If there is one thing we American moms know how to do, it's over-think parenthood. We worry we're pushing too hard, being too soft, yelling too much, working too much, working too little. The list goes on and on (and on). Truly, being a mother in the US today can be a maddening and guilt-ridden experience. Of course, the lack of institutional support for moms means we have designed it that way.
Perhaps if mothers were more supported with supplemented childcare, more vacation time and flexibility, and more respect, we could be more like the French. In France, motherhood is something else entirely.
Recently, a writer friend of mine moved to Paris for the second time. This time she has children and she has had the opportunity to view French motherhood. And everything about it is different than the American experience.
All that guilt we feel? Does not exist in French parenthood. They have more kids, they yell more, they prize respect over happiness, and the list goes on and on. And while writer Paige Bradley Frost admits she is making some generalizations, there are also a lot of truths. She says:
Observing it all has made me wonder: why are we, American mothers, so terribly hard on ourselves? Why are we so hard on each other? Why are we so obsessed with being 'perfect' when none of us really even knows what that means? It’s as if we’re striving to follow a set of prescribed parenting rules but no one seems to know who set them.
Of course, in France, things are different. They trust the state and schools. They have supported daycare when they return to work (and most of them do) after they have their babies. In fact philosopher Elizabeth Badinter has made it well known that the desire to be a "perfect mother" is actually detrimental to French women, but also women in general. Indeed.
But we American moms can't help ourselves. We are super paranoid perfectionists because there is very little government support for pregnancy and parenting unless you are below the poverty line and desperately need it. And even then, maternity leave is a joke. At best we are guaranteed 12 weeks unpaid but only a lucky few can afford it. We may over think parenthood and stress about it all the time, but that is largely because no one is helping us and what little resources there are, we are all competing for. It's all up to us.
Perhaps if our government supported parenthood as well as other countries, we could all learn a few pointers from the French -- stress less, enjoy the family more, stop worrying whether you're perfect, take time for yourself. The list goes on and on.
One thing is clear, though: We American moms kill ourselves to be the best we can and are still wracked with guilt. Doesn't something seem wrong with that picture?
Image via Terrazzo/Flickr