It’s a tall order to feed, clean, cloth, entertain and instil values in another human being, and those just cover the basics. Of course fathers should and do play a role but the bulk of the job is still usually left to the mother.
If you want as much as a semi-sane balance of a career, family and any sort of down time there are worse places to do it than in France, which has the second highest birth rate in Europe, after Ireland. While being a stay-at-home mum is entirely possible here in Ireland, many women in France choose to continue work for a whole plethora of reasons.
Here are just some of the state support systems that French mothers, both stay at-home and working, can rely on;
Healthcare: It’s hardly breaking news that French healthcare is better than the Irish system. Pre- and most post-natal care is entirely subsidised. Mothers can avail of frequent check-ups for baby and home nurse visits, which last for an hour on average.
Generous maternity and parental leave is available to both male and female parents: Similarly to Ireland, French women can have up to 16 weeks of maternity leave but if it is their third child this is extended to 26. And French law stipulates that a job must be kept available to the pregnant employe.
Public day care: French parents have a choice between public and private. While there are issues with available places in some regions (namely Paris), day-care remains a popular choice for parents that want to return to work even if their children are still young.
Early pre-school: Some primary schools offer pre-school for children as young as two provided they are potty trained. The children are in a pre-school class until they are six and then they can enter the core primary school years.
It all looks wonderful on paper but how do real French mothers feel? iGenders took the time to speak to some living, breathing mamams in small town France.
When asked if she feels supported by the French state, Séverine, who has a 6 and 8 year-old, replies with a resounding “Oh, yeah!”
“You get money for the nanny until they are six. You get money just for having kids. All about the social system… It’s very easy when you have kids. They pay for everything, the glasses and everything.”
When asked if she worries that the economic crisis will force the government to make cuts to essential services, she is optimistic because France needs to protect its birth rate.
“I don’t think so. Otherwise we’ll end up like Germany. They don’t have enough kids.”
Jocelyn, a mother of two who are both in university, gives similar praise but says that it gets trickier when you want to handle third level education.
“It’s not easy if you have two and they don’t live at home. The levels for the bourse (grant) are so low that only the poorest can have it… There is the allocation logement (housing allowance) and this helps with the rent a little.”
She also notes the problem of when the children are no longer legally children and cannot rely on their parents’ social welfare any more.
At 21, someone (generally the parents) will have to start paying an impôt (tax) of around €400 for the school year to cover medial costs. This will not cover care in the summers between school years leaving students in a sort of limbo.
And what about this idea that children are all angels in France? It’s a popular notion in the English-speaking world. Well, any amount of time spent teaching here will prove that this simply isn’t the case. Children are children wherever you go. They will be naughty, cheeky and occasionally embarrassing to their parents/babysitter/teachers regardless of their nationality.
But perhaps the French mothers (no matter how much their chidlren act up), can seem a bit more Zen in handling crisis because they don’t have to constantly panic about childcare and if they can afford a GP visit to see about little Pierre’s coughing.