When this British mom who has been living in Normandy, France for the past 12 years with her French husband and 3 young children approached
us with the desire to share what parenting is like on her side of the world, we were thrilled to hear from her. From rural French family life to pregnancy to her favorite European vacation spots- Elizabeth explains it all below (and don’t forget to stop by her beautiful blog: Lila et Albertine).
How old are your kids/names?
We are parents to Raphaël (9), Anya (7) and Joseph (3).
Where do you live ?
We live in the countryside of lower Normandy, approximately an hour from Caen, Bayeux and the North-West Coast.
What are pregnancy and childbirth like in France?
I feel very happy to have been pregnant and had our children in France. From antenatal to postnatal care, the services offered are high quality, reliable and attentive. Once pregnant, a mother either chooses to be followed by her usual gynecologist or a midwife. There is a monthly check-up and 3 obligatory scans. Informative antenatal classes are offered at no charge to all pregnant women and their partners. I’ve heard stories about antenatal groups in the UK where couples make good friends but in France the classes are highly formal. In the ones I attended there was no social interaction whatsoever.
The main drawback which I have found to pregnancy and childbirth in France is that they are very medicalised and options are limited. Whereas it seems home-births are having a revival in other countries, childbirth here almost strictly takes place in a maternity unit and is very controlled by medical staff. Most French women opt for an epidural and the birth is assisted by midwives. An obstetrician is only present if there are complications or a caesarean.
It’s difficult here to find alternative methods to childbirth (ie. water births) and I’m sure that if I’d have wanted a home-birth I would have been strongly advised against it. On a more positive note, pregnant women are closely monitored and nothing is left to chance.I always felt well looked after.
What can you tell us about working and non-working mothers in France?
Having taken a 3 year career break following the birth of my third child and now choosing to work part-time, the working/non-working mother subject is one close to my heart.
The unemployment rate and cost of living are fairly high in France. Most employed French women have full-time jobs or work 80% (until very recently, there was no school on a Wednesday so many mothers work 4 days). Many working families here employ help in the home for cleaning and ironing.
The stay-at-home mother culture barely exists and I do find there is a certain stigma against women here who choose not to work. I remember during my 3-year break feeling very isolated; the other mothers I knew were all working and I never learnt of any mother and baby groups (I still have never seen any advertised). The French can be fairly shy and stand-offish with strangers so even in a play area mothers who are alone don’t generally talk to each other.
One of the things which surprised me most in France is that first and second-time mothers are expected to return to work only 10 weeks after the birth. And many of those women return into full-time positions. On the other hand, there is the option to take up to 3 years career break from the second birth and an employer has to keep the job open. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to take this work hiatus.
I opt for basic, comfortable and casual. I take more and more interest in where our clothes were made, by whom and using which materials. I don’t follow fashions anymore, prefering long-lasting, timeless pieces. I live in soft jeans (Zara or Uniqlo) or rolled-up chinos (Gap) with flat ballerinas or in summer Saltwater sandals and espadrilles. I like simple, unfussy tops such as the Breton marinière by Saint James. I adore anything by the Welsh company Toast and buy a couple of their sale items every year. In winter I couldn’t live without my Le Chameau wellies – I have the leather-lined version which should last forever. I adore hand-made items in natural fabrics which are preferably made using traditional methods.
Do you have a fail-safe beauty product or routine?
I pay more attention to skincare than makeup as I don’t have a lifestyle which requires any glamour! I like natural products and have been a huge fan of the environmental activist Liz Earle for a long time. I’ve used her skincare line for nearly 20 years but when I run out use Bioderma Créaline cleanser and Embryolisse moisturizer which I mix with Caudalie tinted moisturizer. At night (to my husband’s dismay) I use organic oils on my face such as Argan, Coconut or Rosehip. I wear Homéoplasmine to moisturize my lips and Eau des Merveilles perfume by Hermès.
Best family trip?
When I was pregnant with Anya, we had a memorable holiday in Piana, Corsica, which is next to the breathtaking Scandola Natural Reserve and UNESCO listed. Otherwise, every summer we take our tent to the North-West coast of France and stay on a very simple campsite next to the sand dunes. We spend a week on the beach, mostly living outside and listening to the waves while tucked up in our sleeping bags. A week is all my back can take, but we come back refreshed after so much fresh air and no wifi ! As the kids get older, we hope to travel further afield. Right now, I dream of discovering Scandinavia particularly Denmark, Norway and Iceland.
Any personal/parenting “a-ha” tips?
I’ve realised that with school children, our mornings are less stressed and calmer when I have early nights and early mornings, so that I’m ready myself when the children need to wake up. Then I can fully concentrate on meeting their needs and helping them without having to get myself ready as well.