Having a Life / Learning to be happy / Making your life easier / Raising a Toddler / Running a Business / Working

Are French Women Better Mothers?

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I think I should have been born in Paris. I love the fashion, the food, the way they obsess about food (in a healthy way), and the more I am learning about it, I have come to appreciate their parenting style. What is different about French mothers? They don’t hover.

One of the reasons I hate going to the park with either, or both, of my children is that the moms drive me nuts! They stand directly beside their children at all times, as if protecting them from the air or something. I want to go to the park and let my kids play so I can catch up on email, or Instagram, or talk to my sister in New York. But around here, I feel like you have to help your child go down the darn slide or constantly push them in the swing or you’re looked at as neglectful.

Here’s another problem: My 2 year old is a sensory seeker, which means he likes to run around touching stuff, usually other kids bikes or toys. What I think should happen: that the other kid should say “no! that’s mine!” or pull it back or something, and then my kid will cry and move on. It’s a natural consequence and one that is important for Fitz to learn. But what does happen: The other mother swoops in, solves the problem for both kids, answers for her child and doesn’t allow them to work it out, all the while looking at me like “why aren’t you fixing this? What kind of mother are you!?”

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Helicopter mothering at its finest. But in France, it doesn’t happen.

An excerpt from Bringing up Bebe explains “Motherhood itself is a whole different experience in France. There’s no role model, as there is in America, for the harried new mom with no life of her own. French mothers assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children and that there’s no need to feel guilty about this. They have an easy, calm authority with their kids. . . .”

And does being super involved and frantic about our children make us as mothers happier? I highly doubt it. I think we feel like motherhood = martyrdom, like the less put together we are, the less we do for ourselves and our husbands, the more we sacrifice ourselves for our kids the happier we are.

But is that really true? This study points out the problems with what they call intensive parenting:

“Intensive parenting is a style with three main philosophies: That mothers are the best possible people to care for their children, that mothering should center around the child’s needs, and that children should be considered delightful and wholly fulfilling for parents….

The results revealed that three of the five pinnacles of intensive parenting are linked with nasty mental health effects. Though relatively few women held the belief that mothers are more important than anyone else in a child’s life, even fathers, those who did hold the attitude were less satisfied with life, more stressed and felt less family support than other moms in the study.”

Forbes recently published a short article that is worth reading about how French women don’t suffer from guilt about their children as much as American moms. I particularly liked this point:

“A Frenchwoman who spends most of her free time shuttling her kids between extracurricular activities isn’t seen as a devoted mom – she’s viewed as someone who has dramatically lost her balance.”

I think balance is an elusive thing. Where we live moms are make motherhood their sole focus. But in doing this, sometimes I wonder what is lost. I see a lot of mothers who lose themselves to their kids, who either look haggard and tired from their children, or conversely who competitively talk about all the things they do and make for their kids to prove what a good mother they are. Boooo.

I work so I think it’s easier for me to maintain a balance. I enjoy my kids when I’m with them (most of the time), but I also enjoy having grown up time and being valued at my job. I also have LOVED seeing the impact of other people’s influences on my kids.

For example, Holds has been going to private pre-school for 2 1/2 years and it has saved our lives. It has stretched him and influenced him in a way that I know I couldn’t have done on my own. For Fitz, he’s going to daycare 2 times a week and it’s having a really positive effect on him as well. Just being in a situation away from parents makes kids have to think for themselves, which is a good thing! H is extremely independent, he’s happy, he loves to learn, and loves to create art. He is really imaginative and I seriously think it’s because of school. The other thing that has been great is having different therapists (Speech, OT, Child Dev) be able to draw things out of my kids that I couldn’t have done. They help me find new ways to teach and influence and I love it.

I definitely don’t adhere to the intensive parenting philosophy that the only person who can care for my children is me. I don’t believe that, I’m not prideful enough to think that. I know how much of a difference other people have made in my kids’ lives and I truly appreciate them.

Anyway, back to my point: According to Bringing up Bebe: “French parenting wouldn’t be worth talking about if it produced robotic, joyless children. In fact, French kids are just as boisterous, curious, and creative as Americans. They’re just far better behaved and more in command of themselves. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are- by design-toddling around and discovering the world at their own pace.”

When I was reading French Kids Eat Everything I noticed she kept referring to how well-behaved and happy the kids were to sit up super late (10PM) at a restaurant with their parents without complaint. I kept thinking about my kids and how terrible they would be that late! But I think it’s super compelling: French kids know their place. They know their parents love them but they also know they aren’t the only person in their parent’s worlds.

One thing we do is that when we have dinner we make it point to talk to the kids about their day and engage with them for while, but then we tell them we need to talk to each other and catch up on our day and our kids are learning to be quiet and patient while Wes and I talk about issues, worries, events, etc that happened to us in our day.

So what are some things we can do, or that you do that teaches kids this important factor?

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