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”.

    Me doing the unthinkable, breastfeeding my newborn baby!

  • 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.

    L’s first taste of BLW and broccoli at 6 months old.

  • 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.

    L with B and me at one of our house parties for Hallowe’en, aged 3.

    L at a fancy dress party we had when she was 2 (this was B’s wig, not hers!).

    L with B and me having just celebrated midnight on new year’s eve, age 2.

  • 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.

    B and my first night out without L, when she was 5 months old.

  • 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…



9 Responses

  1. Louise Lloyd says:

    I think if nothing else this shows how there is absolutely no right or wrong way to parenting! I love the differences in the two cultures and like you say in each respective country it’s seen as “normal”.

    I think it’s a fabulous way to grow up being able to understand two languages, two cultures and two ways of doing everything!! I hope the UK health system are as accepting as it sounds the French were when you did things against their ‘norm’

  2. Amanda jaggard says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. I was quite surprised that despite being a welsh/English family we do several things the French way in particular allowing our 10month old to stay up late for parties etc and leaving him to enjoy a night out from a young age – 6 weeks for a meal 10 mins away but 3 months for a proper night out when we went to a gig over an hour away.
    I like reading about other cultures and find even though I grew up in Wales there are cultural differences to England. I went to nursery full time at 3 years old even though my mum didn’t work full time but by the time my sister was that age we had moved to England and she didn’t go at all.
    Good luck with the remainder of this pregnancy and I look forward to hearing how this little one grows up x

  3. Franglaise Mummy says:

    Amanda – I’m glad you enjoyed reading this. It’s interesting to hear how others have decided to do things, maybe you’re secretly a bit French at heart?!? I hadn’t realised there were such big differences between the Welsh and English when it came to bringing children up. Maybe I should stop talking about Brits and start talking about English then! I’ll be keeping everyone posted via my blog as this pregnancy comes to an end and baby number 2 joins us all.

    Louise – this is what made me stand by my parenting decisions, as I realised it might shock some people but for other people it was totally normal. So we ended up doing what made sense to us and what worked for us. We’re very lucky that L and this baby can grow up in a bilingual and bicultural environment.

    So far the UK health system has been far more accepting of my wishes pregnancy and birth-wise than in France. I had to beg for skin-to-skin contact and an immediate breastfeed when L was born in France, whilst here is is very much normal. I changed my first paediatrician in France after 2 months – she wanted me to stop breastfeeding as L wasn’t putting on as much weight as a bottle-fed baby. I ignored her, changed doctors and carried on breastfeeding another 10 months!

    We’ll see how we get on though when this baby is born and we have all the check-ups etc.

  4. Melanie says:

    Sadly a friend has jsut given birth here in Nice two weeks ago to her first baby, was given no support to get breast-feeding going, was made to feel that she was killing her baby slowly as he was losing some weight, and was finally told by her doctor (not midwife who was the one pressurising her about the baby’s weight)to stop putting herself under this silly pressure and just bottle feed.. so now that is what she is doing. France is lacking in understanding in breast-feeding, and most women here are too over-conditioned to believe their body/looks are more important than their brains.. and all of this is just fuelled by the medical profession here. I am so glad I had my two babies in the UK and could do what was natural without pressure.

    I would also add that my son went to the same French ‘school’ as Lena from age 18 months, and it isn’t really a school but a creche at that age.. and there are creches in the Uk as well.. they are just not part of a school as that French one was (and that is pretty unique in France too).. the official age for school in the Uk is 5, in France it is the year in which you will be 6.

  5. Franglaise Mummy says:

    As far as breast-feeding in the Nice area is concerned I think there are some good, supportive people, but they are so few and far between. We had some minor breast-feeding issues when L was 4 months old, so I called the PMI who told me she was 4 months old, that was plenty of breast-feeding and it was time to move on to formula! Fortunately I ignored them, found a way round the issues myself and carried on until L was a year old.

    L went to that school in the first year of “maternelle” – the “petite section” – and it was as school-like as her reception class here, the only difference being they had naps in the afternoon. They followed a fairly specific national curriculum, we had reports on their work and progress, and it was certainly more structured and routine than her reception class was here, with break-times only at a certain time, whereas reception here they could come in and go out as they pleased.

    I like/liked both classes and both schools, but I did find it hard L not going to full-time school here until she was nearly 5. It did her the world of good starting school when she was nearly 3 in Nice, so I’m glad we did that.

    It’s true that the official school age for children in France is from 6, but it is rare that children don’t start nursery school when they are 2, 3 or 4 years old. The exception is ethnic minorities in general (in the south anyway where my experience is).

  6. Tina Robson says:

    Wow, that was interesting, but I had heard that the French raise children very differently to us Brits. The French seem very much back to work ASAP, get yourself into a routine and into shape for your husband and against breastfeeding (breastfeeding conflicts with going back to work so soon and they aren’t as happy about baby sharing your body with your partner). I think there was a book written (French Children Don’t Throw Food) and reviewed by Phil Schofield and Holly on This Morning. This is what the booked seemed to suggest. It is very different to how British raise children. If I remember too, there are some areas of France more relaxed about child rearing and breastfeeding.

    I bet discussions round your dinning table are interesting about sleep management , child feeding and discipline?

    I guess all that matters is that you and your small are happy, and hubby is happy and involved with all parenting. And it works (most of the time?)

  7. Franglaise Mummy says:

    It’s very interesting that you mentioned that book as I read it whilst in France recently and will be reviewing it here on the blog soon. Unfortunately about 50% of the book is pretty false; I judge this on what I’ve experienced living there for 12 years, and mixing with French friends from all over the country. Watch this space for the review…

    Fortunately B and I tend to find a common ground quite easily for raising L, so no heated debates between us, however when you bring onboard in-laws it does get interesting, believe me!

    I think like most parents we do what we think is best, it works most of the time and when it doesn’t we try and figure out another way, so in that respect we’re the same as any monolingual/monocultural family.

  8. None of this shocks me, although it should, because what right does anyone have to undermine the decisions of a mother clearly doing a good job of keeping her baby and her family happy? And yet everyone feels they can have a say…
    What does shock me is the fact that you don’t seem to distressed by it all – you are clearly a very strong-minded mother – good for you!

  9. Franglaise Mummy says:

    Ever since I had a visible bump it has astounded me the right that people seem to grant themselves to tell you how to live that pregnancy, raise that newborn, parent that child. Fortunately I am pretty strong-minded and strong-willed, so whilst listening – as I have taken some very sound advice on-board – I do tend to dismiss what I feel doesn’t work for me, and move on, trusting my own instincts as a mother.

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