly not all or most) are on public assistance. Why not direct financial benefits to include responsible, career-oriented, educated mothers who are proven to generate tax revenue? That’s extremely unfair and is a terribly lop-sided reward system if ever I saw one.

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Kyndra

exactly what ive been thinking these past years!! finally i hear it from someone!! why is it im a single mom i get 0 in child support (bby dad works under the table to cheat his way out of it, my dd is 4) no food stamps (im at poverty level but i got a job so i dont deserve at least 100 bucks in foodstamps)and immigrant mothers can reap allll the american benefits?? yes totally whacked system if you ask me. ive been working since i was 15, im 30 this year, who knows how much money uncle sam got from me and i cant get at least foodstamps? i guess id be asking for too much considering i get medi-cal. i live in CA, so you can imagine how over populated it is here, and the biggest trend is the immigrant mothers keep getting pregnant so that welfare racks up higher while their gangster boyfriends are in jail, u nailed it, im sick of it, i work work work, cant reap a benefit other than pay rent and feed my kid, thats it. im responsible, a single mom , and college educated but the gov. cant help me, even with my student loans or anything, reading your response was validation: im not crazy someone else feels the same !

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Eric

Heather,

Public assistance exists because people are too selfish to accept their responsibility to support the needy. It’s not a reward system, as you suggest. Because the individual won’t provide for the fatherless and the widow, the gov’t has to. Support of the fatherless and the widow is a long held Judeo-Christian ideal, but we do a shitty job of it right now.

I agree that Capitalism does not provide the structures (including adequate income) that families need to survive and thrive. My ideal economy would be family-centered, with the state involved only to aid the family and protect it. Families should own the means of production, and be able to support their own needs. This might mean owning your own shop, growing your own food, etc.

We still disagree on what the “village” is that it takes to raise a child. I guess without family or friends that can help, and without the support structure that the Church provides, one would need to look to the state. I don’t think that is ideal. We live far from most family, but as the Church is universal, we’ve relied on it when we needed to, such as when our second set was born.

I see the state’s role in all this is to pick up where the village can’t help. The ideal of subsidiarity is important to the success of the “it takes a village” mentality: solutions should be provided at the most local level possible… For instance, the federal gov’t protects the people from foreign invaders with an army, but local police protect the people from home invaders, and state troopers pull you over for speeding to generate revenue.

What happens when gas or food prices rise dramatically, or one parent can’t keep a job, or the gov’t fails due to the economy, war, coup d’etat, or or something else? If you rely on the state to provide your village, you’re screwed. But if you have a system of support you can rely on, with everything you need to survive provided at a local level, everyone gets through ok. At that point, having certain job skills is practically useless. I am saying this not to suggest everyone needs to be a survivalist, but rather that economies need to be local and sustainable. The value of a parent at home, the home-maker, is great in this situation.

Then, once we see that we can survive some major disaster like one of those above, we realize that we needn’t feed off the federal teat at all, that our communities can be entirely self-sustaining.

Again, Heather, this won’t happen when we have to rely on two incomes. You mentioned that we’re stuck in this situation, I’m telling you that you can be free of having to have both you and your spouse work. The problem is that we feel that we HAVE to bring in the extra dough because we’re told we need it for the best schools, the best retirement, a certain type of house or car, etc. If we reevaluate what our true needs are, we can find that we can survive on a much smaller income, because our needs really aren’t a great burden.

But we (in general we, I have no idea what your own priorities are) don’t want to give up our yearly expensive vacation. We don’t want to give up our designer clothes, or car, or gadgets. we want to be entirely self sufficient in retirement, whereas traditionally it has been the children that have cared for their aged parents. Having only 2.1 children on average, it is more difficult to live that ideal. I’m not saying retirement saving is selfish, but maybe we don’t need all we think we need. Having one parent at home is more important.

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Lucie

Hi Logan,

You say the French sound like they think “Children are such an drag, the government should regulate how much we feel obligated to them so we can get on with our self-fulfilling lives.” I see your point. However, I can assure you that the French parents I know are very loving and involved with their children. Even with less school involvement, juggling family, work and personal life is still very tricky in every country.

