Moment for Mere: Lessons from French Moms

Does it sound refreshing to live in a society where the needs of mothers are culturally considered every bit as central to family happiness as the needs of the child? Where the feeling of “guilt” as a natural consequence to motherhood just isn’t in the air? Where it is not seen as “selfish” for a mother to take time for herself? This was the atmosphere in France where American author Judith Warner spent her first years as a Mommy. Short of packing up our pacifiers, pack n’ plays, and moving to Paris, are there lessons we can learn for ourselves and our society from her experience? In her book, Perfect Madness: Mothering in the Age of Anxiety, she describes the stark contrast she felt upon moving back to the states after mothering in France.

  •  (of the moms she came home to) It appeared normal to them that motherhood should be fraught with anxiety and guilt and exhaustion. It didn’t seem to dawn on anyone that there could be another way. The French women I knew did not have to live the psychological burden of such “choices”. They also did not have to do the mathematical calculations practiced by so many American mothers in evaluating whether or not to continue.. they did not have to justify simply “being who they were”. (15) Do you feel like you have real choices or do you feel like you have been pushed into the life you have by necessity and practicality? Do you feel like you are getting to live out “who you are”?
  • In France, I had never once encountered a woman whose life was overrun by her children’s activities. I had never met a mother, working or otherwise, who didn’t have the “time” to read a book, or have lunch with a friend, or go out to dinner once in a while.” (14) Do you feel like your life is overrun by your children? Do you have time for yourself?
  • In France, Workaholism was frowned upon. Vacation was sacred, as were weekends and holidays, and French men more involved in domestic life. How does your life reflect your values of relaxation? Of shared domestic responsibility?
  • In France, the author had a “Village”, an extended community of people supporting her efforts as a mother, so that she never felt like she had to go it alone: good public schools with a principal who gave out her personal number, affordable and quality early childhood educations, a pharmacist who included breast pads with her order, easy-going pediatricians, on-call docs, and helpful neighbors. Who is in your “Village”? Whose Village are you a part of?
  • Warner says she is not naive enough to think that Americans should adopt the French system, but thinks we should learn lessons from their psychology: that if you support mothers materially, you support them emotionally, and this support translates into a much lower level of anxiety, and a much greater level of mental freedom. (p.31) Do you feel like you shoulder the burden of your child’s well-being on your own? If your mind was freer of anxiety and pressure, how would it change your outlook and life? 
  • The author’s pediatrician in France told her when she was anxious about returning to work, “Listen, you don’t just have this child for a couple of months. You’ll have her for the rest of your life. You have to have a life ofyour own. Because if you’re happy, she’ll be happy. If you’re fine, she’ll be fine.” (11) Is there someone in your life reassuring you, and helping to protect you from the angst and anxiety…encouraging you to give yourself a break?
Another recent book that was in the news discussing French Parenting is Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. She echoes the idea that life “balance” comes more naturally to French mothers as they are careful not to let any one particular aspect of life take over (mothering /work/ friends/ etc.) She talks about how French moms are not nearly as “child-centric” as American moms tend to be – instead of carrying huge duffel bags to the park full of kiddie parapherrnalia, their child can be happy with just one ball. That instead of Mommy being the constant playmate/ entertainer/social coordinator/ chauffeur, children learn to play alone or with friends outside while Mommy reads a book or visits with her friends. Another example of  the less “child-centric” culture is the fact that restaurants do not usually have a “kids menu”. Instead, the parents cultivate an appreciation for food in their children as they participate in 4-course meals, even at pre-school (including a main course, vegetables, and a different cheese each day).  They are expected to try a bite of everything.  Because most French children are not experiencing constant encouragement (and control and intervention) from their parents, they have the freedom to develop more independence and a stronger self-esteem. The author comes to accept and adopt practices from both countries, to include the “best of both worlds” in her own parenting stateside.
Do you ever feel like your life is a little too “child-centric”? (If you do, maybe just maybe your child thinks his/ her life is a little too “Mommy”-centric….hmmm, something to think about.) Can you think of any simple ways you could give your children a little more independence in their days (and maybe yourself a little more of a break)?
Maybe even just to enjoy a glass of wine, some cheese, and get some inspiration while you relax…

NY Times article on building self control “the american way”

 

Comments

  1. Carla Bolden says:

    I recently read Bringing Up Bebe and LOVED IT! Agreed, we have to live in the hyper culture that we have here in Texas but… We don’t have to become overtaken by it. I think there are some wonderful lessons to be learned by these books. I picked up Bringing Up Bebe after a trip to Paris where I noticed in the 5-6 cafe’s and restaurants we ate or stopped in there were dozens of kids but they were not “running” the show in the way they seem to in the States. It was refreshing!