Does my style of parenting shock you?
As a Brit, married to a Frenchman, raising our children first in France and now in the UK in what we call our franglais way, I know that we shock some people with our style of parenting. It is amazing to think that so few miles separate the UK from France but that culturally these two countries are so different.
Before I go on to explain our style of parenting it’s probably good for you to get some background on B and me, and how we were raised, to see where we are coming from.
- B and I were born 6 weeks apart in the mid 1970s: him in the south of France and me in the south of England.
- B’s parents are both doctors (a retired GP and a school doctor); my mum is a (retired) nurse, who trained to be a midwife and set up a local NCT branch in the 1970s, as well as being a breast-feeding counsellor for the NCT, my dad is in IT.
- B is one of twins; I am the middle child of 5 (all from the same, crazy parents!).
- B’s mum went back to work when B and his brother were still very small; my mum stopped work for 15 years to raise us 5 unruly children.
- B’s mum, like most of her generation in France, didn’t breastfeed; my mum breastfed all 5 of us.
- B’s mum weaned B and his brother on pots and purées; my mum weaned us the BLW way before it even had a name, as otherwise nobody would have got fed.
- B and his brother slept in their own bedroom from birth; my siblings and I slept in my parents’ room (but not bed) when we were small babies.
- B and his brother only ever had disposable nappies; my siblings and I only ever had washable nappies.
So that gives you an idea of the parenting style we grew up with, this is the one we developed for ourselves, and that shocks the French in France and the Brits in the UK:
- I breastfed L. This shocked several of my French friends and in particular my MiL who warned me “it’ll ruin your chest”.
- L slept in her own room from day 5 when we came home from hospital. This shocked pretty much every single Brit and Anglo-saxon I know, but was accepted as the norm in France.
- For the first 3 months I did everything on demand and had zero routine. This shocked my French paediatrician and numerous French friends. The only reason we got into a routine at 3 months was because L was going to the childminder’s…
- I went back to work 4 full days a week when L turned 3 months old. This was very early for most of my friends in the UK, but was standard for France.
- We put L in washable nappies from about her first week onwards. This was very uncommon in France and I kept being asked why I was doing something so unhygienic.
- When L was a few months old I started thinking (worrying) about weaning and I came across Baby Led Weaning (BLW) on the internet, I loved the sound of it and this is what we did with L. You can’t imagine the reactions I got in France, “are you trying to kill your baby?” and “she’s got no teeth, she’s going to starve to death” etc. I had to lie to my paediatrician about it, translate Gill Rapley’s report on it into French for our childminder and basically defend this decision every single day. It was very hard and it’s funny to be in the UK now where BLW is just another totally accepted weaning option.
- Whenever we were invited out we took L with us, and when we had parties at our house she generally stayed up and partied with us until the small hours. Fortunately she wakes much later if she goes to bed late which makes this doable. This is not a big deal in France, whereas many of my UK friends are shocked at us letting her stay up late.
- We first left her to go out for the night when she was 5 months old, we drove for an hour to meet up with some friends for a night out. We first left her all night when she was 9 months old as we had been invited to try out a posh hotel in Cannes for the night. When she was 2 years old we left her for two weeks to go off on holiday, just B and me, to the Dominican Republic. Every year we try and leave her for a week to go off on holiday as a couple, to reconnect, and to be simply B and me again, not Mummy and Papa. Now this one shocks the hell out of 90% of my UK friends, but all my French friends do this regularly with their kids.
- When L was 5 years old she flew unaccompanied to Marseille to spend a week with B’s mum in the run-up to Christmas. French parents frequently send their kids across France by plane as the school holidays are so long and everyone works. My UK friends were astounded that I might consider this.
- L started school in France when she was 2 and 3/4. This was 4 days a week, from 9am until 4pm; as B and I worked, she also went to the before school club, the after school club and the Wednesday club (no school in France on Wednesdays) at the same place. So Monday – Friday 8am-6.30pm she was at “school” from the age of not even 3 years old and she loved it! I know many British friends who think this is far too early, but it worked so well for us and for L who excelled there.
- When we moved to the UK, L was 3 and 1/2 so was too young for school. She started full time school when she was 4 and 3/4 and my French friends and family kept asking why she was starting so late.
I am sure if you are French then parts of the above shock you, and if you are British then there are certainly areas you disagree with. But this is what works for us and for L, it’ll be interesting to see if we end up raising baby number 2 the same way too seeing as he/she will be raised in the UK and not France. Watch this space…