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Logan

Well Lucie,

I think that by saying don’t breastfeed, don’t get emotionally attached to your young child, keep a healthy distance, etc., the state(or at least the general cultural milieu) is saying: let’s not make it too sticky for us to raise your child, or for you to be a productive worker by having you too attached. This doesn’t seem like family centered values it seems like state centered interests.
The state should be there to serve the family not the other way around.

The French stereotype is one of cool distance, interestingly the Italian one is of friendly effusiveness. My Italian friend says where she is from it is quite normal to sleep in the bed with your baby, and to breastfeed. I wonder how much of early childhood emotional development has to do with these seeming (albeit stereotypical) cultural differences. Traveling through both countries with small children, I observed the stereotypical reaction to my family in each respective country: the Italians fawned over our almost 1-year olds, the French. . . nothing. . .
Obviously, I am not complaining that the French didn’t rave over my perfectly adorable babies, but more I am just saying the effect was striking.

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am

It only seems better, because she’s had the benefit of being in another culture. There are pros and cons to everything! That being said, #10 is what I strive for while in America. It strikes so many as counter cultural – but it makes sense on so many levels for me. I also like the no voluneteering at school – my mother never did that and I always resented being forced to “volunteer”. On a different note, I do think tiger mom got some things right – its her implementation that’s driving people crazy. Different strokes for different folks!.

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Angel

I love this piece, thanks for sharing Lucie!
The biggest thing I got out of this is how I am parenting is part of the culture around me. I love the idea of children having more independence. I love the idea of not volunteering/participating in my childrens school, but only if the school is meeting my childrens needs. All the stuff for new moms is awesome. What a great glimsp of the difference between the here and there. It makes me curious about parenting norms in other countries….

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Lucie

Thanks, Angel
Yes, it has been fascinating to me to notice how much my personal parenting style is a product of my years in California. It makes me want to move to yet another country next, to see what its like there.

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heather

If there is anything I have learned about having a child and dreams of my own, is that “it takes a village to raise kids” and that takes public money. Our politicians are too busy giving that money to failed corporations and dumping it into war zones. America’s priorities are very misplaced. France’s finances may be strained but at least they have a good quality of life. Look at ours.

Personally, I think it’s time for new economic ideas. We need to figure out how to move money around in countries where populations are declining. It’s easier to adjust to this reality. The old models will not work when women are choosing to have children at the replacement rate or lower.

Overall I do like France’s approach. I would be happy there! Thanks for sharing.

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Eric

I’d rather my village be my family, friends and Church, and not the state.

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ShyMom

Eric,

I grew up in a country where social services are much more extensive than here in the US. Family, too, is much more central. People often stay near their families, and get a lot of support from parents, grandparents, brothers. sisters, cousins, etc. These two things – state-sponsored services and a local community – are not mutually exclusive. Have more social services simply means that those people who, for whatever reason, don’t have sufficient support from their local community, still can get the help they need.

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Eric

Be bold!

I don’t have a problem with public money used to support the needy. For some things, the state can best address the problem. I agree that public support and local community support aren’t mutually exclusive. I do have a problem with the trend to turn to Caesar as the solution for everything, and so I want to strengthen communities, because that’s where the best help comes. There are several single moms in our area who have been beneficiaries of a local charity that takes donations of used vehicles, fixes them up, and gives them to the moms. This enables them to secure better jobs that might be beyond walking distance or public transit, allows them to shop where they want to for food and clothes, and in general helps their life improve. I don’t think that the gov’t could help these women in the same way or to the same effect.

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heather

Hi Eric,

I agree. It all can really connect back to the living wage issue, too. It would give people more options men/women/moms to young children.

I truly believe our biggest limitation is the economic system. We would need fewer safety nets were it not for the fact that money that goes to the top tends to stay there.

