Motherguilt: How does France compare with Australia?

Alison Eastaway, 24/04/2012

Women all around the world deal with guilt on a myriad of fronts every day. It may be guilt over buying takeaway instead of preparing a home cooked meal. Or buying the cheaper laundry detergent in spite of it not being environmentally friendly. Guilt may rear its ugly head as they must once again choose between making it to a child’s soccer game or working overtime on an urgent project.

And of course there is the age-old question of whether or not to outsource the childcare responsibilities.

French vs. Australian approach to childcare

On this topic at least, French women are far more comfortable leaving their children in the care of others than their Australian counterparts.
Alison Eastaway, 24/04/2012
In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, French philosopher Elisabeth Badinter commented that “la maman francaise is allowed to be what many [people] would call mediocre”.¹

She notes further that “French women are not made to feel they are bad mothers if their kids are also cared for by nannies and spend time in daycare”.²

By contrast, the largest barrier for Australian women returning to work “is still ‘Motherguilt’ with 55% feeling the pressure of leaving their babies; this guilt is followed by the difficulty of daily logistics (53%), finding child care (37%) and juggling finances / tax implications of returning to work (31%).”³

Who does it better?

Alison Eastaway, 24/04/2012

There has been a lot of noise about Parisian Pamela Druckerman’s book ‘Bringing Up Bébé’. Released in February of this year, the book has added fuel to the fire in the already heated debate over which culture gets it right when it comes to parenting.

“Apparently, French bébés sleep through the night … don’t interrupt their elders … [and] eat three course gourmet meals including broccoli”.?

For me, I believe parenting style is an inimitably individual choice and the main difference between France and Australia in this arena can be found in government and societal support of childcare.

Effect of French government support

In France, crèches are provided free of charge and parents who choose in-home care in the form of a nanny are only required to pay the nanny’s take home pay – all social security charges are covered by the state.? ?

As a result most French women return to work just 3 months after the birth of their child.

Alison Eastaway, 24/04/2012

By comparison, in Australia the cost of childcare can outweigh the financial benefits of mothers returning to the workforce, or ensure they only return part-time.?

On top of this, in Australia only certain types of childcare are eligible for rebates and government benefits, and having a nanny look after your children in your home doesn’t qualify.

The result? Only “36 per cent of mothers return to the workforce before their baby has turned one”.?

These factors combine to enforce the notion that Australian women shouldn’t return to work after having children, and if they do, it will be at a substantial financial and emotional cost.

¹,²,? The Weekend Australian Financial Review ‘French women don’t feel guilty’ by Emma-Kate Symons April 5-9 2012
³ Care For Kids 2012 Child Care & Workforce Participation Survey Results
‘Equality begins in the crèche’ by Marie-Helene Martin 19/02/2010
Childcare in France
?‘$125 a day to care for kid as childcare costs soar by Sue Dunlevy 26/03/2010
‘Many obstacles on the road to nanny nirvana’ by Lenore Taylor 31/03/2012
‘Support for working mums – is there enough?’

Image credits: 
1 VitaminH on Flickr.
2 barnabywasson on Flickr.
3 noodlepie on Flickr.
4 Tom Carmony on Flickr.

About the Contributor

Alison Eastaway

“I am Australian-born but Parisienne at heart. I've spent 8 years in Paris, and can usually be found sipping coffee on café terraces or snuggling up with my cat and a book. Follow me on Twitter, or find me on LinkedIn."

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  1. Sarah Taylor May 1, 2012 at 4:33 PM - Reply

    This is a really balanced and interesting article, Alison! It’s very timely, particularly given an ongoing discussion we’ve been having here at My French Life about the general differences in parenting between France and other parts of the world:
    I personally always thought that I would stay at home if I ever have children, but it’s true that there are many, many factors to consider. Based on your research, what are your opinions on “the French style” of parenting?

  2. Alison Eastaway May 1, 2012 at 8:18 PM - Reply

    Thanks Sarah – absolutely, it ties in very well with the discussion about French parenting vs the rest of the world.

    My take on this particular debate is to recognise that parenting does not take place in a vacuum, it is very much undertaken in the broader context of the societies in which we live. And when assessing different styles we tend to do so in the context of our own societies.

    I also don’t believe that all French children are necessarily well behaved, or that all children raised outside of France have poor manners. I do, however, believe that stigma and guilt about accessing childcare play a role.

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