petite anglaise

October 27, 2004

bad mummy?

Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 2:43 pm

When the Frog and I decided the time had come to procreate, it never once occurred to me to give up my job.

First compelling reason: money. Despite the Frog’s executive title, his job in advertising doesn’t pay any better than my secretarial 9-5. One salary will not pay the rent and would certainly not stretch to a mortgage. It was hard enough surviving on state benefits (about € 450 per week) for the five months I was on maternity leave. If I’d extended this (possible in theory up to 3 years) I would have received no financial aid whatsoever, just the right to claim a job from my (very pissed off) employer at equivalent pay once the time was up.

Secondly, in France the number of women who return to work far outnumber those who do not, and childcare is pretty affordable in comparison to the UK. I pay about € 700 a month for a full time childminder, who looks after the Tadpole and two other girls in her own home, but also takes them to the library, to a music appreciation class and a playgroup, as well as to the park every afternoon. If I’d managed to get a place in a state run crèche (which would have required relentless badgering of the directrice de crèche on my part, something I wasn’t motivated enough to do), it would cost even less. It means that continuing to work is financially more attractive than staying at home.

Finally, and most importantly, I was going out of my mind home alone. Everyone I know in Paris works, and during my leave I couldn’t shake off a feeling of guilt that I should be working too – the same feeling I get when I’m off work ‘sick’ with nothing to do but watch daytime television. I had no other stay at home mum friends to speak of, despite the fact that I belong to an expat mums network. It was summertime and everyone was away on holiday, and in any event they tend to live at the other (more affluent) side of Paris, and the pediatrician’s advice (which as I new mum I followed to the letter) was to avoid the hotbed of harmful bacteria that is the Paris metro for the first twelve months or so. The perspective of continuing to spend long days alone with only the tiny, and to be honest at that stage not particularly entertaining, Tadpole for company was terrifying.

It’s now just over a year since I returned to work, and I have to say that despite the loudly voiced reservations of my family in England, it is working really well. Tadpole loves her childminder, and has formed a very strong bond with the other two children she cares for. They greet each other in the mornings with cries of excitement and bisous and it’s a lovely sight to behold. The time we do spend together is really precious and I love the look of delight on her face when I arrive to collect her in the evenings. After which we play. Until Eastenders starts, by which time she must be tucked up in bed.

For my part, I have an adult life by day, filled with grown up conversations that don’t revolve solely around being a mother. And yes, discussing what is happening on Eastenders or 24 ,or whatever else I happen to be watching, and bitching about our bosses is the kind of social contact I do not feel able to live without. I don’t think about Tadpole much during the day, because my life as a mum and my life at work feel very separate, but on the way to pick her up in the evenings I can feel my excitement growing as the metro draws closer to home.

In summary: I’m a working mum out of choice and I’m happy that way.

So, why is it then that I felt so horribly guilty whilst writing this post?


  1. “So, why is it then that I felt so horribly guilty whilst writing this post?”

    Obviously because you should be filing or taking dictation not blogging on the company’s time Missy.

    Comment by backroads — October 27, 2004 @ 4:00 pm

  2. Don’t feel guilty, you look like you’re balancing job & family successfully. Which is not the case of loads of people.

    Eastenders fan? It’s quite bad at the moment. But I still watch it. Yes my friends say that I’m the only Frenchman in the UK watching it. And that I should be hanged for that.

    Comment by Chninkel — October 27, 2004 @ 4:13 pm

  3. I dunno, but you shouldn’t.

    Comment by Emma — October 27, 2004 @ 4:37 pm

  4. backroads – ahem, you might have a point there.

    This article
    gave me food for thought today.

    I have cancelled plans to pose in stockings and suspenders draped over a desk …

    Comment by petite — October 27, 2004 @ 4:50 pm

  5. It’s a damned shame we have to feel guilty about working, if we choose to. I plan on it, and I’m glad I’m living in a country where a) I will apparently be given an appropriate time to recover, whereas in the states you get 48 hours in the hospital and 6 weeks leave, and b) I won’t be treated like the anti-christ for going back to work – assuming I can get a job, heh (am starting to look now) – unlike in the southern US, where you are in danger of being called a bad mother. Sheesh.

    Comment by ViVi — October 27, 2004 @ 4:50 pm

  6. if I kept mine at home all day they’d be even more pissed off than me! (€700? I ain’t going to tell you what we pay for two then!)


    Comment by vitriolica — October 27, 2004 @ 4:56 pm

  7. Probably because equality is a lot of hot air sometimes? But I guess that’s an obvious answer.

    Does the Frog feel guilty for working?