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Nona

I totally agree with the living wage argument. I think though that by many women entering the workforce there are now more applicant available so companies don’t have to pay competitively. My dad made about $15.00/hour when he retired from the Post Office (US) in 1988. He was able to support our family of four on that. At one point my brother and I both went to private schools. Mom never had to work outside the home. Our house was always clean. Mom made homemade meals and desserts. We complained then that we didn’t get to eat out much but now I see it as being lucky I didn’t have to.. Now that we have to order dinner at least twice a week due to both my husband and I working full time and keeping up with kids activities and just being worn out. We make almost four times what my dad made together and have it no better. I think it’s worse in fact with all the stress. My house is a constant mess as well and it drives me crazy. I didn’t grow up like this.. I will never get used to it. I spend my weekends trying to catch up with house work, laundry, groceries… etc. Free time is not free.. I am so ready to get a part time job.. if only I could find one in my field that will pay what I am making but allows me to work less. All the jobs I find that I can do want 40+ hours. I will have to take a lesser paying job to do so. Yes I have debt as well.. ugh.

Wages have not gone up much in the last 30 years but inflation has risen tremendously as have corporate earnings. In fact the starting wage for my dads job, which paid $15 in 1988 now only pays $22.00 to start. Our government needs to get involved and make businesses pay their employees fairly, having the employees wages rise as do the CEO’s and upper managements do. If this were to happen there wouldn’t be the need for as many social welfare problems. The middle class is disappearing due to corporate greed. The company I work for is making record profits yet they tell us they can’t afford to give everyone a raise no matter how well you do, when you do get one it is very small and usually made negligible by the increases in healthcare costs, plans paying less, deductibles rising… etc.

My husband and I end up arguing more about little things.. because we are both doing work outside and inside the home and equally stressed. I am currently reading Katrina’s book and can relate in so many ways. I have had anxiety attacks, felt sad and guilty for having to leave my two month old children in day cares. I am currently taking meds for depression and feel that if life were easier I wouldn’t need to. I

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Lucie

I picked up a (French) magazine from the newsstand (in Paris) this morning because it featured a big article about the impossible demands weighting on working mothers: “Couple, Enfants, Boulot… Peut-On Trouver Le Bon Équilibre?”.

The article had all the threads I read on this blog… the way working moms attempt to juggle being the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect worker and the perfect self-actualized woman all in one… and how it’s a really tough (impossible?) act to balance. Women are expected to do it all, do it well and do it gracefully. Men don’t seem to suffer from as much pressure and guilt.

So, here you have it. French women don’t seem to think their lot is all that great either.

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Logan

Alright then, so to keep beating at this issue I’d like to point out further: what are the cultural implications of two working parents? Leisure time is a historical precondition for culture and yet here we have it, there is no leisure time for anybody anymore.

Two examples of this decline in culture in Europe might be: the decline of French cuisine sacrificed at the altar of the office, and the disappearance of the siesta in some countries.

Lucie, You mentioned nutrition is very important to French mothers. Yet how are working mothers and fathers supposed to have the time it takes in the kitchen to adequately nourish their family? I would say they don’t, and as a result there is now a huge boom in the processed food industry in France. Guess what? The French are getting fat because of it, just like us. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/03/world/europe/03iht-obese.html

Organizations like Slowfood International are doing their best to preserve the food cultures of Europe. But slow food is just that: slow, and nobody can be home to cook it, nobody can be home making it a home. The most common complaint of working parents is the inability to do it all: you can’t have a home when instead of a homemaker, there are wage earners. I contend that the home is essential for the preservation of the lifestyle that we all envy in Europeans, a lifestyle which is on the decline because the house is empty.

I briefly studied in Italy and was in awe of the pace of life, every moment so beautiful and savored by seemingly everyone. I loved my two hour “pranzo” in the middle of the day where EVERYTHING shut down. However, this mid afternoon delight isn’t apparently cutting it for everybody in today’s working world. Spanish working mothers are decrying the practice of the siesta. The first time I heard this I was shocked, I couldn’t believe anyone would want to get rid of this beautiful cultural norm. However, while I still think that it’s sad to think of Spain without naps, I feel for these mothers and the plight of having a 2 hour forced break midday in which you don’t get home to your family till 9, when everyone’s off to bed. No family dinners, no socializing, you work and that’s it. You can read more about the decline of the siesta here, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/22/AR2006042201123.html

It’s a tough choice, working vs. having a leisurely culture that we all envy. Soon though we won’t be coveting that European lifestyle because it will be the same as ours.

