I am reading and hearing from a bunch of French folks that French women simply don’t stay at home and do not want to become stay-at-home mothers.
Yes, we know.. French women also apparently don’t get fat (a lie), and think drinking a glass of wine a day with food is okay while pregnant (umm.. I can’t defend this one).
Still, it intrigued me to read in the many French-centric pregnancy books about how French women simply don’t have the culture of being able to decide to stay at home or not.
(Note: I’d also talk about fathers staying at home, but it seems to be a non-existent discussion in France so I’m sticking to mothers in this post, but I AM TOTALLY pointing out how unfair it is that men are expected to go to work and women are not, as well as women being forced to carry the complete burden of childcare just because they’re women.)
1. IT’S A QUESTION OF MONEY
Many mothers go back to work because of money, and that’s the same in France.
You need more money to live, and another working spouse brings in more income, end of discussion.
2. IT’S A QUESTION OF CHILDCARE BENEFITS
You have state-run childcare centers where you can drop your kids off basically for free, so you don’t even need to go through the calculations we do here of:
Is it cheaper if you stay at home with the kids, or if you go back to work and we have to pay for daycare?
This makes the decision so much easier if you can drop your kid off at one of these rather fabulously-run crèches, and not really have to worry about your child being fed properly (OMG the menus I read about!), or taken care of to the highest degree (they have 500 people sit for this examination to become a daycare worker for these places, and only 30 get in each year.)
3. IT’S A FEAR OF BECOMING AN UNINTERESTING PERSON TO TALK TO
There is not a single French couple we know (family, friends, acquaintances) where the mother stayed at home to watch the kids.
Simply not a single one.
I cannot find ANYONE who has stayed home. At about 3 months, they all go back to work and pop their kids into daycares.
Digging deeper into the issue, it’s because when people meet to chat with you, they ask you:
What do you do?
If you say:
I’m a stay at home mother.
…you kind of become a cocktail party pariah.
French folks have affirmed this with:
“No one really wants to talk with you if you’re a stay at home mother.
They think you don’t really have much to offer in terms of an interesting discussion beyond your children.“
This is true and not true, in my opinion.
Some stay at home mothers are very interesting women even before having kids.
I’d like to think that if I had to stay at home, I’d still be an interesting person to talk to, but in France the culture is that if you work, your job is interesting, you will have interesting stories and interactions with other adults which can become topics of discussion.
Granted, Baby Bun is not stimulating conversation and you are really just exhausted from watching a child all day that you don’t have time to think about any adult topics but… STILL!!
I’ve also noticed this attitude with women who stay at home and follow their husbands from city to city to work, but aren’t necessarily married or with kids.
We know a woman who basically quit her job and followed her husband to another country, and while I still find her a nice person, she seems to clam up and can’t really say much beyond talking about all the traveling she has done with her husband, which is only one topic out of many.
Still, I can’t help but feel that they have something right there.
I would lose a part, if not a sense of my self as a working person in society, if all I did was stay at home with my kids.
Or maybe I’d surprise myself and be a perfectly interesting person, even with a child at home and no career.
(For me that would mean no blogging, no part-time jobs, just full-time staying at home watching the kids.)
Actually, maybe I just learned this attitude from my mother because she has never, ever wanted to stay at home with us kids or with her grandchildren full-time, and has never done so in her life, even after being offered her equal pay to do so.
I’m on the fence. I wonder if it’s true, that I’d be a boring, uninteresting person if I stayed at home all day with Baby Bun, seeing as I wouldn’t have time to read or do anything adult-ish…