I’ve been reading the book, “Entre Nous”. It’s about how French women live their lives and their secrets of good living.I thoroughly enjoyed this book and there was a quote that stood out to me in the chapter on leisure. You see, the French are not obsessed with time management and efficiency like we Americans.
Take a moment to think about that.
Yes, they do exist. People who aren’t obsessed with the rat race.
When the author discussed a time management course she was taking, her French friend scoffed, “who would want to be all things to all people?” She found it absurd. The French seek to live not just make a living, it’s evident in the way their government does more than just pay lip service to family values – long vacations, extended maternity leaves, excellent child care, to name a few. Furthermore, a French mom is not preoccupied with being a soccer mom, super mom, or some other kind of mom martyr. You won’t find a French mom saying “I don’t have time for leisure”. To a French woman, that is crazy talk. C’est tres necessaire.
My perception of the ideal American mother
The ideal American mother is expected to give up everything for her kids, while at the same time look like a super model and have a rock star career and social life and have her children involved in 50,000 activities. She spends a ton of time at the gym and counting calories. It’s quite a paradox, actually. She is expected to somehow “do it all” without getting proper time for self care or even for sleep. She is supposed to be happy go lucky and always say yes to her kids, even if it means co-sleeping with her child until age 8, which would be much more “co” and much less “sleep.” She is supposed to always be “on”. She is so busy managing everyone and everything that her children lack a chance for their own personal growth and character development. Her children become the center of her universe, “child kings”, and her marriage suffers. Her conversations with friends are dominated by co-miseration and comparison and one-up-man-ship. She wonders constantly if she’s doing it all right. She is not secure in herself.
The ideal American mother is so contradictory. The ideal American mother is impossible and unrealistic. But who perpetuates these stereotypes? We do. Will we face some rejection if we choose a different path? Of course. Is it worth it? I say, oui! We can talk about how unfair it is until we are blue in the face, but at the end of the day we must recognize how we live our life is, indeed, our choice, after all.
My perception of the ideal French mother
She has a calm, zen-like approach to the way she runs her life. She has authority over her children, but is also kind. She is self-possessed. She dresses well, and takes time for self care each day. She enjoys her career, but knows how to leave work at work. She has a moderate approach to eating, a natural rhythm that keeps her slender without being at the gym for hours on end. She is not worried about having perfect abs but is alluring all the same. You won’t find her children up past 8 pm, and out of their bedroom in the morning until she deems it appropriate. At the park, she is not constantly smiling and taking pictures of her children. This is her time to zone out a little bit because her kids are occupied and happy. She takes time to have dinner with her girlfriends. Her relationship with her children seems to be more about compromise than about indulgence. Her conversations revolve around her interests be to politics, film, art, or the books she’s reading. She is sophisticated. She is sure of herself.
Who is stronger? More humble? Healthier?
I would argue the French ideal mother is a stronger woman. She knows her limits and accepts them. I also think her approach is more humble. When one is attempting to be “all things to all people”, one is also guilty of the sin of presumption. Who do we think we are? We are not God. We must accept our limits and nurture our bodies and souls, if we are to serve long term. (Our body is a temple, non?) Constantly making the choice of pushing ourselves past our limits to please others becomes more about pride rather than service. There is a time and place for burning the candle at both ends, but it is not every single day for the rest of your life. It may be for a few days, a week, a few months, or a season of your life. But you have a duty and responsibility to yourself and to your family to take time to see if you could do a little more thriving and less surviving. When you are in those difficult seasons, it’s a time to get down to basics. You may not be able to achieve all you could before, but you must not throw self care out the window. It is a necessity. So yes, I also think the French way is healthier – healthier for relationships, mind, body, and soul.
But they have more support
The French are indeed blessed with more support for mothers. They have excellent day care, maternity leave, etc. I am merely advocating changing what you can. Letting go of perfection and people-pleasing and savoring what the day may bring just a bit more.
Maintaining Proper Balance
You see, the French woman isn’t trying to find a way to “have it all” . She is doing what is important – that is, having a time for work and time for play. What a more balanced way to live! She is also teaching her children how to be independent by not waiting on them hand and foot all day every day. She is not “maman taxi”. She serves her family, mais oui, but she she takes time for herself. I encourage you to take a moment and look at your life . How many things do you do to keep up appearances? What could you let go of to enjoy your life more and have therefore have more to give to others?