What are the cultural implications for the way we are working? 5,000 years ago humans were slaves to the land and at the whim of nature, then technology brought us out of this bondage and culture unfolded. Agriculture gave us leisure time, as we didn’t have to be hunting and gathering for our subsistence. With the dawn of industry, have we reached an era where we have put ourselves in bondage again, this time as slaves to a wage?

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Katrina

I want to interject with a funny thing about working parents and slow food.

My Uncle Peter came to visit a couple years ago when Brian and I were working full time plus schedules. We’d just bought a super duper high speed blender (the VitaMix!). I proudly showed Peter how it could decimate a handful of raw vegetables into a smoothie.

“Isn’t it cool? 3 minutes and you have your meal!”

He laughed at me and said his Slow Foodie friends in Vermont would be scandalized.

To your point, Logan, yes, something is lost when no one has time to be in the kitchen.

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francisco

Quick note about picking elementary schools in France v. the US – San Francisco is an anomaly. In the rest of the country, people who choose public schooling simply go to the closest school. There are exceptions, but this is basically rule.

EXCELLENT article!

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Jen

I remember learning in my first Anthropology class that the estimated work time per day necessary for hunter/gatherer peoples survival is four hours. Talk about an eye-opener! Thousands of years of evolution culminating in my sitting in a college classroom so I could go to work 8+ hours per day.

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Rosie

Thanks for this info. I am so stressed being a single working mom. I am also stressed because my 2 year old daughter is still breastfeeding and i have a 7 month old breastfeeding too. My daughter is driving me nuts and I want to wean her, but I feel guilty. It is such an attachment between us and life has been crazy recently. Anyway, this info makes me feel less guilty about enjoying my adult time and getting her to be a big girl and wean completely. Thank you.

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Lucie

Hi Rosie,

Yes, by French standards, you would still be a breast-feeding champion if you weaned BOTH your kids right now.

Take care,
Lucie

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Shoshanna Kirks

Lucie – great post!
I had my baby in France and returned to the US when she was 6 months old, so not a huge amount of time parenting in France, but from what I observed, Lucie’s points are spot on.

I was shocked to find that French women do not breastfeed, or do so for such a short time. The only other person I ever saw nursing in public was a gypsy. People – even our pediatrician – were shocked that I was still breastfeeding at 6 months (not to mention what they would say now, going on 15 months). However, I found nursing in public much, much easier in France than in the US simply because France is so much less prudish – no one gave a fig if I flashed my breasts by accident in a cafe. In the US, I see many new moms – even in liberal San Francisco – wearing the equivalents of human tents, which is depressing to me. What a perverse thing that, as mammals, we persecute one another for feeding our babies.

Re: Lucie’s point #10 – everyone in France thought our parenting style was nuts. We did not go into parenthood intended to become “attachment parents” (I do not, for instance, own Dr. Sears’ book), but apparently our intuitive choices have given us that label. I must admit, therefore, that when we returned to San Francisco, I was relieved to stop feeling so fringe. Even very, very young French children were impeccably dressed, and while quiet and well behaved, they struck me as, perhaps a little sad strapped, bored with a bottle in their strollers. The French parents we have met engage in a fair amount of shouting and time outs with their one, two, and three year old children; a parenting style that felt a fairly anachronistic to our touchy feely California ways. Before I had a baby, I thought being a parent in France – where people are careful that their children do not take over their lives, as Lucie points out – was going to be great. And then I discovered that I actually quite enjoyed my baby and was happy for her to “take over” for a little while. But this was clearly frowned upon – even the delivery room nurses, within 30 minutes of my giving birth, were telling me “ce n’est pas le bebe roi” – the baby is not king. At the time, this attitude felt so old fashioned as to be ludicrous (not to mention that it is not an attitude that facilitates breastfeeding…)