    Comment by Sierra — October 27, 2004 @ 5:54 pm

  8. I’m astounded at the fact that women go back to work so quickly here. I have always suspected that it’s something to do with the high cost of living. Most French mothers I know wouldn’t consider NOT working, whereas it’s really hard for me to consider leaving my (non-existent-as-yet) kids at home with nanny.
    But good on you for making a decision that suits you – it sounds like you’ve got the best of both worlds.

    As an aside, I’m really enjoying your blog :)

    Comment by Katia — October 27, 2004 @ 6:00 pm

  9. Like they say, “It’s quality, not quantity.” As long as you spend QUALITY time with your little tadpole, rather than sitting with her all day and not paying attention to her.:lol:

    By the way – I found your site via Yayaempress’ blog.

    Comment by Faye — October 27, 2004 @ 8:06 pm

  10. katia – :-)

    I must say I didn’t know how I would actually feel until she was born. At first I thought it would be unbearable to be separated. And then after a long hot polluted heatwave summer trapped with the Tadpole in Paris, I was yearning to be back in my air-conditioned office. So the context probably didn’t help…

    Or maybe I’m just becoming more and more French every day?

    Comment by petite — October 27, 2004 @ 8:07 pm

  11. Will keep the tadpole happy all day long for only 350 E.
    Keep your work.

    Comment by Jesus — October 27, 2004 @ 9:33 pm

  12. am I the only person on the planet that hates eastenders?

    Comment by andre — October 28, 2004 @ 12:58 am

  13. As a stay-at-home mom in Paris, I must say I’ve enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I was a working mom in the US and never thought I’d stay at home. Then my husband got a job in France and I can’t work without papers. I think all mothers feel guilty or defensive for their choices — both stay at home and working moms. Some days I do lose my mind watching the kids. It’s particularly difficult now during the 10 day Toussaint holiday when both are home and all their French friends have gone to their country homes.

    Comment by mraparis — October 28, 2004 @ 8:30 am

  14. As a sociologist (and feminist), I would argue that the feelings of guilt are in part due to stereotypes/archetypes of good motherhood. There is a discrepancy between the ideal of an aproned stay-at-home whose sole sense of purpose in life derives from servicing the (bawled and incessant) needs of her offspring and the bitter financial necessity of working to provide a decent lifestyle for the family unit in a secularised, consumerist environment. Social attitudes lag behind social developments, working mothers being no exception. Too often, working mothers are portrayed as selfish careerists, indeed, in general, women continue to be discouraged from putting themselves first – self-fulfillment routinely sacrificed. I can assure you, however, based on my personal experience of being a single mother working long hours full time for the first seven years of my son’s life, that you will be a better mother as a result of pursuing your career, as frustrations will not build up. Remunerated employment continues to be a source of self-esteem as well as independence in spite of high levels of unemployment and the chronic state of misery of benefit-dependent families (the “spectre of the underclass” constantly lurks at the back of our minds, reminding us that there is no real alternative to wage slavery).
    I too suffer the occasional inchoate pang of guilt, by the way – it goes with the territory.

    Comment by Chameleon — October 28, 2004 @ 9:30 am

  15. Chameleon – well, what an articulate response! My comments are putting my posts to shame.

    I even had to look up inchoate in my dictionary (a French/English one is all I had to hand but it does help).

    Comment by petite — October 28, 2004 @ 10:39 am

  16. Hey the way I see it, at least you won’t resent the little nipper because you gave up everything. So the Tadpole will be happy cos you’ll be a better mum for it.

    Soudns like a winner of a plan!

    Comment by PPQ — October 28, 2004 @ 10:46 am

  17. I have never felt guilty about leaving my son with someone else while I went to work. Maybe that’s because my mother always worked, and so did her mother before her. Only some months ago I realised that for some people it would be a psychologycal problem to leave their children with a childminder!!! I believe that it’s pretty much a matter of cultural environment: if you have always lived in a place where all parents work, it doesn’t even cross your mind to stop working when you have a child, at least not for more than the paid matternity/paternity leave…

    As a child, I never even missed my parents throughout the day – they were at their work, I was at mine… Now as a mother, i think that’s it’s great for the kids that they spend time with other children, even when they’re still babies, and I will not feel guilty at all when I have my next baby and leave him/her in a chréche. My mother wasn’t wrong (I’m a very happy person), and so, I can’t be wrong either.

    Comment by daisy — October 28, 2004 @ 1:30 pm

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