There appeared, too, to be an odd downside to the subsidized childcare: women seem to feel pressured into going back to work full time (France is NOT Scandinavia – you get two months of leave after a baby, not a year). People seemed to think it was a weird choice for a mother to stay at home with small children. So, while it IS easier to be a full time working mother in France, it didn’t seem to condone any other way of doing it. In fact, if one is going to parent in France, it works great – if you do things *in the French way.* As a vegetarian, I’m already not living in the French way, so things like not being able to pack a lunch would be problematic, you see.

And lest we romanticize too much, it did seem to me that the French, for all their healthcare and childcare are suffering from many of the same ills and anxieties as Americans – fast food, no time for enjoying life, stress, and so on.

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Lucie

Thanks for your post , Shoshanna. I really enjoyed reading it.

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Joan Skippler

Wow! France is a very nice country. How I wish I could bring my kids there and have them study. I was wondering how much would it costs me.LOL

Joan
Unique Moms

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Mommy Smith

How I wish I could bring my kids to France. Very nice country and I love how they treat kids.

Mommy
9 to 5 at Home

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Kimberly

Thanks for your post Lucie. I think you hit the nail on the head as your points have been what I have been observing as an American living in France. Prior to France, I lived in Germany where parenting is almost the opposite approach – mothers stay home for years and fathers can even take a year off of work to stay home. French parenting style results in children who are very well-behaved, mature, independent, and competitive. In fact, the French are consistently one of the most productive people on the planet, despite the shorter work week and extensive holidays! As a soon to be mom here, I plan to engage in attachment parenting but I know it will be a challenge. I see very little breastfeeding or child carrying yet I’ve observed that French adults are much closer to and affectionate with their families than German adults who have been BF, carried, and had a mom stay at home for years. I think it’s great that France supports a woman going back to work – although sometimes I feel there’s too much social pressure to do so.

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Lucie

Kimberly, thanks for the comments and good luck on the balancing act that is motherhood.

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Marie

I personally enjoy breastfeeding. I love the moments my baby and I share when I breastfeed. I love cradling my baby in my arms and smelling his head and cooing over him. I have never paid any attention to what other people have to say so mayne living in france wouldnt bother me, but I think what would bother me slightly is the pediatrician asking me why my baby was still breastfeeding at 6+ months. I plan to wean when hes a year or year and a half but I would love more to find a place to live where people didnt shove their ideals down my windpipe. What happened to “worry about yourself” or “mind your buisness” ? Thanks for sharing, I was seriously concidering moving there after completing culinary school so I could study, but now i’ll be looking into italy.

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Pierre Avignon

I’m surprised some commentators here interpreted the (very accurate) description of French parent/children relationships in this article as a drag.

I’m a French citizen living in the US and parent of a thirteen year old girl. While I do like certain things better in the American education system, I do agree that American parents hover too much over their kids to the point that it is often obsessional.

Nutrition, and particularly sufficient time to eat lunches is also a very accurate comparison, twenty minutes is not enough for a lunch break and the rubbish served at “multi-purpose convertible auditorium/gym/cafeteria” will continue to justify the existence of lunch boxes until someone addresses the issue of nutrition, taste, adequate facilities and schedule.

Do I miss the French system? Yes in many aspects. The quality of education is in par but as far as everything else from schedule to facilities, resources and not to be forgotten: safety, yes I do miss the French system. Maybe I can convince my daughter one day to move there so our grandkids are spared from a not so good future for the American education landscape.

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Jane

I read so many untruths in this article it’s scary! I am a former teacher and we begged mothers to come in and help in the school system or the classroom. Where did the author come up with it’s uncommon for schools to get help from parents? Parents were chaperones, helped with special activities and holidays, read stories to the class, and baked goodies for them. I did the same for my daughter in her school. Also, schools are chosen by area. Most are in the neighborhood. Does Lucie not realize she is in a country of 320,000,000 as opposed to France’s 67 million?

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